South Carolina’s Year of Rice Beer

lamoix

lamoix

According to my story about the Southeast’s brewing sake scene, which ran in today’s print edition, rice spirits never made much of a splash in the lowcountry. That’s technically true, but food historian and sake connoisseur David Shields points out that rice beer had a very big year in 1893.

As Shields explains, three years before Ben Tillman told voters he’d skewer President Grover Cleveland in the rump with a pitchfork, he persuaded Prohibitionists to support legislation making South Carolina a control state. But the governor’s bill defined alcoholic beverages as drinks with an alcohol content of at least 2.5 percent, which meant the state couldn’t stop the private sale of near-beer.

“The Palmetto Brewing Company of Charleston, a self styled ‘soft drink’ company that had begun manufacturing a rice brew acceptable in prohibitionist southern locales in 1888, began manufacturing oceans of “Rice Beer”—a light beer with an alcohol content under the legal ceiling,” Shields writes. Continue reading