-- Judge Roy Bean
I took a trip to the 1870s this past weekend.
Our sportsman's club hosted the National Congress of Old West Shootists and I went to volunteer. There I witnessed a posse of bad outlaws and good lawmen (actually all good ol’ boys and girls) playing Old West shooting games for fun, cash prizes and braggin’ rights (the official scoring building shack is aptly titled the “Liars Shack”).
It’s actually a well organized event with safety as the number one priority. So, everyone had fun and went home with only the holes they came in with.
The event got me thinking about beer, whiskey, and Saloons of the Old West.
(the term saloon can be traced back to Brown's Hole near the Wyoming -Colorado- Utah border in 1822).
The legendary lawman Wyatt Earp recalled that most of his days involved people who were entering, occupying or leaving saloons. “We had no Y.M.C.A.’s” he quipped.
The primary function of saloons was as purveyors of drink, gambling, and women to consort with. But, the saloon (as it still is today) was also a social club and haven of relaxation and repartee.
Painting by Lee Dublin
According to an article on LegendsOfAmerica.com (edited):
The whiskey served in many of the saloons was some pretty wicked stuff made with raw alcohol, burnt sugar and a little chewing tobacco. They took on names such as Tanglefoot, Forty-Rod, Tarantula Juice, Taos Lightning, Red Eye, and Coffin Varnish.
Also popular was Cactus Wine, made from a mix of tequila and peyote tea, and Mule Skinner, made with whiskey and blackberry liquor. The house rotgot was often 100 proof, though it was sometimes cut by the barkeep with turpentine, ammonia, gun powder or cayenne.
The most popular term for the libation served in saloons was Firewater, which originated when early traders were selling whiskey to the Indians. To convince the Indians of the high alcohol content, the peddlers would pour some of the liquor on the fire, as the Indians watched the fire begin to blaze.
But the majority of western saloon regulars drank straight liquor -- rye or bourbon. If a man ordered a "fancy" cocktail or "sipped" at his drink, he was often ridiculed unless he was "known" or already had a proven reputation as a "tough guy." Unknowns, especially foreigners who often nursed their drinks, were sometimes forced to swallow a fifth of 100 proof at gunpoint "for his own good."
Saloons also served up volumes of beer, but in those days the beer was never ice cold, usually served at 55 to 65 degrees. Though the beer had a head, it wasn't sudsy as it is today. Patrons had to knock back the beer in a hurry before it got too warm or flat. It wasn't until the 1880's that Adolphus Busch introduced artificial refrigeration and pasteurization to the U.S. brewing process, launching Budweiser as a national brand. Before then, folks in the Old West didn't expect their beer to be cold, accustomed to the European tradition of beer served at room temperature (end).
I finished my volunteer work, moseyed into our club’s saloon (a.k.a. kitchen), opened the cooler and enjoyed a beer in the 1870s before heading back to reality.
Photo by Sir James of Taylor, who also stepped back in time with me
Sir Bowie “Tender foot ” of Greenbriar