A ‘Ray of Sunshine’ on the 4th of July

Sunshine Brewery 5 CentsAs we rapidly approach another Independence Day celebration, folks are lining up at grocery and beverage stores to load up on beer, burgers, brats, and whatever else might surround a (hopefully sun-drenched) barbecue. It’s safe to assume that we can expect an especially festive celebration this year, with the 4th falling on a Friday, and the 4th on Flagler fireworks along the downtown West Palm Beach waterfront never disappoint. It is truly a time-honored tradition.

With that said, we’d be remiss if we didn’t pause to contemplate what the 4th of July actually commemorates. The battle for independence, the escape of tyranny, the right to practice religious and political freedom. . . But we also need not apologize for the pure Americana that’s enjoyed all across this great nation at this time of year. Gathering with family, friends, neighbors, and our beloved pets is, in many ways, the embodiment of the free and celebratory culture that our forefather’s fought and died for. And let’s face it – if we’re talking the celebration of freedom on a back yard level, we’re talking about beer!

The nation (specifically our government), as your history books will tell you, didn’t always feel that way. Thanks to the 18th Amendment, national prohibition went into effect in January 1920, and some communities actually enacted their own local prohibition even before that. Dade County, for instance, banned alcohol many years earlier. But after fourteen years of rum-running, corruption, organized crime, and speakeasies, prohibition was formally repealed by the 21st Amendment in December 1933. Simply put, Americans wanted – and still want – their beer.

As prohibition came to an end, bars and breweries began to pop up everywhere. West Palm Beach was no exception. Joseph and Jenny Spitzer were already operating the East Coast Beverage Co. in West Palm back then, having established the company in 1931. Among other things, East Coast sold Nehi and “Anheuser-Busch/Budweiser Marley-Malt Syrup.” Not surprisingly, as prohibition was winding down, Joe wasted no time bringing the distribution and sale of beer into the mix. Budweiser , Falstaff, and Munch Beer (yum?) were among the early offerings in 1933.  And by the end of that year, the Spitzers had a new, local product to distribute. One of their local contemporaries, a gentleman named J.T. Havens, was completing construction of West Palm Beach’s first post-prohibition brewery.

On none other than July 4, 1934, an article appeared in the Palm Beach Post notifying residents that Sunshine Brewery, located on 3rd Street in West Palm Beach, was beginning distribution of the first barrels of its new brew. That, I suspect, was pretty exciting. The first truly positive beer-related 4th of July news, in fact, in 14 years!

The Sunshine Brewery would only operate for a couple of years before being bought out by the Gould Brewing, which in turn was bought out by Tuna Brewing. But during its initial run, Sunshine Brewery provided jobs, economic growth, and a tasty way to kick off the post-prohibition 4th of July celebrations we’ve come to take for granted here over the last 80 years.