On January 16, 1920, the “Noble Experiment” went into effect. This was an attempt to outlaw the manufacturing and sale of alcohol. The government was unable to regulate the sale and or reduce the consumption even though they closed down nearly all alcoholic beverage companies. Only a few companies stayed running, Coors being one of them, producing alcohol for medicinal use only as well as soft drinks.
Instead of teaching morality, which was one of the goals, Prohibition created lawlessness in the form of illegal alcohol, often referred to as moonshine and illegal bars, called speakeasies. Because there was no regulation of the illegal business, many gangs were created around moonshine and the process of selling it, called bootlegging. Crime rates increased as well as deaths related to alcohol. Much of the home-brewed drinks were unsafe, containing high contents of lead from using old carburetors as stills. Sometimes wood alcohol, methanol or
other noxious materials such as household cleaners were added to speed up the process and save money. Blindness was not an uncommon occurrence after drinking “bad” moonshine.
The biggest “booze” raid in the history of Colorado, took place in Denver 1922, when seventy-three agents of the United States government, fifty-five of them sworn in from the ranks of the Colorado Rangers, made simultaneous raids on twenty-five hotels, rooming houses, cigar stores, soft drink parlors and private homes, most of them in the heart of the city’s business district, looking for evidence of violations of the national prohibition law (The Denver Post, March 17, 1922).
Homemade moonshine distillery on display at the Notah-Dineh Museum - Cortez, CO
On the southwest side of Colorado, many of the gold and silver mines in the San Juan Mountains were closing down because of the lack of minerals. This provided the perfect location for a still. The moonshiners would hide the still back in a closed mine shaft and be able to make their moonshine without being caught. They would then ship the moonshine out to the surrounding areas. One method for peddling moonshine in Durango was to paint milk jars white, and then fill the jars with moonshine.
Though many citizens made their own brew, perhaps in a basement, moonshine was a relatively good business during the depression era toward the end of the 1920’s. The Eighteenth Amendment making Prohibition legal was repealed on December 5, 1933.