James Morrison Rinehart – My Great Grandfather, Homebrewer, and Moonshiner

"Coughs and Sneezes Spread Diseases - As ...

“Coughs and Sneezes Spread Diseases – As Dangerous as Poison Gas Shells”. U.S. Public Health ad on dangers of Spanish Flu epidemic during World War I. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve talked a little but about my family, well there are a lot of alcohol related stories, so why not?  My great grandfather, James “Jim” Morrison Rinehart, was also a brewer and a distilling enthusiast.[more…]

During World War I, Naval Gun Factory at the Navy Yard in Anacostia. One of his Jesuit friends at St Al’s knew a congressman who knew an admiral and so on… He collected a lot of discarded shell casings there and, after Prohibition came into effect, built a still from them in his garage on the alley in back of Quincy Street. It supplied himself, family, and selected trustworthy and tight-lipped friends with needed alcoholic refreshment during the first of those dry years.

My great grandmother was a meek and quiet and pious woman use to walk every morning to St Gabriel’s seven blocks away for 7:30 Mass. During the winter of 1919-1920, the great Spanish flu epidemic swept across the country, killing tens of thousands of people. (It is said that, in Europe, it killed more than WW1 had… and that was a lot…) Before she left home each morning, she would put little bottles containing home-distilled 100% plus-proof alcohol from the still in the garage in pockets that lined her fur coat and would drop them off at houses along the way where it was known that people had the flu and where others were tending them and might be susceptible to catching it, and she collected the empties from the day before. Thus were many people in Petworth, if not cured of the flu or protected from it, at least made happier in a difficult season.

Sometime the next summer, my great-grandfather was out working in his garden next to the garage/distillery when the local cop on the beat walked up the alley. He stopped to talk to him and confided in him, “Jim, it’s been reported that someone of the alley here is making hooch…” To which your great-grandfather indignantly replied, “The goddam son of a bitch!!!” “If you hear anything, Jim, let me know,” the cop said as he continued walking up the alley. Once the cop was out of sight, my great-grandfather went into the garage and broke up his still… Of course, the cop knew who had been making hooch!

Jim also brewed beer in the cellar, and my grandfather’s job was to put a lump of sugar in the bottles as it was fermenting and stick the cork in tight. One day he thought that, if one lump was good, two would be better. That evening, all the bottles exploded… but that’s another story!

Jim was the first Rinehart to convert to Catholicism, what does this have to do with beer? Well, beer was a big reason why he became a Catholic. It was the roaring 20’s, prohibition was in full swing, I could not imagine life with out beer. He was painting down near Catholic University, painting the Franciscan Monastery’s interior. The resident Cistercians were German and loved their beer. They brewed their beloved drink and my great-grandfather wanted some. They said he could have some, but there was a catch, he had to become a Catholic. Becoming a Catholic made my great-grandmother very happy, as said before, she was devout.

My great-grandfather came up in conversation when I was going through the motions of starting up the brewery. I was on the phone with someone at the TTB, they asked me, “Why do you want to start a brewery?” I answered, “I want to be the first in my family to do it legally. That got a chuckle. So cheers Jim!

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