Drink Tank host Gibson Thomas, publisher and editor of edible Marin & Wine Country, talks to Bryce T. Bauer, the Hearst Award-winning author of the soon-to-be-released book, Gentlemen Bootleggers: The True Story of Templeton Rye, Prohibition and a Small Town in Cahoots (July 1, 2014, ChicagoReview Press).
Gentlemen Bootleggers tells the story of the citizens of one small town in Iowa that embraced the distilling and selling of spirits during the 13 years of Prohibition and how their assistance nurtured the production of high quality rye whiskey still revered today, Templeton Rye. Operating at the same time as Al Capone, who earned himself the moniker “Public Enemy Number One” because of his riches and the path of violence he left in his bootlegging wake, Joseph Irlbeck, the German-born founder of Templeton Rye, seems to have been motivated not by personal fame or fortune, but by the desire to produce a truly premium spirit.
The Prohibition-era alternatives for a wee bit of festivity were not pretty – high cost spirits imported from Canada or purchased from one of Capone’s cohorts, or poisonous substances like high alcohol mouthwash, Sterno gel and even inexpertly distilled spirits given a “kick” by the addition of car battery acid. No wonder Irlbeck, and many other Americans, turned to making their own.
With the help of the town’s Mayor, Justice of the Peace, and even the Monsignor who allowed the keeping of a still in the basement of the Catholic Church, Templeton’s bootleggers managed to keep one step ahead of the law for the most part – despite persistent raids and harassment by over zealous Federal agents.
Bauer is also co-writing and co-producing a documentary about the subject, Whiskey Cookers: The Amazing Story of the Bootleggers of Templeton, Iowa.