Blue Is­land Beer Co. launches ‘Mas­sive Po­lit­i­cal Cor­rup­tion’ beer

Chicago Sun-Times - - TASTE - BY EVAN F. MOORE, STAFF RE­PORTER emoore@sun­times.com | @evanF­moore

Alo­cal brew­ery is cel­e­brat­ing Chicago’s la­bor his­tory by slap­ping a re­minder on its beer cans. The Blue Is­land Beer Co. has added “Mas­sive Po­lit­i­cal Cor­rup­tion” to its list of amber ale beers.

The brew­ery made the an­nounce­ment on Twit­ter ear­lier this week.

Alan Cromwell, the co-owner of Blue Is­land Beer Co., says the beer’s in­spi­ra­tion comes from Pro­hi­bi­tion — no­tably the sub­ject of the 2011 three-part doc­u­men­tary se­ries by film­mak­ers Ken Burns and Lynn Novick — not the cur­rent so­cial un­rest.

The malty, 4.6% amber ale, which is sold in six-packs at the brew­ery and stores across the city (and on draft at the brew­ery, 13357 Old Western Ave.), boasts oats and candy syrup among its ingredient­s.

The can’s art­work takes its in­spi­ra­tion from a Chicago news­pa­per il­lus­tra­tion.

“I think it was a very in­ter­est­ing piece; a very in­ter­est­ing time in his­tory in Chicago and in Amer­ica,” said Cromwell. “It seemed fit­ting with some of our other art­work.

“The beer it­self, we con­sider a prePro­hi­bi­tion-style amber, which means it’s based on a recipe from be­fore Pro­hi­bi­tion, which is kind of where that art­work tied into it. [It’s] re­ally co­in­ci­den­tal that, un­for­tu­nately, some things have just been kind of ugly lately in his­tory.”

The sketch used on the beer’s la­bel is from a July 3, 1894 Chicago news­pa­per ar­ti­cle ti­tled “Troops to Kill It: Mar­shal Arnold Over­whelmed by the Blue Is­land Riot.” The story: Lo­cal busi­nesses re­fused to serve pas­sen­gers of Pull­man’s trains in sol­i­dar­ity with strik­ing work­ers, while strik­ers over­turned train cars and erected bar­ri­cades to keep fed­eral troops from en­ter­ing the Rock Is­land Rail Yards, ac­cord­ing to the Blue Is­land His­tor­i­cal So­ci­ety.

The riot was a part of the 1894 Pull­man Rail­road Strike, where the fed­eral troops were called in to sup­press strik­ing work­ers who took um­brage at their boss, rail­road mag­nate Ge­orge Pull­man, for lay­ing off hun­dreds of em­ploy­ees and cut­ting wages for many of the re­main­ing work­ers while re­fus­ing to lower rents in the Pull­man neigh­bor­hood, where many of his em­ploy­ees lived. Na­tional Guards­men opened fire into a mob, killing 30 peo­ple.

The strike was the im­pe­tus that led then-Pres­i­dent Grover Cleve­land to make La­bor Day a na­tional hol­i­day.

Union ac­tivist Eu­gene V. Debs of­ten held meet­ings in Blue Is­land where Rock Is­land Rail­road work­ers were in sol­i­dar­ity with Pull­man strik­ers.

“So back in 1893, about a year be­fore the strike, the Amer­i­can econ­omy com­pletely col­lapsed; it was the worst fi­nan­cial col­lapse prior to the Great De­pres­sion,” said Paul Durica, New­berry Li­brary’s di­rec­tor of ex­hi­bi­tions. “At its height, you had un­em­ploy­ment up around 25%, and this im­pacted the whole coun­try. But you know Chicago, be­ing such an im­por­tant cen­ter of in­dus­try, there were many, many peo­ple who lost their jobs and their liveli­hoods.”

While Cromwell says the tim­ing of the beer launch and the re­cent so­cial un­rest are com­pletely un­re­lated, Durica be­lieves the sketch for the beer and to­day’s so­cial jus­tice is­sues go hand-in-hand.

“It kind of echoes a lot of the things that we’re kind of grap­pling within the mo­ment,” said Durica. “It’s great to see the Blue Is­land Brew­ing Co. ac­ti­vat­ing that his­tory, to those con­nec­tions to the Rock Is­land Rail­road, but also the way in which they note their own com­mu­nity’s re­sponse to the strike in 1894, and then mak­ing use of these his­tor­i­cal ma­te­ri­als.”

BLUE IS­LAND BEER CO.

Blue Is­land Beer Co.’s “Mas­sive Po­lit­i­cal Cor­rup­tion” is avail­able in six-packs and on draft at the brew­ery.

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