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Moonshine Creek: NB’s Post-Prohibition Spirit Revival

Echos of Prohibition

Moonshine Creek Distillery and the development of the distillery industry in New Brunswick trace their origins back to a significant period in the province's history: Prohibition. During the early 20th century, the ban on alcohol had far-reaching effects on society, politics, and the economy. This brief history explores Prohibition in New Brunswick, leading to the emergence of distilleries like Moonshine Creek.

 

Prohibition in New Brunswick

Prohibition in New Brunswick, like in many parts of Canada, had its roots in the First World War. The federal government banned alcohol across the country during the war, arguing that it was a patriotic duty to support the troops by abstaining from drinking. Banning alcohol was widely supported during this national emergency. After the war ended, it was left to the provinces to decide whether to allow alcohol again. New Brunswick, under the leadership of Premier Walter Foster, embarked on an ambitious modernization plan that required significant tax revenue. However, when a referendum was held in 1920 to determine the fate of alcohol in the province, New Brunswickers voted overwhelmingly, by a margin of about 2 to 1, to ban alcohol. A second referendum on allowing beer and wine also returned a massive majority in favor of the ban. Despite these votes, it appeared that New Brunswickers continued to drink at about the same level as they had before Prohibition.

 

Bootleg Battles

Alcohol smuggling quickly became a profitable and illegal business, with organized gangs led by individuals like Joe Walnut. However, larger American gangs eventually took over the smuggling trade, bringing violence and criminal activity to the Maritimes. Scenes reminiscent of gangster movies, with police chases, crime, and corruption, became commonplace. The financial burden of enforcing Prohibition fell heavily on local politicians and municipalities, leading to disputes between cities like Saint John and the provincial government over funding. The federal government faced a scandal related to customs officials accepting bribes to turn a blind eye to smuggling, threatening to bring down the government. In 1925, the provincial government under Premier Peter Veniot, who succeeded "The Boy Premier," faced a campaign of bigotry and prejudice. Veniot refused to provide more funding to enforce Prohibition, as he needed the revenue from alcohol fines to fund his reform projects.

 

Turning Tides in the Liquor Law Legacy

Despite his personal stance against drinking, Premier John Baxter, who took office after Veniot, removed the infamous Section 176, which disallowed appeals for alcohol-related fines and charges. The allowance of appeals revealed the unfairness and arbitrariness of the alcohol ban, leading to a dramatic change in public opinion. In 1927, without much warning, John Baxter announced the end of Prohibition in the middle of a Throne Speech. Government-run liquor stores, like NB Liquor, were established to fund hospitals, dams, and roads. These plans had been secretly laid out earlier by "The Boy Premier," who continued to plan the liquor corporation even after the referendums banning alcohol. On September 6, 1927, alcohol became officially legal in New Brunswick again. Despite expectations of chaos, there was no rush to purchase alcohol when the government liquor stores opened.

 

The Rise of Distilleries like Moonshine Creek

After the end of Prohibition, New Brunswick's relationship with alcohol changed. The province established government-owned and run liquor stores, laying the foundation for what is now NB Liquor. This system continues to exist today. In more recent times, craft distilleries have started to emerge in the province, capitalizing on the growing interest in locally produced spirits. One such distillery is Moonshine Creek, located in Waterville, Carleton County, New Brunswick. Moonshine Creek Distillery, which opened its doors in August 2018, focuses on crafting spirits inspired by local history and culture. They are known for their moonshine and chocolate liqueurs and have expanded their product line to include barrel-aged spirits like whisky, rum, and brandy, as well as innovative spirits like Canadiana, a rum-like spirit derived from maple sugar. These distilleries, like Moonshine Creek, represent a resurgence of the spirits industry in New Brunswick and contribute to the province's economy and cultural landscape. They offer unique and high-quality products, showcasing the rich history and potential of the region.