Thanks for tuning into For Bitters or Worse, a podcast about our Adventures in Booze and Marriage. I’m Melissa and I’m Thadd. Today we’re talking Remus Repeal Reserve and develing into the man the whiskey was named for. Last week we did a review of the Remus Repeal Reserve Series II, you can find it on our website and on our YouTube Channel.
The bourbon whiskey was named for George Remus, who we will get into later in the podcast, but first, a little about the spirit. READ FROM NOTES. We were sent a bottle of Remus Repeal Reserve Series II for our unbiased opinion.
Now that we’ve heard about the whiskey, let’s talk a little about the man it was named for. We have to start with some history though.
The cornerstone of this show is the exploration and enjoyment of booze. There are few perks to being an adult, one of them is the enjoyment of an alcoholic drink. The rich taste of a cold frothy beer, or the sweet sting of an ice-cold cocktail with just a hint of zest on a rim. And as always, we advocate drinking responsibly.
But those simple pleasures weren’t always possible to enjoy. From 1920 to 1933, a nationwide constitutional ban on the production, importation, transportation, and sale of alcoholic beverages, called Prohibition, was law of the land. While the consumption of alcohol wasn’t t expressly made illegal by Prohibition, criminalizing the production and distribution made it nearly impossible to do so.
In a standoff with our promised “Pursuit of happiness” granted to us in the Declaration of Independence, organizations like the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union and the Anti Saloon League sparked the fire of Prohibition.
Some towns, concerned that alcohol was the root cause to most serious crimes, sold their jails on the eve of Prohibition, confident in the belief they would no longer be able to fill the cells.
The law was met with disgust and dismay by Americans and was ignored by large swaths of otherwise law-abiding citizens.
“Necessity is the mother of invention.”
When they could not drink elsewhere, people took trips called “cruises to nowhere” loaded passengers from places like Atlantic City and took them just far enough into international waters that the patrons could legally consume their spirits.
Speakeasy’s opened up all across the country; New York City alone boasted the operation of over 30,000 speakeasies at one time. In order to gain admittance to these clever clandestine hideouts, guests needed the password to get inside once in they were able to enjoy an alcoholic beverage with little fear of persecution or prejudice.
Prohibition Historian Lizabeth Cohen wrote: “A rich family could have a cellar-full of liquor and get by, it seemed, but if a poor family had one bottle of home-brew, there would be trouble.”
Like many laws, Prohibition came down hardest on the lives of working-class Americans.
But what happens when a once legal activity becomes criminalized? …..A new brand of criminal is born.
Bootlegging, or what’s sometimes called rum-running (there’s a difference, more on that in a moment) is the business of illegally transporting alcoholic beverages. This type of Smuggling is usually done to get around taxation or prohibition. The term rum-running is applied to smuggling over water; while bootlegging is applied to smuggling over land.
Enter the subject of today’s podcast, George Remus. Remus was an optometrist, a lawyer, and a bootlegger. The “King of the Bootleggers” was multi-faceted.
George Remus was born in Germany in 1876, and by the age of five, his family relocated to Chicago. After his father became ill, the responsibility of financial caretaker fell upon young George’s shoulders. He dropped out of school to work for his uncle in a pharmacy. By the age of 19, he had obtained his Pharmacists license. But young George didn’t stop there. He bought his uncle’s drugstore, and then another. He earned an optometry license and went to night school to study law. George completed the three-year program in just 18 months, and in 1900 at the age 24 he was admitted to the Illinois bar.
Prohibition became law on January 17, 1920, with the ratification of the 18th Amendment, and Remus noticed his criminal clients were quickly becoming wealthy. He saw an opportunity to also become wealthy and use his knowledge of the law to escape punishment.
In the educational and astute words of Breaking Bad’s Jesse Pinkman, “When the going gets tough, you don’t want a criminal lawyer. You want a CRIMINAL lawyer.”
Remus’ MO was to bend the law as far as he could without breaking it. He knew the National Prohibition Act inside and out and knew where the loopholes were. Remus soon moved to Cincinnati, home to 80 percent of America’s bonded whiskey. With his riches, legitimate and otherwise, he bought most of the whiskey manufacturers in the area, and in less than three years made $40 million.
To be “King of the Bootleggers”, one has to be one hell of a host, and George was. He held lavish and expensive parties, including a 1923 birthday party for his wife, Imogene, where she performed alongside aquatic dancers, serenaded by a fifteen-piece orchestra. And just because someone may be earning their money on the shadier side of the law, doesn’t mean they aren’t giving to their community. Local children saw Remus as a generous man. One story is when Remus tossed a boy into his Olympic-sized swimming pool during a get-together. Obviously, the boy’s clothes were soaked so Remus opened his wallet and gave the boy $10 to buy a new suit. In 1920 a brand new boy’s suit could be purchased for about a dollar.
Remus wasn’t just generous to children. In 1922 he and his wife hosted a New Year’s Eve party at their estate, the Marble Palace. As gifts, Remus presented all the men with diamond stick pins and gave each guest’s wife a brand new car. Remus knew how to make friends and influence those who he may need to influence. Remus played the full court press, and he was successful because he never let up.
But, you can only be lucky for so long, and then fate, time, or in this case, the law catches up to you. In 1925 Remus’ avoidance of the law came to an end when he was indicted on charges of violating the Prohibition Act. He was sentenced to two years in the Atlanta Federal Penitentiary for Bootlegging, but bootlegging wouldn’t be Remus’ worst crime.
While serving his time, Remus didn’t lose his outgoing personality or his gift for gab. He made many friends on the inside, including an undercover Prohibition Agent named Franklin Dodge, who was posing as an inmate. Dodge was investigating corruption allegations against warden Albert Sartain, who was later removed and imprisoned on corruption charges. Remus admitted to Dodge that it was his wife who actually controlled all of his money, and Dodge being an agent knew just how rich Remus was, decided the straight and narrow life of a Prohibition Agent was no longer good enough.
Together, Dodge and Imogene liquidated Remus’ assets and hid as much of the money as possible. In addition to attempting to deport Remus, the two even hired a hitman, who they paid $15,000, to murder.
Imogene sold Remus’s Fleischmann Distillery and gave her imprisoned husband only $100 of the $50 million he earned from bootlegging. To give you an idea of just how much that is in today’s currency, $50 million is equivalent to $644 million today.
But, in late 1927, Remus would seek revenge for the theft of his bootlegging empire. His wife filed for divorce, and on October 6, 1927, while making her way to court for the for the finalization of the divorce, Remus’ driver chased the cab that Imogene was riding in through Eden Park in Cincinnati and forcing it off the road in front of the Spring House Gazebo.
The Cincinnati Enquirer would write:
“The much-tangled domestic affairs of George Remus, once multi-millionaire bootleg king of Cincinnati, came to a sudden – and dramatic – climax yesterday,” The Enquirer wrote on Oct. 7, 1927.
Imogene, dressed all in black to mourn the loss of her marriage, scrambled from the cab and tried to run from the scene. Remus ran after her, grabbed her by the wrist, pressed his pearl-handled revolver against her abdomen and fired one shot. Imogene died two hours later. “I am now at peace after two years of hell. I’m satisfied I’ve done right,” he told reporters at the jail after he turned himself in.
Future Senator Robert A. Taft was seen as a man with a bright political future and was charged with the task of serving as prosecutor against Remus. The trial made national headlines for a month as Remus defended himself on the murder charge.
Remus pleaded temporary insanity and the jury deliberated less than 20 minutes before acquitting him. The Bootlegger got away with a murder committed in broad daylight with several witnesses. Years earlier Remus may have paid off the jury, but at this point in his life, he didn’t have the money to back such a scheme. The jury found in his favor purely on the merit of believing he was temporarily insane.
Remus later moved across the river to Covington, Kentucky where he lived out his remaining years without incident. He married his secretary Blanche Watson and ran a small contracting firm until he suffered a stroke in August 1950.
For the next two years, he lived in a boarding house in Covington under the care of a nurse. George Remus, “King of the Bootleggers”, died on January 20, 1952 at the age of 77. He is buried beside his wife, Blanche, at Riverside Cemetery in Falmouth, Kentucky.
A number of Prohibition-Era cocktails were created to disguise the appearance, and in some respects, the taste of liquor. Here are a couple you can try at home.
Necessity is the mother of invention.
The defining cocktails of the era were the Sidecar and the Old Fashioned.
- 1 ¼ oz Cognac
- ½ oz Cointreau
- 1 oz lime juice’
Strain into sugar rimmed glass
- 1⁄2 tsp Sugar
- 3 dashes Angostura bitters
- 1 tsp Water
- 2 oz Bourbon
- Garnish: Orange peel
HOW TO MAKE THE BOURBON OLD FASHIONED COCKTAIL
Add the sugar, bitters and water into a rocks glass, and stir until sugar is nearly dissolved.
Fill the glass with large ice cubes, add the bourbon, and gently stir to combine the flavors.
Express the oil of an orange peel over the glass, then drop in.
Well, that wraps it up for this episode of For Bitters or Worse.
Don’t forget you can like us on facebook at for bitters or worse, follow us on twitter @forbitters and on our website forbittersorworse.com where you can find show notes, recipes and our adventures. I’m Melissa
and I’m Thadd.
Good night and good drinking.