A new and historic brew has made its debut in Hot Springs. Madden’s No.1 beer is brewed from the same recipe that was used by gangster Owney Madden during Prohibition.
Madden made a fortune off the beer during Prohibition and it was served in New York City in locations such as the Cotton Club. The beer is now being made in Hot Springs from this original recipe and is currently available to buy and enjoy at the Ohio Club and Superior Bathhouse Brewery.
“The main focus is having something here where you can literally taste history,” said Mike Pettey, owner of the Ohio Club, the oldest bar in Arkansas. “Having a Prohibition era beer that hasn’t been brewed since 1931 now being made right here in Hot Springs is just beyond cool.”
“It makes for a good beer now because it is a nice and light beer,” he added. “It’s kind of a blonde beer with a fruity taste to it. It works well because most people when they think of craft beer they think of beers that are heavy and really hoppy and there is a big market for that but there is also a market for this.”
Rose Schweikhart, owner and brewer at Superior Bathhouse Brewery and Distillery, has been tasked with making the beer. “We are selling all the production she can do,” Pettey said. “It’s been our top seller.” The beer was officially released on April 20 and there was even a beer premier in town to announce the debut.
The Superior Bathhouse Brewery, a craft microbrewery and restaurant located on Bathhouse Row in Hot Springs National Park, makes its own brew on site and is the world’s only brewery and distillery using thermal spring water as the main ingredient. It also holds title as the first brewery to be located inside a national park.
Madden’s No. 1 beer is being made there now with natural thermal spring water. They have made over 1,000 gallons of the beer so far since it’s debut. “It’s a nice, light simple beer,” Schweikhart said. “It is 100 percent barley; we don’t use corn or rice.”
Schweikhart said they brew the beer from scratch in house. “I am trying to keep up with the demand just between the two establishments right now,” she said. Superior is a small brewery and Schweikhart and one other brewer there make every single batch of beer by hand. It fluctuates how many they have on tap (right now 12 are available) and throughout the year what is available changes. “But this will be one of our flagship beers,” Schweikhart said. “We plan to always have this on tap.”
Pettey said near beer (which is non-alcoholic) was very prevalent during Prohibition because they could brew it. “Madden’s No. 1 was described as the first decent beer sold during the era because what all these places did, they would brew near beers and sell them to the bars and speakeasies,” he said. “And then they would put additives in it to make it alcoholic. Who knows what they would put in there, turpentine, rubbing alcohol, anything to give you a buzz when you drank the near beer.”
As to Madden’s ties to Hot Springs, he was a New York City gangster who came to the area in the 1930s, which was the prime time of illegal gambling in the city.
A succinct synopsis of his career can be found in the Ohio Club’s drink menu about the beer. The copy states that “Owney Madden was a New York City gangster who served time in Sing Sing prison for murder. While behind bars, he started a massive block-long brewery to meet the demand created by Prohibition. His produce, Madden’s No. 1 beer, grossed over $7 million a year. After prison, Madden opened over 20 nightclubs to serve the brew, including the famous Cotton Club. Threatened with prison time for Prohibition violations, Owney ‘retired’ to Hot Springs, Arkansas. He married a local women, publicly went straight and was known as a dapper gentleman about town. Madden promoted the movie careers of his childhood friends from Harlem, George Raft and Mae West, who frequently visited The Ohio Club. Gambling establishments in Hot Springs, including the Ohio Club, were backed by Madden Madden died and is buried in Hot Springs.”
In 1964, the state government shut down illegal gambling in Hot Springs, which at the time was the site of one of the largest illegal gambling operations in the nation. A year later, Madden passed away due to emphysema.From the 20s through the 40s, Hot Springs was a hot spot for those wanting to enjoy the thermal waters the town is famous for and also the illegal gambling of the era. Gambling operations included the Ohio Club and the Southern Club, which used to be located on Central Avenue. Those wanting to learn more about this history can visit the Gangster Museum of America, which is at 510 Central Avenue. The museum showcases a range of memorabilia from the era and highlights famous gangsters that have ties to the city, including Madden.
Those interested can also view memorabilia inside the Ohio Club, care of Pettey’s collection. Among the items he has framed on the wall there is a license plate from a 1931 Duesenberg that Madden owned. At the time they were the most expensive cars in the world. “They were hand built and he drove that 1931 Duesenberg to Hot Springs, “Pettey said.
Pettey said in the future, they have aspirations of potentially expanding the reach of the brew. “I’ve had a lot of interest in it,” he said. “There has been some interest shown in taking it back to New York City, which would make the story full circle. I think it would be cool if they could serve it back in the Cotton Club again.”
The Ohio Club is located at 336 Central Avenue and the Superior Bathhouse Brewery is located at 329 Central Avenue.