WEST LIBERTY, Iowa – During the Great Depression, families did whatever they needed to make ends meet. For some farmers in Templeton, Iowa, “anything” turned out to be making bootleg whiskey.
The story of that Iowa town’s role in the government’s battle against booze is the subject of a movie shown at the New Strand Theater in West Liberty Saturday.
“Capone’s Whiskey: The Story of Templeton Rye” is the story of how a bootleg whiskey born in the Depression grew up to be a legitimate business in the post-Prohibition world.
Filmed by Kristian Day, 26, a Rock Island, Ill., native, the story of Templeton Rye features one of Prohibition’s most notorious players, Al Capone.
Although Prohibition ended in 1933, people in the community still made the “good stuff,” as the whiskey became known. One of the most prolific whiskey makers was Alphonse Kerkhoff, who was even busted twice by government agents during Prohibition. In 2001, Iowa native Scott Bush began working with Alphonse’s grandson, Keith, to re-establish the brand and get it on store shelves. The product was finally brought to market in 2006, though, according to the film, some people in the community still whip up a batch of their own whiskey.
While filming the documentary, Day said it took some time for the residents to get used to him being around.
“The concept that they were still afraid to talk about it was fascinating,” Day said. “They were trained not to talk about it. They were afraid even in their 90s.”
Day said what fascinated him most about the story was that the whole town was in on it. Several times during the film, Frances Kerkhoff, the daughter of Templeton Rye creator Al Kerkhoff, said they knew it was wrong but it saved farmers from the suffering in the Depression.
The farmers made such a quality whiskey on their farms that it traveled to Speakeasies in Chicago, Kansas City and Omaha through famed mobster Al Capone.
For now, Day will continue to travel Iowa, showing his documentary at local theaters.
He said by the end of the year, the documentary will be on DVD and, “hopefully by September it will be on Video on Demand.”
“I want to make sure the theaters have a chance to show it first,” Day said.
“Capone’s Whiskey” is the third of Day’s documentaries based on Iowa culture, and he hopes to follow it with another.
“There are a lot of great stories on the eastern side that I found to be really cool,” Day said. “If we could find something interesting about Iowa, we know we’d be able to fill the seats.”