By Bjorn Skaptason, Tom's Town Historian
KANSAS CITY, 1934: Someone pulled the rug out from under Herman Epstein. One day he was an honest businessman pursuing a legitimate trade. The next day he was a bootlegger. The grandfather of Tom’s Town Distilling Co.'s illustrious co-founder, David Epstein, would have to wear the title, or find some other business.
In 1920 the winds of change were blowing the reformers’ way, and people who traded in good times were “on the bum.” Epstein needed to think creatively, or his business, Western Bottle & Supply Company, would be in big trouble. Fortunately, Herman Epstein was just the man for the job. Thirty-two years old at the time, Epstein had immigrated to Kansas City from Russia with his parents in 1894. By 1911 he was working as a bottle salesman at Western, and by the time Prohibition reared its ugly head he owned the joint. There should have been no concern that Epstein would come up with a plan.
The ingenious scheme was a simple project of rebranding Western’s delicious grain-based beverages. Soon the parched people of Tom’s Town could obtain Ace Brand Malt Extract instead of beer. For the benefit of those with thicker heads, Herman reminded his customers that his malt extract was “Hop-flavored.” Epstein clinched the deal by advertising his products on the entertainment pages. By 1926 Western Bottling was keeping the good times rolling in Kansas City by advertising their “Malt Syrup” next to Rudolph Valentino’s newly released smash hit, The Son of the Sheik. This kept Herman and his workers busy brewing and loading truckloads of Ace Malt Syrup for distribution to all of the places in Tom’s Town where people wanted to have fun. After all, the people were thirsty.