‘Arsenal of Democracy’ beer honors wartime legacy, veterans

By: Dean Vaglia | Metro | Published May 31, 2024

 The olive drab cans and tap handles of the Arsenal of Democracy Detroit-style lager feature an M4 Sherman tank and bombers. Sherman tanks were produced in Warren and bombers were built at Willow Run during World War II.

The olive drab cans and tap handles of the Arsenal of Democracy Detroit-style lager feature an M4 Sherman tank and bombers. Sherman tanks were produced in Warren and bombers were built at Willow Run during World War II.

Photo provided by Detroit Liquid Ventures


METRO DETROIT — Nearly one year before the United States entered World War II, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt declared the country would be the “arsenal of democracy” and supply the free world with equipment and munitions to fight the Axis powers.

More than 80 years later, FDR’s iconic phrase will adorn cans across the city that served as the arsenal among arsenals. Over Memorial Day weekend, Detroit Liquid Ventures unveiled its new Arsenal of Democracy Detroit-style lager, made with support from the Detroit Arsenal of Democracy Museum.

“I have a good friend, John Lind, who runs the Arsenal of Democracy Museum in Detroit,” Mark Rieth, Detroit Liquid Ventures founder, said. “We had conversations months back about how it would be a cool idea to launch a beer called ‘Arsenal of Democracy’ on Memorial Day weekend. That was where it started and we just took it from there, and we were able to get it done in time, which was kind of fun.”

Arsenal of Democracy will be sold in 12- and 16-ounce cans and will be served on tap at Ford’s Garage restaurants in Dearborn and Novi. In line with its wartime-inspired name, the olive drab cans feature an M4 Sherman tank with bombers overhead. Both tanks and bombers were produced in the Detroit area. The Willow Run plant built B-24 Liberator bombers, while the Detroit Arsenal in Warren built 27% of the Sherman tanks used in the war.

“They built the tank plant, and then around that nucleus all the other plants were built,” said Lind, the director of the Detroit Arsenal of Democracy Museum. “Thousands and thousands of small feeder plants were built. Ford built the bomber plant out at Willow Run. And the rail spur, which is incredibly important for shipping and receiving, the main rail spur in Detroit fed not only Cleveland but Philadelphia and Chicago and Kentucky and Toledo, where the bulk of the Willys Jeeps were made.”

Tanks and planes were built in Detroit and used by all the major Allied militaries. British and Free French forces used Shermans alongside the U.S. military in North Africa and on the Western Front in Europe, while the Soviet Union and its tank forces had a significant number of Shermans augmenting the Russian tanks produced on the Eastern Front.

“What we did is we equipped the rest of the world,” Lind said. “We fielded the equivalent of 250 divisions, but we equipped 2,000. And that was us, the great arsenal of democracy.”

The Detroit-style lager itself has a long history. Detroit breweries like Stroh’s, Goebel, Pfeiffer, and about 40 other breweries, were supplying watering holes around the city with cold suds for decades until prohibition came into law.

“I’m a huge lager brewer (and) fan,” Rieth said. “That started back in my Atwater (Brewery) days, and I always wanted to bring back that Detroit-style lager that had been made back in the 1800s. (Arsenal) is an ode to that style of beer that was made back in 1850 when Bernhard Stroh was hand-delivering kegs in wheelbarrows.”

When the ban on beer was lifted and World War II broke out, Stroh’s and other breweries around the country picked up contracts to supply U.S. service members with domestic beer overseas.

“Beer was sent overseas in large, large amounts, and that was to keep the GIs from trying to make their own and possibly poisoning themselves,” Lind said. “Beer was contracted out particularly to the Pacific. There was beer in Europe. That wasn’t a problem.”

For as much relief as Detroit lagers provided service members during the war, Rieth plans for Arsenal of Democracy to be more than just a cold drink with a nifty name. Detroit Liquid Ventures plans on supporting veterans causes along with supporting the Detroit Arsenal of Democracy Museum through licensing its name.

“What we’re doing is we’re trying to support in different ways,” Rieth said. “Financially, as part of it, we can’t do it on a percentage of proceeds. It’s not allowed, so we want to make certain that we make some donations to some certain charities throughout the year as good gestures. One would be the Arsenal of Democracy Museum. Obviously, we want to support them because they’re a big part of what we wanted to accomplish with the beer. Others we’re talking to are the VA hospital downtown and some others that we’ll announce over the next month or two.”

Arsenal of Democracy will be a regular part of the Detroit Liquid Ventures lineup, joining the company’s Old Head Irish-style beers and FÜL Beverages non-alcoholic drinks. A nonalcoholic version of Arsenal of Democracy is expected to be released in the future.