A history of Welch’s grape juice

(according to Lauren Winner)

What you need for this sacrament [communion] is simple: just some bread and some wine, or grape juice. Grape juice became popular in the late nineteenth century, when temperance-advocating evangelicals realized they couldn’t call for a complete ban on potables if they were imbibing themselves at the altar on Sunday. They mounted all sorts of complicated arguments about the different Greek words for win, and they suggested that Jesus hadn’t been drinking fermented wine, but rather unfermented, nonalcoholic, win at the Last Supper. The people in the pews found these arguments bizarrely persuasive, and then churches were faced with a new problem–producing enough unfermented grape juice.  The ladies of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union circulated “receipts”: “Express the juice of the grapes as you do for jelly; heat immediately to the boiling point, bottle and seal exactly as you do fruit.  Adapt the size of the bottles to the number of communicants, as the wine will ferment if left over from communion to another.” Women labored over their stoves, churning the stuff out, week after week. Thomas Welch, a Methodist dentist from the strip of upstate New York so given to religious revivals that it earned the moniker “burned-over district,” saw a great business opportunity. In 1869, he found a way to mass produce nonalcoholic grape juice and, in 1875, his son Charles Welch founded a company. (Lauren Winner, Girl Meets God, pp. 181-182)

5 thoughts on “A history of Welch’s grape juice

  1. Linea

    You have got t to admit that dentists are very inventive.

    I’ve heard this account before but did not realize Welch was a dentist. Sure glad we don’t have to cook up our own juice at least. Wonder if we’ll ever go back to wine in evangelical circles. I think we’ve mostly lost our old teetotalizing habits.

  2. Marc

    It has been (or is being) lost in Covenant churches, but I’m not sure if it’s happening everywhere.

    But I’d be all for switching back to wine. Or at least giving people the option (like they do at Messiah Lutheran).

  3. rilla

    As a kid, I always thought that grape juice was the best part of communion. In fact, I loved communion Sundays because we got juice and crackers while in church. I doubt I was the only heretical eight-year old in the pews.

  4. Marc

    I doubt it, too. In fact, I seem to recall thinking that those little shot-cups of juice really weren’t enough to satisfy.

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