of Prohibition. In 1806, a New York newspaper noted, a “cocktail is a stimulating liquor, composed of spirits of any kind, sugar, water, and bitters.” Sugar, syrups, and juices had been part of drinking culture even before the advent of the cocktail. Other types of mixed drinks such as sours, fizzes, and punches called for sweetening agents. We have a record of the mixed drinks that were enjoyed in the first centuries of America before Prohibition. In 1862, bartender extraordinaire Jerry Thomas published The Bar-Tender’s Guide or How to Mix Drinks. The book, a milestone in the professionalization of bartending, sheds light on what drinks were made and enjoyed, and more importantly, what was in them. It’s hard to find a single mixed drink recipe that doesn’t have something sweet. From punches with their “two of sweet” to numerous drinks that call for fruit juice, syrup or sweet liqueur, mixed drinks, including cocktails, incorporated sweet. The sweet was not to mask the spirits but rather enhance and balance the beverage.
Myth #3. Prohibition was the First Time Alcohol Had Been Outlawed. Fact: When nationwide Prohibition was enacted in January 1920, over half the states were already dry, some for three to four years. From Washington State to Florida, Prohibition was on the books in a total of 28 states. North and South Dakota entered statehood with prohibition in 1889. Mississippi and Texas even remained dry after repeal. A contributing factor to state prohibition was the role of women’s suffrage. By 1919, women gained the right to vote in over half of the states, and women had long played a major role in the Temperance Movement. However, women’s suffrage on the national level did not come until 1920 with the ratification of the 19th Amendment. The significance of state prohibition is that these dry states eased the way for the eventual federal prohibition.
runners brought many top-shelf brands into the country. Alcohol smuggled by rum-runners tended to land in urban areas, in speakeasies and in the private homes of the wealthy. Moonshiners were more likely to be found in rural areas distilling spirits that could be described on a range from unaged to rot-gut. A perusing of Prohibition-era cocktails gives insight into the types of liquor that were available and used. Cocktails like the Last Word called for Green Chartreuse. Cognac and Cointreau were needed to make a Sidecar, and the Mary Pickford used maraschino liqueur.
Myth #6: Prohibition Made Gin Popular and It was Made in the Bathtub. Fact: Gin was a staple of American drinking culture and appears as the main ingredient in many recipes in the 1800s. Jerry Thomas’s 1862 guide lists nearly two dozen gin-based drinks, including the Gin Smash and the Gin and Pine. Early Americans enjoyed gin punch made with lemons, oranges, pineapples, and raspberry syrup. Several types of gin were available during Prohibition — Holland, Old Tom, and homemade. Making gin is essentially the same as making a flavored vodka, just with the addition of juniper berries and other botanicals. During Prohibition, home-distilled gin was more likely to be redistilled and scrubbed of denatured alcohol. Producers at that time blended high-proof spirits, juniper, essential oils and extracts and made what is called compounded gin today. In Lost Recipes of Prohibition, Matthew Rowley writes that once repeal came, “most drinkers ditched counterfeit whiskeys... Not homemade gin. New York dealers said that after the 21st Amendment ended Prohibition, sales of neutral spirits showed no decline at all.” Bathtubs most likely were used because the large glass demijohns and carboys used to mix gin and water down to drinking proof couldn’t fit in the sink.
Myth #4: Prohibition was Solely an American Experiment.
Myth #7: Americans Drank More During Prohibition.
Fact: The United States was part of a larger worldwide movement.
because it truly did fail at most of its goals. Advocates believed that prohibition would lead to moral renewal in the United States, with less crime and corruption, stronger families, and a healthier society. It did none of those things — in fact, profits from bootlegging helped fuel the rise of organized crime. The laws against liquor were widely violated, from underground speakeasies in the big cities to illegal “blind pig” saloons in rural towns. However, it is not true that Americans drank more during Prohibition. Exact figures of illegal activity are hard to come by, but most historians who study the time period believe that Prohibition did reduce alcohol consumption for the years that it was in effect.
From Iceland and Finland to the Soviet Union, many countries had prohibition in the early 1900s. Canadian prohibition began in several provinces much the way dry states in the United States led the way to prohibition at the national level. Prohibition failed in many countries and wasn’t just an American failure. Prohibition was shorter in Canada and Norway but lasted in many countries about the same length of time as the United States. Today, prohibition remains in many Muslim-majority countries as well as parts of India. In Canada and the United States, dry counties exist in several provinces and states.
Myth #5: Booze Available During Prohibition was Terrible. Fact: Though rough, homemade liquor was common during Prohibition, bootleggers were able to smuggle in millions of gallons of high-quality liquor made in Canada and the Caribbean. RumWWW.ARTISANSPIRITMAG.COM
Fact: Prohibition is often called “America’s failed experiment”
Renée Cebula is a cocktail historian. Her business, Raising the Bar, connects people to history through unique shopping experiences and interactive cocktail-themed classes and tours. raisingthebarstories.com // Insta: @badassbarware 137
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