From 1920 to 1933, the United States was technically dry, minus a few loopholes and a helluva lot of bootleggers.
See, the temperance movement thought that many of society’s ills would be cured if drinking were just outlawed. And even though President Wilson tried to veto it, Congress used their 2/3 vote to overrule him and they signed the 18th Amendment into existence, banning the sale, importation, or exportation of intoxicating spirits throughout the country. For the curious the intoxicating spirit threshold was .5% alcohol.
Now, the funny thing about number 18 was that it didn’t make consuming alcohol illegal, just the making, buying, and selling. So folks in the know stocked up big-time before the Volstead Act took effect on January 16, 1920. And even the making of spirits wasn’t completed forbidden–individuals could brew fruit-based wines and ciders for personal consumption and vineyards took to selling grape concentrates to facilitate just those measures with packaging that told folks exactly what not to do if they didn’t want their reconstituted grape juice to ferment. Wink wink.
Of course the hope that banning alcohol would immediately dissuade folks towards drinking backfired spectacularly. To many the law made absolutely no sense and it ruined a lot of faith in both the government and the police forces tasked with enforcing the new law. And then there was the not-so-small matter of the government losing out on all that taxable revenue now that all sales were under the table.
It took 13 years for folks to see the light. Thirteen years of bootleggers, speakeasies, and increased crime rates (instead of the hoped-for lessening). Prohibition was repealed on December 5, 1933, by the ratification of the 21st Amendment.
Good Clean Fun
1 sugar cube
1 3/4 oz Gin
3/4 oz Limoncello
strips of citrus zest for garnish
Drip enough drops of the bitters onto the sugar cube to “soak” it and place it in the bottom of a low-ball or small cocktail glass. Combine the gin and limoncello over ice and stir until thoroughly chilled (10 to 15 turns should do it). Strain the chilled alcohol over the sugar cube and add a couple strips of citrus zest to the drink, swirling it to start the sugar dissolving.
Soaking a sugar cube in bitters is a long-standing tradition of blending the savory and the sweet in drinks. And while cocktails were around two decades before the U.S. tried their little “Noble Experiment”, the trend to drink good alcohol neat was problematic when you were dealing with the low-quality and sometimes dangerous concoctions that served for spirits in speakeasies, hence the many mixers of Prohibition-era cocktials.
The term bathtub gin refers to grain alcohol flavored with various items (like juniper) and topped off with water from the bathtub spigot (as the bottles were apparently too tall to fit easily under the kitchen faucet)–so the story goes. In this cocktail I use gin as an homage to those dark days but pick a good one. Limoncello, while not tied to Prohibition per se, appealed to me in the vein of making lemonade out of lemons. Limoncello make take longer (though not 13 years, thank goodness), but it’s certainly tasty.
We all know full well that drinking without discretion or moderation can lead to some very bad things. Anything from bad choices of who to go home with to DUI-accidents to diseases of various sorts can befall someone who drinks too much or too often (or both). But a well-made cocktail really is, in my opinion, good clean fun.