The prohibition of alcohol in the 1920’s and 30’s in the United States is one of most famous, or infamous, times in recent American history. The intention was to reduce the consumption of alcohol by eliminating businesses that manufactured, distributed and sold it. Considered by many as a failed social and political experiment, the era changed the way many Americans view alcoholic beverages, enhancing the realization that federal government control cannot always take the place of personal responsibility.
We associate the era with gangsters, bootleggers, speakeasies, rum-runners and an overall chaotic situation in respect to the social network of Americans. The period began in 1920 with general acceptance by the public and ended in 1933 as the result of the public’s annoyance of the law and the ever-increasing enforcement nightmare.
Leading up to Prohibition
Temperance movements had long been active in the American political scene but the movement first became organized in the 1840’s by religious denominations, primarily Methodists.
This initial campaign started out strong and made a small amount of progress throughout the 1850’s but shortly thereafter lost strength.
The dry movement saw a revival in the 1880’s due to the increased campaigning of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (est. 1874) and the Prohibition Party (est. 1869). In 1893 the Anti-Saloon League was established and these three influential groups were the primary advocates for the eventual passage of the 18th Amendment to the United States Constitution.
After the turn of the century states and counties throughout the United States began passing local alcohol prohibition laws. Most of these early laws were passed in the rural South and stemmed from the concern of the behaviour of those who drank as well as the culture of certain growing populations within the country, particularly the European immigrants.
The first World War added fuel to the dry movement's fire as the belief spread that the brewing and distilling industries were diverting precious grain, molasses and labour from wartime production. Beer took the biggest hit due to anti-German sentiment and names like Pabst, Schlitz and Blatz reminded people of the enemy American soldiers were fighting overseas.
On the other side of the coin, the industry itself was bringing about its own demise and fuelling the fire of the prohibitionists. Shortly before the turn of the century the brewing industry saw a boom due to new technology that increased distribution and provided cold beer through mechanized refrigeration. Pabst, Annheuser Busch and other brewers sought to increase their market by inundating the American cityscape with saloons. To sell beer and whiskey by the glass as opposed to by the bottle increased profits and the companies took hold of this logic by starting their own saloons, paying saloonkeepers to stock only their beer and punishing uncooperative keepers by offering their best bartenders an establishment of their own next door that would sell the brewer’s brand exclusively.
This line of thinking was so out of control that at one time there was one saloon for every 150-200 people (including non-drinkers). These “unrespectable” establishments were often dirty and the competition for customers was growing. Saloonkeepers would try to lure patrons, particularly young men, by offering free lunches, gambling, cockfighting, prostitution and other “immoral” activities and services in their establishments
The 18th Amendment and the Volstead Act
The 18th Amendment to the United States Constitution was ratified by 36 states on January 16, 1919, and took affect one year later, beginning the era of prohibition.
The first section of the amendment reads:
Essentially, the 18th Amendment took the business licenses away from every brewer, distiller, vintner, wholesaler and retailer of alcoholic beverages in the United States in an attempt to reform an “unrespectable” segment of the population. Three months before it was to take effect, the Volstead Act, otherwise known as the National Prohibition Act of 1919, was passed and gave power to the “Commissioner of Internal Revenue, his assistants, agents, and inspectors” to enforce the 18th Amendment.
The 18th Amendment is the only constitutional amendment that was repealed by another amendment (the 21st Amendment).
While it was illegal to manufacture or distribute “beer, wine, or other intoxicating malt or vinous liquors” it was not illegal to possess it for personal use. The provision allowed Americans to possess alcohol in their homes and partake with family and guests as long as it stayed inside and was not distributed, traded or even given away to anyone outside the home.
Another interesting provision to prohibition was that alcohol was available via a physician’s prescription. For centuries liquor had been used for medicinal purposes, in fact many of the liqueurs we know today were first developed as miracle cures for various ailments. Despite the fact that in 1916 whiskey and brandy were removed from The Pharmacopeia of the United States of America and in 1917 the American Medical Association stated that alcohol “…use in therapeutics as a tonic or stimulant or for food has no scientific value…” and voted in support of prohibition, there was still a belief in liquors medicinal benefits among many.
Because of this established belief that liquor could cure and prevent a variety of ailments, doctors were still able to prescribe liquor to patients on a specially designed government prescription form that could be filled at any pharmacy. When medicinal whiskey stocks were low the government would increase its production. A significant amount of the prescription alcohol supplies were diverted from their intended destinations by bootleggers and corrupt individuals during prohibition.
Churches and clergy had a provision as well, which allowed them to receive wine for sacrament. This also led to corruption, as there are many accounts of people certifying themselves as ministers and rabbis in order to obtain and distribute large quantities of sacramental wine.
The Effects of Prohibition
Immediately after the 18th Amendment went into effect there was a dramatic decrease in alcohol consumption that made many advocates hopeful that it would be a success. In the early 20’s the consumption rate was 30% lower than it was before prohibition but later in the decade, as illegal supplies increased and a new generation began to ignore the law and reject the attitude of self-sacrifice, more Americans once again decided to indulge. In a sense, prohibition was a success if only for the fact that it took years after repeal before consumption rates reached those of pre-prohibition.
Advocates for prohibition thought that once liquor licenses were revoked reform organizations and churches could persuade the American public not to drink, “liquor traffickers” would not oppose the new law and saloons would disappear.
There were two schools of thought amongst prohibitionists.
One group hoped to create educational campaigns and within 30 years American would be a drink free nation, however they never received the support they were looking for. The other group wanted to see vigorous enforcement that would essentially wipe out all alcohol supplies. This group was also disappointed as law enforcement could not get the support of the government they needed for an all out enforcement campaign. During the depression the funding was not there and with only 1,500 agents nationwide they could not compete with the tens of thousands of individuals who either wanted to drink or wanted to profit from others drinking.
The innovation of Americans to get what they want is evident in the resourcefulness used to obtain alcohol during prohibition. This era saw the rise of the speakeasy, home distiller, bootlegger, rum-runner and many of the gangster myths associated with it.
Many rural Americans began to make their own hooch, ‘near’ beer and corn whiskey. Stills sprung up across the country and many people made a living during the depression, supplying neighbours with their moonshine. The mountains of the Appalachian states are famous for moon shiners and although it was decent enough to drink, the spirits that came out of these stills were often stronger than anything that could have been purchased before prohibition. The moonshine would often be used to fuel the cars and trucks that carried the illegal liquor to their distribution points and the police chases of these transports have become equally famous. With all of the amateur distillers and brewers trying their hand at the craft there are many accounts of things going wrong: stills blowing up, newly bottled beer exploding and alcohol poisoning.
Rum-running also saw a revival as a trade in the United States. Liquor was smuggled in station wagons, trucks and boats from Mexico, Europe, Canada and the Caribbean. The term “The Real McCoy” came out of this era. It’s attributed to Captain William S. McCoy who facilitated most of the rum running via ships during prohibition and would never water down his imports, making his the “real” thing. McCoy, a non-drinker himself, began running rum from the Caribbean into Florida shortly after the beginning of prohibition. One encounter with the Coast Guard shortly thereafter stopped McCoy from completing runs on his own. The innovative McCoy set up a network of smaller ships that would meet his boat just outside U.S. waters and carry his supplies into the country.
Speakeasies were underground bars that discreetly served patrons liquor, often including food service, live bands and shows. The term speakeasy is said to come from bartenders telling patrons to “speak easy” when ordering so as not to be overheard some 30 years before prohibition. Speakeasies were often unmarked establishments or were behind or underneath legal businesses. Corruption was rampant during the time and although raids were common, owners would bribe police officers to ignore their business or give them notice of when a raid was planned. While the speakeasy was often funded by organized crime and could be very elaborate and upscale, the blind pig was a dive for the less desirable drinker.
Probably one of the most popular ideas of the time was that the mob held control of the majority of the illegal liquor trafficking. For the most part this is untrue, although in concentrated areas gangsters did run the liquor racket. Chicago was one of those cities where they did control distribution. At the beginning of prohibition the “Outfit” organized all of the local Chicago gangs and split the city and suburbs into areas, each of which would be controlled by a different gang who would handle the liquor sales within their district.
Underground breweries and distilleries were hidden throughout the city. Beer could easily be produced and distributed to meet the demand of the city but because many liquors require aging the stills in Chicago Heights and on Taylor and Division streets could not produce fast enough and the majority of spirits were smuggled in from Canada. This distribution operation out of Chicago soon reached Milwaukee, Kentucky and Iowa.
The Outfit would sell liquor to the lower gangs at wholesale prices and even though the agreements were meant to be set in stone, corruption was rampant and without the ability to resolve conflicts in the courts they often resorted to violence in retaliation. After Al Capone assumed control of the Outfit in 1925 one of the bloodiest gang wars in history ensued.
While prohibition was originally intended to reduce beer consumption in particular, it ended up increasing the consumption of hard liquor. Brewing requires more space both in production and distribution than liquor, making it harder to conceal. This rise in the spirit consumption of the time played a big part in the martini and mixed drink culture that we’re familiar with and “fashion” we associate with the era.
Why was prohibition repealed?
The reality, despite the prohibitionist’s propaganda, is that prohibition was never really popular with the American public. Americans like to drink and there was even a rise in the number of women who drank during the era, which helped change the general perception of what it meant to be “respectable” (a term prohibitionists often used to refer to non-drinkers). It was also a logistical nightmare in terms of enforcement. There were never enough law enforcement officers to control all of the illegal operations associated with prohibition and many of the officials were themselves corrupt.
It was one of the first acts taken by the Roosevelt administration to encourage changes to (and subsequently repeal) the 18th Amendment. It was a two-step process; the first was the Beer Revenue Act.
This legalized beer and wine with alcohol content up to 3.2% abv. The second step was to pass the 21st Amendment to the Constitution. With the words “The eighteenth article of amendment to the Constitution of the United States is hereby repealed.” Americans could once again drink legally and on December 5, 1933 the nationwide prohibition was over.
The new laws left the matter of prohibition up to state governments. Mississippi was the last state to repeal prohibition in 1966 and all of the states have delegated the decision to prohibit or not to prohibit alcohol sales to local municipalities. Today many counties and towns in the country are still dry. Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Kansas, Kentucky, Mississippi, Texas and Virginia have a high concentration of dry counties and in some places it is even illegal to transport alcohol through the jurisdiction.
As a part of the repeal of prohibition the federal government enacted many of the regulatory statutes on the alcohol industry that are still in effect.
SHAKEN OR STIRRED?
James Bond, that debonair and worldly English secret agent that always seems to know far to much about far too many things always orders his Martini's "…shaken, not stirred".
Sorry Mr. Bond. But you're not providing a good example for budding cocktail enthusiasts. A Martini, and in fact any clear cocktail, is properly prepared by stirring and not shaking.
Of course, personal preference should always be followed in matters of food and beverage. If you like drinking Chardonnay with your Filet Mignon, so be it. If you prefer your Caesar salad without Anchovies, who am I to tell you that this is incorrect. And if you really prefer your Martini's to be shaken instead of stirred, fine. But I'd at least like the opportunity to share with you some information and insights regarding this debate so that you can make up your mind for yourself, instead of simply falling under the "peer pressure" being applied by the formidable Mr. Bond.
When debating the differences between a Shaken and Stirred Martini, it is common to hear people bring up the notion that "Shaking will bruise the Gin". Hogwash. This term is simply a quaint turn of phrase that has more poetry to it then fact. There is little, if any, taste difference between a Martini that has been shaken, to one that has been stirred. So what then is the issue? Why does it matter?
To understand this, you need to understand the differences of shaking and stirring. Both of these methods have their benefits, as well as their detriments.
Cocktails should be cold, the colder the better. And for this, shaking is the preferred choice. It is easier to chill a drink down by shaking it, then by stirring it. This is relatively easy to demonstrate.
Take two similar glasses, and put a single ice cube into the bottom of each. Now fill both with lukewarm water. Now, using a spoon or a fork, dip into one of the glasses and carefully move the ice cube slowly around in the glass, simply trying to make sure that the ice cube is able to spend some time in virtually all parts of the liquid. Do this for about 30 seconds. Now remove the ice cubes and stick in your finger, or better yet an instant read thermometer into each of the glasses of water. Which is colder?
The water in the glass that you moved the ice around it will be colder. This is because of the thermal conductivity properties of water, while pretty good, you are able to improve upon this speed by simply moving the ice cube around itself. Thus the more parts of the liquid that are "touched" by the ice cube, the quicker you will transfer cold from ice to liquid.
Shaking provides this same benefit over stirring, because when you stir a drink, the vortex produced by stirring, even if you stir haphazardly and vigorously, doesn't provide as much "contact" throughout the liquid as shaking does. Shaking also will often result in breaking off small shards of ice, which because of the greater surface area exposed, will transfer their chill that much quicker.
So, shaking is better then stirring, right? Well, no. Stirring has an important benefit over shaking.
As any fine chef knows, presentation is a very important component in any dish they prepare. The same is true for cocktails. There are some cocktails that consist only of basically clear ingredients, most well known, as well as perhaps the most clear, is the Martini. Such cocktails should be served with their clarity intact, looking almost like a fine gem resting within the bowl of your glass.
Unfortunately, shaking these drinks will trap air bubbles into them and cause them to cloud up. You can easily demonstrate this by putting milk into a cocktail shaker, shaking it for a while (even without ice), and then pour this into a glass. You'll notice that there is a foamy froth on the top of the milk. This is a result of the aeration action that shaking causes. Now pour another glass of milk, and simply stir it for a bit with a spoon. Few, if any bubbles will form on the top, and you easily could have avoided almost any bubbles forming by simply being a little more gentle and deliberate with your stirring.
While many may not realize this, water is an important part of almost any cocktail. During both shaking, and stirring, some of the ice will melt and add water to the drink. While it doesn't affect the taste much, to say that it doesn't affect the taste at all would be inconceivable. Just the right amount of water will soften the bite of the cocktail, and provide a gentle rounding out of the mouth feel. Too much water however, will turn the cocktail insipid.
Shaking, as already mentioned, will result in breaking off shards of ice, which will melt faster, thus add more water to the drink. Too much water? Only your taste buds will know for sure. Stirring on the other hand, won't chill the drink as fast, which means you need to stir a little longer in order to achieve the same cooling level, which will also result in more time for the ice to melt. Personally, I wouldn't be too surprised but that extending the stirring time just a little to chill the drink to the same temperature as shaking, will result in about the same amount of water dilution as shaking would.
From an efficiency standpoint, shaking allows the bartender to serve more drinks quicker. So if that was all there was to consider, shaking is the preferred method for mixing all cocktails. Unfortunately, shaking affects the presentation of the clear cocktails, and so a well-trained bartender will know that for any cocktails that consist only of clear ingredients (spirits, wines, bitters, cordials), they should take the little extra effort to stir these drinks so as to produce the best looking presentation.
I expect some of you will continue to hold on to your belief that a shaken Martini tastes better then a stirred one. Such a choice is totally your prerogative, but perhaps, just perhaps, you owe it to yourself to try a little taste test to see if you actually can taste a discernable difference.
An article by the British Medical Journal indicates that a shaken Martini is healthier then a stirred Martini.