Saturday, December 5, 2009

This Day in Booze: The 21st Amendment

Do I really need to say anything about this day. It's the freak'n end of prohibition. The Eighteenth Amendment was repealed upon the ratification of the Twenty-first Amendment on December 5, 1933 at 3:32 pm. The United States of America had been dry for 13 years, 10 months, 19 days, 17 hours, 32.5 minutes....well, sort of.

The Noble Experiment Failed, but at this time of rejoicing we should look back on those 13 years and what long term effects they have on the shaping of today.

Yes, for the people that lived it, Prohibition was Hell. Regardless of the original game plan, there were unintended consequences. Some of the worst things to come out of prohibition, besides no booze, were bad booze (poison), organized crime, sobriety, lost jobs when the breweries shut down, the common man turned criminal just for trying to make a living, and a flat out disrespect for the law.

But if you really take some time to look at Prohibition, you notice that not all the unintended consequences were for the worse. I never though I'd say this, but prohibition in a lot of ways was good for society. Now before you decide to string me up by the balls for heresy (I like my balls) hear me out.

Prohibition was responsible for introducing American's to a vast wealth of foreign spirits. Since what was being produced locally at the time was little better than paint thinner with a touch of caramel and formaldehyde, the importation of liquor from abroad helped to diversify America's pallet. Whiskey from Canada was much smoother than American rye or bourbon, and is still extremely popular today. Tequila was all but unknown to anybody who didn't live in the South West or California, but as soon as booze was made illegal, the entire country was ¡Hurra por la bebida! Shiploads of rum, which had fallen out of favor after the revolution due to cost, were park just 3 miles off the coast of Florida. There were also scotches from the U.K., cordials from France, schnapps from Europe, and the list goes on.

Speakeasies. So long sausage fest! Hello all you can eat Tacos! OK, I admit that was a little much, but women in bars?! Astounding!

Finally it was acceptable for men and women to socialize in the same place. You can also find links to the suffrage movement and the beginning of women's social independence. Not only did the quality of the company improve, but so did people's view the bar scene. It was no longer a place to just hang out with the guys and talk about how much life sucked. Now it was an opportunity to mingle and entertain oneself on a Wednesday night. During this time the bartender was able to hone his craft, even if it was simply to mask the awful taste of the poison they were serving. But that didn't stop people form frequenting such establishments, and thanks to Prohibition the "cocktail hour" was born.

The dawn of the tourism industry owes it's roots to Prohibitions. Prior to the 1920s, traveling abroad just for the fun of it was a concept your average American never really thought about. But without good booze to be had locally, the industry took off with a fury. The Caribbean and Havana were especially popular places, and it was on these trips that American's were introduced to even more unique spirits and cocktails. As the industry grew, you have the birth of Pan Am and other major airlines and cities like Miami grew exponentially. All of this meant jobs and growth for the community as well.

Those are just the biggies. Some of the other benefits to arise from Prohibition include the government issue of industrial alcohol licenses, which meant more research into yeasts (nice for us homebrewers). In 1919, the Scientific American Publishing Company published "Home Made Beverages: The Manufacture of Non-Alcoholic and Alcoholic Drinks in the Household" in which vendors sold small barrels, simple stills, guides for distilling techniques. Don't ask me how a book on making non-alcoholic beverages is able to sell stills during Prohibition. I just report the facts. The rum industry was making some of the best quality rum ever, until WWII and things went to shit.

Now even though all these good things came out of prohibition, is any of this going to stop me from celebrating it's demise this evening in grand fashion? Nope. But just remember that even good things can come from bad situations. Except for Fuzzy Blueberry Fail. Nothing good comes of that.

Update: Anybody else have more good unintended consequences that came out of Prohibition? I'd love to hear your thoughts.


  1. And the celebration was grand, indeed. Libations of all varieties, alcohol production, hockey, awkward situations, shattered glass, bleeding. A true celebration of all things alcoholic.

  2. Yeah, I hope the bleeding was my only awkward moment. I hate when I get too drunk to remember how the night ends. I also hope I didn't bleed too much all over McPaddy's basement...good times.