Drinking During Prohibition

Prohibition was the period spanning from 1919 to 1933 during which alcohol was legally banned in the United States. A Constitutional amendment was passed banning alcohol with the aim of improving America’s moral character. The ban was not widely supported and therefore alcohol continued to be bought, sold and consumed in secrecy. The Constitution was later amended again in order to repeal Prohibition, although restrictions on certain kinds of alcohol are still in effect today.

Prohibition had arguably no positive effects. While alcohol consumption did decrease due to high costs and lack of availability, the black market demand for alcohol strengthened organized crime groups and led to political corruption. Hard liquors were concentrated for easier shipping, making them stronger. The government ordered the poisoning of industrial alcohols, but people either drank them anyway or figured out how to separate out the chemicals. Prohibition, quite simply, did not work.

A popular cocktail of the age was named after Mary Pickford, the angelic movie starlet. It contains one ounce of white rum, one ounce of pineapple juice, and half of a teaspoon of grenadine. The Colony Cocktail is made using an ounce of gin, an ounce of grapefruit juice and two teaspoons of maraschino. Both cocktails are to be strained into chilled glasses and topped with cherries. Tough times did not dampen drinker’s tastes for sweet, fruity beverages.

The Whiskey Old-Fashioned came into being as a way of covering up the bad taste of bootleg alcohol. This drink begins with a cube of sugar that has been crushed and dissolved in a teaspoon of water and a small amount of bitters. This mixture is stirred into one ounce of whiskey and a few squeezes of lemon juice. It should be left to sit for a few minutes before drinking. This cocktail is served with two or three cubes of ice. Similarly, the Bee’s Knees attempts to sweeten an ounce of bitter homemade gin with an ounce of orange juice and a teaspoon of honey. Fans of orange juice can also try the Ward 8. Equal amounts of rye, grenadine and orange juice are perked up with a spritz of lime juice.

During Prohibition, these cocktails were consumed in illegal underground establishments called speakeasies. Owners of legitimate businesses would often set aside rooms or cellars for illegal sales and drinking as a way of making extra money. Many people would hide their alcohol by the simple means of tucking flasks in their boots, hence the term “bootlegging.” Bootlegging alcohol and running speakeasies evolved into organized endeavors that came under the control of professional criminals like the famous Al Capone. The law enforcement agents who fought to suppress the bootleggers are as legendary as the famous criminals. Eliot Ness defeated Al Capone’s operation with his partners in the Untouchables, a crime-fighting organization.

The public’s interest in Enoch “Nucky” Johnson has reignited in recent years, and for good reason. He used his status as treasurer and Atlantic City’s unique position as both a tourist-friendly seaport and a political hot seat to funnel alcohol into the country. Prohibition was unofficially lifted while he was in power because he was making a profit off of all of the alcohol that was imported into Atlantic City. In 1927 the major bootleggers decided to band together and form the Big Seven organization. The illegal activities in Atlantic City occurred in plain sight. In 1930 Nucky hosted a convention for organized crime’s major players. This event set the stage for the continued dominance of the Italian and Jewish mafia leaders, since Irish mafia members were deliberately excluded from the proceedings.

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