A Brief Explanation of Prohibition (And Why It Was So Good for the Cocktail World!)

When you think of the 1920s, you probably have visions of men in suits, and girls in flapper dresses with long gloves, long necklaces, long cigarettes, and lots of feathers! The decade is iconic for lots of reasons – not least because it was the birth era of lots of our favourite cocktails! But it was also a time of prohibition when the sale of alcohol was banned, and temperance was actively encouraged.

What Was Prohibition?

The origins of prohibition actually began in Massachusetts in 1838, when a law was passed
banning the sale of alcohol in small measures. This was reversed in 1940, but
then a similar law came into force in Maine in 1846. This was made stricter a
couple of years later, and a few other states passed their own laws using
religion as their motivation.

There was a lot of support for limiting alcohol. Many religious societies backed it, as did factory owners and lots of women’s groups, who had all seen the negative effects on trade and family life.

Prohibition became more widespread during World War I. In 1919, the 18th
amendment banned the entire US from making, selling, and transporting alcohol.
It was strictly enforced throughout the country, so those who wanted to enjoy a
social drink had to get inventive.

The Rise of Bootlegging

One way or another, booze was still smuggled into the country, mostly through organized gangs. This
alcohol was sold to secret bars, nightclubs, and stores called speakeasies.
These were disguised as shops, restaurants, and homes, in order to fool law
enforcers. At the same time, people began creating their own moonshine at home,
which led to a rise in hospital admissions.

The extortionate price of alcohol limited it to the middle and upper classes. And the demand led to a high rise in crime, including gang violence. Restaurants that kept to prohibition rules ended up closing down as their profits waned. Support for prohibition began to decline while national income from taxes shrank.

And when the Great Depression hit, there was a greater call for the end of prohibition.
In 1933, the national ban ended.

More Cocktails Please!

As you might imagine, smuggling alcohol was a risky business, so the quality wasn’t always the best. This meant bartenders had to get creative with their drinks to continue to attract a clientele. Some of the most famous creations include the Sidecar, the Mojito, the Mary Pickford, and the Tom Collins.

These cocktails retained their popularity even after prohibition, gaining their place
as classic cocktails that we still love today!

More to explore

Bartender's top tip

A well-chosen garnish can enhance both the flavor and appearance of your cocktail. Beyond the visual appeal, garnishes like citrus twists, olives, or cocktail onions can subtly influence the overall taste profile of your drink. Practice techniques like expressing a citrus peel to release the aromatic oils over the drink, enhancing its aroma and flavor.

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