Shaken, stirred or straight up? U.S. toasts repeal of Prohibition

U.S. Prohibition agents destroy a bar in an undated photo held by the National Archives and Records Administration.
U.S. Prohibition agents destroy a bar in an undated photo held by the National Archives and Records Administration.
Credit: Reuters

Many Americans this week will toast the 80th anniversary of the repeal of Prohibition, a 14-year ban on the sale and production of alcoholic beverages that turned booze-smuggling thugs into celebrities and otherwise law-abiding citizens into criminals.

They may also want to toast one unintended consequence of Prohibition: a renaissance of cocktail creation that began as a way to make moonshine whiskey and bathtub gin more palatable. Creative bartenders have kept the tradition alive, and it continues to this day.

While the cocktail has been around since early 19th century, the combinations of spirits, sugars, water and bitters really started pouring into shakers during Prohibition.

In the 1920s, there were 15,000 speakeasies in Detroit, “Great Gatsby” author F. Scott Fitzgerald favored Gin Rickeys, and politicians and the famous hid out at New York’s 21 Club with its secret wine cellar and disappearing bar.

Unlike saloons that were male bastions before Prohibition, speakeasies were coed and women, who had just gotten the vote, enjoyed a liberated lifestyle.

“The whole Prohibition cocktail thing was to cover up the poor quality of the alcohol,” said John McCarthy, a bartender at New York’s Bathtub Gin lounge.

An estimated 10,000 people died of alcohol poisoning during Prohibition from bad bootleg whiskies, tainted gins and a federal government program that added poison to alcohol to frighten folks from imbibing, according to “The Poisoner’s Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York.”

McCarthy credits the resurgence of cocktails to TV’s Food Network with its celebrity chefs and cooking contests that popularize well-prepared foods.

“And it has brought that locavore, artisanal esthetic that’s in the back of the house (the kitchen) to the front of the house (the bar),” McCarthy said.

Dale DeGroff, author of “The Essential Cocktail: The Art of Mixing Perfect Drinks,” agreed.

“If the culinary revolution hadn’t happened, we wouldn’t be where we are,” said DeGroff. “If we didn’t have an audience that was willing to try new things and in love with these big flavors, we wouldn’t be where we are.”

Flavored spirits starting with vodka have also fueled the cocktail craze. In addition to lemon and pepper, there is salted caramel and wedding cake-flavored vodka, and a host of other unusual pairings.

Other spirits have also gotten more flavorful, with maple syrup-laced Canadian whiskies and honey or cherry or apple-flavored bourbons and scotches.

But McCarthy prefers to add his own flavors, mixing his own bitters, syrups and infusions.

“If I make a drink and you taste lemon, it’s because I want you to taste lemon,” he said.

McCarthy is working on perfecting a cocktail based on white rum, Szechuan peppercorns, pomegranates and lemon juice.

Ray Foley, editor and publisher of Bartender magazine and author of “Bartending for Dummies,” said cocktails are going back to basics.

“The Manhattan, the martini, the side car, they’re all coming back,” he said.

But there are still lingering reminders of Prohibition. It was only last April that the governor of Kentucky signed a bill repealing a Prohibition-era ban on Election Day sales of alcohol. And in 2012, 33 of the 50 states still permitted towns and counties to be “dry,” or prohibit sale of alcohol within their borders.

To mark the anniversary of the repeal of Prohibition the National Constitution Center, a nonprofit devoted to the U.S. Constitution, is sponsoring a traveling exhibit, “American Spirits: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition,” that began its national tour last month in St. Paul, Minn., where it runs through March 16.



News
Entertainment
Sports
Lifestyle
National

Sister of accused Boston Marathon bombers arrested for…

The sister of the accused Boston Marathon bombers was arrested in New York City for threatening a woman over the phone, saying she could "put a bomb on you," police…

Local

Mayor announces public housing improvements

Mayor Bill de Blasio spoke at the Lincoln Houses in East Harlem on Wednesday, calling for the scaffolding to come down at NYCHA complexes across…

National

Peter Theo Curtis: American released by Syrian militants…

An American writer freed this week from two years in the captivity of insurgents in Syria spoke briefly outside his family's Cambridge home Wednesday of…

Local

Bratton defends 'broken windows' work as NYPD support…

Sixty percent of those polled said they support the "broken windows" theory approach popularized by Commissioner Bratton since his first term in the 1990s.

Television

'So You Think You Can Dance' recap: Season…

Season 11’s top four dancers gave their final performances before America’s Favorite Dancers are announced next week.

Going Out

Labor Day in NYC: Make the last weekend…

Soon, it’ll be time for wool accessories and knee-high boots. Even the Pumpkin Spice Latte has already arrived — but we still have one last…

Going Out

Things to do this week in NYC, Aug.…

MUSIC The Electric Zoo Festival Aug. 29-31, 1 p.m. Randall’s Island Park $99-$369, www.electriczoofestival.com The electronic music celebration returns for a fifth year, with 150,000 attendees…

Going Out

5 things to do this weekend in NYC

The Electric Zoo Festival Aug. 29-31, 1 p.m. Randall’s Island Park $99-$369, www.electriczoofestival.com The electronic music celebration returns for a fifth year, with 150,000 attendees expected. David Guetta,…

NFL

Mario Manningham on the bubble as Giants play…

Former Super Bowl hero Mario Manningham hopes his second go-around with Big Blue doesn’t end with Saturday’s final cut day.

NFL

Source: Stephen Hill 'faces a battle' to make…

A team source says Stephen Hill, who has battled injuries and poor performances during his first two years, is no lock to make the Jets’ final roster.

Sports

Serena Williams leaving legacy of talented American women…

It seems only a matter of when, not if, Serena Williams will win her 18th career grand slam championship.

College

When are 2014 college football playoffs? (Schedule, date,…

When and where are 2014 college football playoffs? A look at the schedule, date, TV, time for the semi-finals at championship game.

Food

Recipe: Samuel Adams beer-marinated grilled shrimp

Summer calls for two things: a cold beer and light food. Sam Adams' Latitude 48 IPA fairly bursts with citrus notes, making it an ideal marinade…

Wellbeing

4 healthy ingredient swaps to make your meals…

When it comes to eating well, everyone knows they could be doing better. But cooking in an apartment on a busy schedule is a recipe…

Wellbeing

Heart trumps brain when it comes to movies…

When you need a good cry, do you reach for the movie that’s “based on a true story”? Science says you’re giving your brain far…

Sex

The 10 types of people you meet online

Does it ever seem like online dating profiles tend to get a little repetitive? It turns out you are not the only one to have…