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An Inside Look at Prohibition

An Inside Look at Prohibition

An exhibit at the Philadelphia National Constitution Center gives a peek into the era of speakeasies and bathtub gin

Dec. 5 marks the 79th anniversary of the repeal of Prohibition — and that's something we can all toast to. This year, the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia gives visitors a deeper look into the underground movement of flappers, suffragists, gangsters (hello, Al Capone), and more importantly: the speakeasies and bootleggers.

The "American Spirits: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition" exhibit, which is open until April, has more than 100 artifacts from the era, from the Temperance movement beginning in the 1800s right through the Roaring Twenties. "Prohibition left an indelible mark on America, redefining the role of the federal government and leaving its mark on everything from our personal habits to our tax policies,” said exhibition curator Daniel Okrent in a release. "And though it may have been a wild card in our constitutional history, it came into being through the invention and deployment of political tactics and strategies still in play today."

What you can see at the exhibit:

• Original ratification copies of the 18th and 21st Amendments

• Original home manufacturing items used for making moonshine, homebrewed beer, and other illegal and highly potent liquor

• One of the first beer crates of Budweiser produced after the "Beer Act" in 1933, which changed the legal limit for "intoxicating" beverages to 3.2 percent ABV

• A recreated speakeasy complete with a bar, dance floor, and band stand (you can even learn the Charleston!)

Visit constitutioncenter.org to get more information on the exhibit.


In these books, recipes for old-fashioned drinks include many names that might be unfamiliar today: cups, cobblers, nogs, flips and toddies, pousse cafe, punches, sangarees, shrubs, smashes, crustas, and scaffas. But there are also modern cocktails, often with intriguing or evocative names: Golden Slipper, Inimitable Cocktail, Gin and Wormwood, Hari-Kari, Hot Locomotive, Stone Fence, Widow's Kiss.

Most of these books feature recipes for making drinks with gin, whiskey, or rum&mdash tequila and vodka don't generally appear in these early mixology books, although there are a few occurrences. Absinthe is also popular--as are a variety of liqueurs and bitters. As a collection, these books show us a particular facet of American culture that flourished in the late 19th and early 20th century and was abruptly brought to a halt in January of 1920 when Prohibition came into force.

These ten books from Library of Congress collections represent a cross-section of pre-Prohibition cocktail culture in America. The earliest book here was published in 1869, and the latest in 1911. The titles in this guide link to fuller bibliographic information in the Library of Congress online catalog. A link to the full-text digitized book is included in each book description.


How to Recreate Prohibition-Era Cocktails at Home

A new two-part TV special takes a look at both drinks and politics during Prohibition.

When we look back at Prohibition, we might be tempted to glorify the era from 1920 to 1933 as one of glitz, excess, and freewheeling fun in the face of an unnecessary law. But the origins behind the 18th amendment and the repercussions of its enforcement touch issues as far-ranging as racism, the war on drugs, prison reform, and anti-immigration sentiments, all of which we&aposre still dealing with as a nation to this day. To tell the whole story (and clear up some of the misconceptions) of the temperance movement&aposs successful campaign to illegalize the sale and manufacture of intoxicating beverages, the Smithsonian Channel will air a two-part documentary Drinks, Crime and Prohibition starting this Monday, June 11.

You&aposll notice "drinks" is the first word in that title, which is no accident. The documentary shares recipes and origin stories behind some of the era&aposs original (and well-named) cocktails, from the French 75 to the Mary Pickford to the Scofflaw. Interviewed throughout the two hour-long episodes is mixology expert and president of the Drink Company Derek Brown, who serves up the history of these classic drinks.

I asked Brown about cocktails in America before, during, and after Prohibition and how nostalgic drinkers can recreate the flavors of 1920&aposs speakeasy culture at home.

Adam Campbell-Schmitt: What are the biggest misconceptions we have about Prohibition drinks and drinking?

Derek Brown: The greatest misconception is that Prohibition created cocktails. In fact, most of the cocktails we consider "Prohibition era" were probably created before Prohibition. Cocktails like the Manhattan, Martini, Daiquiri, all were created during what we refer to as the Golden Age of cocktails between the 1850&aposs and Prohibition. That&aposs not to say that Prohibition didn&apost have an unintended positive effect on cocktails. Once bartending was illegal in the United States it helped to spread an already nascent culture of American bars throughout the world. In fact, actual Prohibition-era cocktails like the Mary Pickford or Scofflaw were created in Cuba and Paris, respectively.

ACS: What were American cocktails like before, during, and after Prohibition?

DB: During the Golden Age, American cocktails had exhibited a high level of skill and execution. This is the time that some of the most legendary bartenders lived, Jerry Thomas, Harry Johnson, William "The Only William" Schmidt, Tom Bullock. Unfortunately, Prohibition changed that. Their jobs were now outlawed. They either changed professions, retired, worked illegally or went overseas. This was an unfortunate loss of skill but we also see cocktails proliferate throughout the world and new ingredients making their way into drinks. We also see great international bartenders taking the stage such as Ada Coleman from the American Bar at the Savoy in London.

ACS: How did Prohibition “improve” American cocktails?

DB: Cocktails went from being something uniquely American in the 19th century to part of world culinary culture. A new crop of great drinks became relevant. That change may have started a little before Prohibition but it was Prohibition that launched it into full gear.

ACS: What effects from Prohibition are we still dealing with in drinking culture and business today?

DB: It took the U.S. a long time to fully recover from Prohibition and we do see some of the lingering effects such as the three-tiered system in selling alcohol. Fortunately, having taken this turn, we have a diversity of styles and influences within cocktail culture from Tiki to Japanese bartending and our range of bars today reflect that. I would say we live in the best of all possible worlds today. Something Jim Meehan termed the Platinum Age of bartending. If you&aposre a drinker, you&aposre very lucky to be alive. Savor it.

ACS: How can people best recreate Prohibition-style cocktails at home?

DB: First, find some great recipes you want to use. There are so many books and websites you can use. Don&apost confine yourself to just during Prohibition, think pre-Prohibition. It&aposs still era-appropriate as some speakeasies would serve the classics.

Second, get the right ingredients. Think Rye over Bourbon, Gin over vodka. And lots of Rum. Rum was readily available during Prohibition and makes a wonderful cocktail ingredient.

Third, add a little pageantry. Sure you had backrooms with nothing more than some grain alcohol and mobsters but some of the "speakeasies" were grand rooms with music and dancing. Buy some fancy glassware and mixing gear. Make it fun! That&aposs what our ancestors were fighting for, the right to party (apologies to the Beastie Boys).


Excerpt From ‘Lost Recipes of Prohibition’

When author Matthew Rowley was given a handwritten manuscript hidden within a book of poetry, he could hardly believe the treasure in his hands. A historian and specialist in illicit alcohol, Rowley knew Prohibition’s dark corners but didn’t expect this missing piece of the era’s puzzle. Written almost a century ago by a physician in 1920s Manhattan, the notebook contained more than 300 secret recipes for compounding — the lost art of blending alcohol for cordials and credible imitations of whiskey, gin, liquors and even champagne.

Published in October from The Countryman Press, Lost Recipes of Prohibition reproduces the pages from this manuscript, along with a look at Prohibition itself through Rowley’s expert commentary. Some of the recipes have been modernized for the home kitchen or bar, and an authentic collection of early 20th century recipes, complete with notes from the bartenders who invented them, will help you recreate that speakeasy feeling at home.

If Doctor Lyon had published the formulas and recipes he recorded during America’s Prohibition years rather than keep them hidden in a secret notebook, he likely would have been tossed in jail. They were not strictly secret, but were not what we’d call common knowledge. Prohibitionists aimed to keep it that way. Pharmacists, physicians, and some journalists knew about blending and compounding colors, aromas, and flavors with spirits and syrups, as did blenders, liquor wholesalers, distillers, saloon owners, and others who handled liquor in their profession.

Starting in 1920, though, new laws forbade publishing recipes, formulas, and directions for making alcoholic beverages. American publishers released a smattering of cocktail guides during Prohibition—after all, cocktails per se were not illegal. Instructions for producing alcohol, however, were. Publishers could be, and were, arrested and fined if they provided formulas for making liquor. Just days into the “noble experiment” in 1920, for instance, revenue agents nabbed John Mitchell, editor of the Richmond Planet, for publishing a liquor recipe collection.11 American libraries pulled books that dealt with manufacturing cordials, wines, liquor, and other intoxicating beverages. To their credit, many librarians did not destroy the books, but shifted them to reference shelves. At the New York Public Library, librarian Edwin P. Anderson announced, “We would no more think of forbidding readers to consult such books in our reference department than we would books on flying. After the prohibition amendment goes into effect there will be additional reasons for them, as they will be histories.”

What refreshing irony that Prohibition itself is history. Mostly.

Get the recipes for Absinthe Suissesse and Lanizet: Sour mash Cajun anisette.

Reprinted with permission from Lost Recipes of Prohibition: Notes from a Bootlegger’s Manual, by Matthew Rowley, The Countryman Press 2015.


Lost Recipes of Prohibition: Notes from a Bootlegger's Manual

Prompted by a found notebook of illicit booze recipes, here are more than 100 secret and forgotten formulas for cordials, bitters, spirits, and cocktails, gorgeously illustrated and explained.

American Prohibition was far from watertight. If you knew the right people, or the right place to be, you could get a drink—most likely a variation of the real thing, made by blending

Prompted by a found notebook of illicit booze recipes, here are more than 100 secret and forgotten formulas for cordials, bitters, spirits, and cocktails, gorgeously illustrated and explained.

American Prohibition was far from watertight. If you knew the right people, or the right place to be, you could get a drink—most likely a variation of the real thing, made by blending smuggled, industrial alcohol or homemade moonshines with extracts, herbs, and oils to imitate the aroma and taste of familiar spirits. Most of the illegal recipes were written out by hand and secretly shared. The “lost recipes” in this book come from one such compilation, a journal hidden within an antique book of poetry, with 300 entries on making liquors, cordials, absinthe, bitters, and wine.

Lost Recipes of Prohibition features more than 70 pages from this notebook, with explanations and descriptions for real and faked spirits. Readers will also find historic and modern cocktails from some of today's leading bartenders, including rum shrubs, DIY summer cups, sugar-frosted "ice" cordials, 19th- and 21st-century cinnamon whiskeys, homemade creme de menthe, absinthe-spiked cocktail onions, caramel lemonade, and more.


Old Fashioned: Prohibition & Classic Style Recipes

The more classic a cocktail, the harder it is to pinpoint its origins. However, that’s not the case for the Old Fashioned, which made its formal debut at Louisville’s Pendennis Club in the late 1880s. It started out simple enough: a sugar cube, bourbon, ice, and a few dashes of bitters. During Prohibition, it morphed into the muddled-fruit cocktail served in most bars today.

32 East in Delray Beach decided to buck the trend and serve both versions. “When it comes to drinks, there’s no right way or wrong way,” says bar manager John Fitzpatrick. His opinion is paying off: Both drinks are enormously popular, but the Classic outsells the Prohibition version by two to one on a busy weekend evening.

Old Fashioned Classic

1 large sugar cube
Angostura bitters
2 oz. Woodford Reserve Double Oaked Bourbon
Orange zest for garnish

In a mixing glass, coat sugar cube with bitters until emulsified. Add bourbon then fill glass 2 / 3 with ice and stir for 20 to 30 seconds. Strain into a highball glass over an oversized ice cube. Rim glass with orange zest and garnish drink.

Old Fashioned Prohibition

1 orange slice
2 tsp. sweet corn–infused water
2 oz. Smooth Ambler Old Scout Bourbon
Orange and mole bitters
French, brandied cherry juice
3 Luxardo maraschino cherries for garnish

In a highball glass, muddle orange slice with sweet corn–infused water. Add bourbon, ice, two drops each of bitters, and a dash of French, brandied cherry juice. Turn drink up and down in the glass, then add ice and a splash of soda. Garnish with a spear of cherries.


Prohibition Pig Rub Recipes and Customer Suggestions

Prohibition Pig Rub - BOOTLEG Prohibition Pig Rub is a savory spice blend with a mild heat excellent on all white meat such as pork, ribs, chicken, chicken wings, turkey as well as potatoes in the oven, grill or smoker. Not only great in flavor, Prohibition Pig Rub adds a beautiful orange/red tint to the meat. Here are some suggestions on how to use the BOOTLEG products.

BOOTLEG and Customer Suggestions - Here are a few Prohibition Pig Rub customer suggestions. Please keep the pics coming! Send an email or fill out the contact form. Please include your food pictures and a brief description of how you used the BOOTLEG products.


We used the Prohibition Pig Rub on our pork rib roast. It was delicious. This cut of meat was used on my Texas pro treager grill. Submitted by Cory

Prohibition on turkey? YES! It works on all lighter meats!


What Prohibition Pig Rub was named for. pork!


6 LB. Beer Can Chicken
- 6 lb Prohibition Pig Rub beer can chicken, grilled Romaine with Prohibition Pig Rub Apple Cider Vinaigrette. Juicy chicken and a tasty meal! Prohibition Pig Rub two ways! submitted by Jody


Stuffed pork loin
seasoned with Prohibition Pig Rub on the inside and Outlaw Surf & Turf on the outside. submitted by Tom

Prohibition Pork Medallions - BOOTLEG seasoned, pan seared pork medallions with a white wine blue cheese cream sauce, roasted broccoli and Parmesan potatoes!! My husband said he'd pay $35 in a restaurant for it! submitted by Kris


Potatoes
- Who says Prohibition Pig Rub is just for pork and your lighter meats. Try it on your pan fried potatoes! - submitted by Jody


Pork Belly
- Sous Vide for 40 hours, then smoked as a final step. Submitted by Nick

Pork Roast - submitted by Small Scale Life via Facebook.


Prohibition Pig Rub Pork
Smoked center cut pork loin - submitted by Joey


Turkey
- Turkey breast seasoned with Prohibition Pig Rub using the Sous Vide cooking technique. Perfectly cooked throughout the entire turkey breast.

Prohibition BBQ Pizza? We have heard of BBQ pizza but have never tried it. Tonight we did a homemade BBQ sauce that was a little sweet and had a good vinegar bite. Some left over Prohibition Pig Rub Sous Vide pork loin. Put the two together on a low carb tortilla with a little Prohibition Pig Rub dusting on top. It is not a pepperoni pizza but very good and will hit the dinner rotation!


Prohibition Pig Rub Salmon?
- Outlaw Surf & Turf is the “KING” of salmon seasoning, but the Prohibition Pig Rub with all the citrus and earthy flavors brings it home on this Sous Vide “KING” Salmon!! - submitted by Jody


Spatchcocked turkey -
If you have never Spatchcocked a turkey before you may want to try it. Only 1 hr 15 min at 375. Gave it a good coating of Prohibition Pig Rub on and under the skin. Cooked it the next day. 24 hour dry brine. - submitted by Jody


Prohibition Pig Rub Meats - Using the Sous vide method for cooking meat using Prohibition Pig Rub.
- submitted by Reid via Instagram


Stuffed spiral cut pork roast with Prohibition Pig Rub on the inside and Outlaw Surf & Turf on the outside!
submitted by Tanner's


Mexican Dip
- For every cup of sour cream, mix in 1 teaspoon Prohibition Pig Rub and 3/4 teaspoon Barrelhouse Blend. Spread evenly on a plate and add salsa, lettuce, onions, cheese, tomatoes and black olives.

Hit some thighs with Prohibition Pig Rub. Chance meeting at a demo. Total knockout! - Submitted by Matt

Tri-Tip beef seasoned with Prohibition Pig Rub. Submitted by Becca

Prohibition Pig Rub Ribs Submitted by Kathrine

Prohibition Pig Rub Pork Ribs 4th of July dinner. Submitted by Roy

Pork Chops with Speakeasy Green Beans and sweet potatoes. Submitted by Kris

Pork loin seasoned with Prohibition Pig Rub, fast fried, on a toasted ciabatta bun with lettuce and tomato from the garden, topped with Miracle Whip. Soooo good! Submitted by Don and Wendy

Fried potatoes with onions, Prohibition Pig rub and Speakeasy Season Salt. Submitted by Renee


Bootleggers get creative

During Prohibition, the primary source of drinking alcohol was industrial alcohol—the kind used for making ink, perfumes, and campstove fuel. About 3 gallons of faux gin or whiskey could be made from 1 gallon of industrial alcohol.

The authors of the Volstead Act, the law enacted to carry out the 18th Amendment, had anticipated this: It required that industrial alcohol be denatured, which means that it’s been adulterated with chemicals that make it unfit to drink.

Bootleggers quickly adapted and figured out ways to remove or neutralize these adulterants. The process changed the flavor of the finished product—and not for the better. Poor quality notwithstanding, around one-third of the 150 million gallons of industrial alcohol produced in 1925 was thought to have been diverted to the illegal alcohol trade.

The next most common source of alcohol in Prohibition was alcohol cooked up in illegal stills, producing what came to be called moonshine. By the end of Prohibition, the Prohibition Bureau was seizing nearly a quarter-million illegal stills each year.

The homemade alcohol of this era was harsh. It was almost never barrel-aged and most moonshiners would try to mimic flavors by mixing in some suspect ingredients. They found they could simulate bourbon by adding dead rats or rotten meat to the moonshine and letting it sit for a few days. They made gin by adding juniper oil to raw alcohol, while they mixed in creosote, an antiseptic made from wood tar, to recreate scotch’s smokey flavor.

With few alternatives, these dubious versions of familiar spirits were nonetheless in high demand.

Bootleggers much preferred to trade in spirits than in beer or wine because a bottle of bootleg gin or whiskey could fetch a far higher price than a bottle of beer or wine.

Prior to Prohibition, distilled spirits accounted for less than 40% of the alcohol consumed in America. By the end of the “noble experiment” distilled spirits made up more than 75% of alcohol sales.


Absinthe Used to Be Malaria Medicine: The Secret Medical History of Cocktails

"We don't create cocktails now to cure venereal diseases or to relieve gout, but there's that history there," says Matthew Rowley, author of Lost Recipes of Prohibition: Notes from a Bootlegger’s Manual. Créme de menthe settled rebellious stomachs, the Corpse Reviver brought heavy drinkers back from wicked hangovers, and absinthe fended off malaria. Whether we know it or not, many of our favorite fancy cocktails and spirits have their roots in alchemy and medicine. We just forgot all about it.

Absinthe formulas from 100+ years ago. Photo: John Schulz and Daniel Fishel

According to Rowley, the lineage of modern cocktails may actually date at least as far back as 77 A.D., when a physician under the Roman Emperor Nero penned a treatise on preparing compounded medicines that included wines, bitters, and various alcohols.

Over the years, that tradition held strong. "Ginger syrup and ginger brandy were apothecary things a Rock and Rye had horehound, an herb used to soothe a sore throat," Rowley says. Absinthe, for example, we drink now for its taste, mystique, and aesthetics. But, originally, it was an anti-malarial prescribed for French and Swiss troops in the 1800s.

Those traditions influenced Jerry Thomas, an American bartender from the 19th century whom today's big-name mixologists revere as the father of modern bartending. "Not to take away any glory, but he didn't write that first Bartender's Guide in a vacuum." Rowley says. "The recipes spring from pharmacopeia, or druggists' handbooks." In other words, what we know now as cocktails started out as medicine.

The compound formula for Ginger Brandy from Lyon's notebook. Photo: John Schulz and Daniel Fishel

In the early 1900s, those medicinal traditions informed the bootlegger physician whose diary found its way into Rowley's care and inspired his book. Though he went to pains to hide his German roots, diarist Victor Alfred Lyon gives himself away with his obvious fondness for a German-Russian-Jewish liqueur called kümmel. An unsweetened brandy flavored with caraway seeds, kümmel was as ubiquitous as Chartreuse and Benedictine at the time, and thought to be carminative. “It was served at the end of a meal because it relieves bloating and gas, "Rowley says. "If you’ve eaten a big meal, and you’re gassy and farty, have some caraway-heavy kümmel.”

But once World War I came, Rowley explains, “the umlaut in its name was just a middle finger to America.” So, by the 1960s, the only people who drank it had died off—as had the taste for it.

Liquor-based remedies may have been casualties of the rise of modern medicine, but cocktails found new life as something admired for their flavor, that could make its drinkers feel good without a health-related endgame in sight. As far as Rowley's concerned, thinking of spirits in terms of taste is a modern luxury: “We don’t have to focus on alcohol as medicine anymore we can focus on the taste of it, even if that means drinking Fireball. We don’t drink it for the anti-choleric effects of cinnamon.”

Cinnamon, peppermint, cinnamon, and anise cordial recipes from Lyon's notebook. Photo: John Schulz and Daniel Fishel

We can still see some evidence of medicinal booze, but only when we know where to look. Rowley found a Kümmel Fizz served at Expatriate in Portland, Oregon: old-school kümmel mixed with blackberry liqueur and fresh lime juice. But heɽ like to see today's bartenders go even further, resurrecting techniques such as the ice kümmel—an old method of serving caraway-flavored kümmel by frosting the inside of a clear bottle with supersaturated sugar crystals. Sure, it’s not being used to treat gastrointestinal distress, but it’s keeping a legacy alive and expanding the canon.

"Let's look at what pharmacists were doing, or at what was happening in German, Italian, Latin, and Spanish," he notes, with hopes of broadening the scope of alcohol's history to include medicine and beyond. "I think we can scour these things and other disciplines that seem 'new' to us, and bring back what's long been forgotten."


Top 10 Prohibition cocktails

A swathe of cocktails enjoyed in the 1920s remain relevant today, 80 years after the repeal of Prohibition.

In 1919, the US government sanctioned a law which would criminalise the manufacturing and sale of alcohol for 13 long years – resulting in the stratospheric rise of bootlegging and Al Capone’s gangster squad, as well some of the most creative innovation the drinks industry has ever seen.

The law was widely flouted, and a violent war between the “wets” and the “dries” swiftly ensued.

Alcohol, predominantly in the form of an un-aged, high-proof spirit called moonshine or homemade “bathtub gin”, was still available through rogue manufacturers and the growing mafia, while a corrupt police force turned a blind eye and moralists waged war.

Yet those with a more sensitive palate required some sweeter notes, resulting in a surge of mixed drinks.

While chasers such as the Pickleback helped cleanse the burning palates of Prohibition drinkers, illicit bartenders and party-throwers soon discovered that a wealth of delicious mixed drinks could be made from a few simple ingredients.

Some of these cocktails have fallen by the wayside over the course of spirits history, while others have stepped back into the drinks list spotlight due to a recent swell in speakeasy-style bars across the world.

In celebration of the end of the “noble experiment”, take a look at our top 10 Prohibition cocktails.

Think we’ve missed any out? Let us know by leaving a comment below.


Watch the video: History Brief: Speakeasies Roaring Twenties (October 2021).