Tag Archives: Alcohol History

A Still for Every Person in Boston

As we covered recently, it was never illegal to DRINK alcohol during Prohibition: only to make, sell, or transport it. Obviously, this means that at some point people were going to run out of their stockpiles, and need more booze.

Naturally, there were people happy to illegally oblige the thirsty masses, and make more booze. Also naturally, federal agents were out to get them and uphold the law.

During the first 5 years of Prohibition the feds destroyed 696,933 stills. That is more than 1 still for every person in Boston, today.

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What Did Prohibition Require?

Prohibition in the United States lasted from 1920 – 1933. Its mention conjures up illicit drinking in speakeasies and bloody gangster activities, but do you know what were the official parameters?

The effort that culminated in banning booze in our nation began well before the Civil War (1861-1865). Its proponents were looking to achieve a more moral and productive society, and they thought that keeping people from drinking would solve significant societal ills.

The legislation that resulted in Prohibition was actually quite unsatisfactory to teetotalers (people who do not drink). They saw it as not stringent enough.

At no point during Prohibition was illegal to DRINK alcohol. It was only illegal to make, sell, or transport it. While having a stockpile of alcohol was perfectly legal, however you could not do so at more than 2 residences—and at that one home had to be in the city and one in the country.

There were also medical and religious exemptions. Doctors could actually write prescriptions for booze, and religious leaders could dole it out for official ceremonies.

Plenty of people broke the law to drink during Prohibition, but there were many who imbibed while following the law.

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The Moscow Mule is Older than You Think…

Have you ever had an idea that you were sure would pan out? Well Russian citizen Sophie Berezinski thought in 1941 that cute little mugs made out of copper would be a hit, so she used her father’s copper factory to get 2,000 of them fabricated.

When nobody in all of Russia wanted a stupid copper cup, Sophie emigrated to America to try and sell her 2,000 mugs. Apparently, Los Angeles did not have much interest in copper drinking vessels, either.

After passing the point of despair in hoping to ever find a profitable home for her copper mugs, fate caught up with Sophie at the Cock ‘n’ Bull pub. There she met two other failing entrepreneurs. John Martin’s Smirnoff distillery was floundering, and the Cock ‘n’ Bull’s proprietary ginger beer was also not selling.

Thus, as the three of them sat down and made a cocktail combining products from their 3 near-bust businesses, the Moscow Mule was invented in 1941, and the damn copper mug served no purpose but a marketing ploy.

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Whiskey + 1941 A.D. = Aspirin

Those of us who enjoy cocktails owe a debt of gratitude to the medical community. Be it straight out of the bottle or infused with herbs, for thousands of years doctors and healers have turned to alcohol for treatment of all manner of disorders.

Somewhere along the line people started enjoying the feeling that herb-infused medicinal alcohol afforded, and when mixed with wine birthed the grandfather of Vermouth.

More recently, in 1941 Dr. Harold George Wolff of Cornell University declared that, “Whiskey is one of the cheapest and best painkillers known to man.” According to his studies, 2 ounces of whiskey would increase human threshold for pain by 45% for 2 hours.

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Surviving Prohibition: The Anheuser-Busch Edition

For 13 years between 1920 – 1933 it was illegal to make alcohol in America. While over 1,000 breweries went out of business, several found ways to retool their facilities and keep making money.

Not content with slipping into bankruptcy, Anheuser-Busch switched from making beer to amphibious cars. While I have never seen them in any of John Wayne’s WWII movies, apparently they saw action with the army & navy in the second world war.

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How Did Beer Teach Wine Makers to Start Aging in Wooden Barrels?

Before the Gauls—the people inhabiting modern day France & Belgium—succumbed to Roman armies 2,300 years ago, wine was stored and transported in clay pots. These pots (called amphorae) originated with the ancient Egyptians.

Upon invading the Gallic Empire of western Europe, the Romans noticed that the locals transported their beer in light weight & sturdy barrels made out of oak. After they switched to these wooden containers for their wine, the Romans noticed how oak barrels influenced the flavor of their wines.

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Expiration Date: 10,000 Years Ago

9,000 years ago people in today’s Yangtze Valley, China cultivated wild rice—though perhaps Rice is like the dog of the plant kingdom, in that it practically begged to be domesticated. The plant itself has a remarkable ability to thrive in either dry or flooded fields. In addition, it mass polinates via the wind.

Today, there are over 110,000 varieties of Rice, although only Oryza sativa var. japonica is ever used for making alochol—the oldest of which (made actually 10,000 years ago) is a Rice wine made also with fruit and honey.

Dogfish Head teamed up with molecular biologist Patrick McGovern to re-brew this ancient alcohol in 2006. The result is their Chateau Jiahu—named after the site in China’s Henan Province where the archeological evidence turned up.

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