The Story of Government and Cocktails

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In the latest issue of Reason magazine, Peter Suderman has a long essay on how Prohibition almost irretrievably killed artisan cocktails:

"The classic 'old fashioned' is the simplest of cocktails—sugar, bitters, and whiskey, stirred over ice, then served on the rocks with a citrus rind—and also, possibly, the best.

Thanks to the federal government, we almost lost it forever...

What happened between 1920 and 1934? Prohibition. With a few exceptions, the federal government banned the sale, production, and shipment of alcohol. Bars were closed. Distilleries were shut down. What drinking remained went underground.

When Americans came to their senses, passing the 21st Amendment and repealing the nationwide booze ban, drinkers bellied up to bars and asked for one of the few cocktails they remembered: an old fashioned. What they got would have been unrecognizable 20 years prior...

It wasn't just the old fashioned that emerged degraded and destroyed. It was the whole of pre-Prohibition cocktail culture—the knowledge, skills, craft, and supply that for decades had informed one of America's original culinary arts, and even the essential idea of the cocktail itself. In the space of a generation, the entire country went from inventing the cocktail as we know it to forgetting how to make a decent drink..."

The entire piece is well worth a read.