| NEW YORK
NEW YORK Dec 3 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
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
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 pepper corns, 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
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, Minnesota where it runs
through March 16. ()