December 5th, 2012
12:00 PM ET
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At 5:31 p.m. Eastern, raise a glass to the decades that have elapsed since the 21st Amendment to the Constitution was ratified, officially ending 13 years of Prohibition and re-legalizing the production, purchase and consumption of alcohol in the United States.

“What America needs now is a drink,” quipped President Franklin D. Roosevelt when Ohio, Pennsylvania and Utah ratified the 21st Amendment on December 5, 1933.

Of course, numerous “speakeasies” - named because patrons often had to whisper a password through a locked door to gain admittance - sprung up in Prohibition’s wake. Police Commissioner Grover Whalen estimated that New York alone had over 32,000 speakeasies, and the neo-speakeasy fad persists in cocktail bars. (You can also drink in bars that were speakeasies in the ‘20s and ‘30s and that are still serving today.)

Other things arose out of Prohibition, including the real creativity with which determined drinkers evaded the law. Popular songs of the era just before Prohibition included “What’ll We Do On A Saturday Night (When The Town Goes Dry),” “Everybody Wants A Key To My Cellar” and even Irving Berlin’s “You Cannot Make Your Shimmy Shake On Tea.”

Prescriptions for alcohol for medicinal use skyrocketed. Owners of shuttered breweries and wineries winkingly sold malt syrup and other items for home alcohol production, such as the Vino Santo Grape Brick, described by historian Daniel Okrent as “a solid, dehydrated block of grape juice came in a printed wrapper instructing the purchaser to add water to make grape juice, but to be sure not to add yeast or sugar, or leave it in a dark place...because ‘it might ferment and become wine.’”

An ad for the Grape Brick in the November 1931 issue of Popular Mechanics offered them in “Port, sherry, Champagne, claret, etc.” flavors. Flasks were disguised as books (“The Four Swallows” by one J.B. Corn), and cocktail shakers masqueraded as trophies.

On the darker side, Prohibition also enabled bootleggers, corruption and violence, and enforcement cost the government staggering sums. Widespread public sentiment began to shift against Prohibition when a Michigan woman was sentenced to life in prison for selling two pints of moonshine, and cash-strapped governments hit hard by the Great Depression were desperate for the increased tax revenue that legalized alcohol would bring. In April 1933, Congress legalized low-alcohol 3.2% beer, and the Repeal Day would come eight months later.

nonalcoholic gin

In his book, “Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition,” Daniel Okrent writes that, “in almost every respect imaginable, Prohibition was a failure. It encouraged criminality and institutionalized hypocrisy. It deprived the government of revenue, stripped the gears of the political system, and imposed profound limitations on individual rights.”

Okrent also points out that as a direct result of Prohibition, Americans consumed far less liquor after Repeal than they had before 1920. Repeal replaced “the almost-anything-goes ethos with a series of state-by-state codes, regulations, and enforcement procedures," he writes, and it was actually more difficult to get a drink after Prohibition than it had been during it.

The Distilled Spirits Council, a trade organization representing liquor producers, has produced to raise awareness of Prohibition. Ben Jenkins of the Council notes that, “12 states continue to ban Sunday spirits sales, and 6 states continue to ban spirits tastings. ...Prohibition-era laws make no sense in a modern economy, and that’s why policymakers around the country are striking them down for good.” Others link the government’s ban on alcohol with its ban on marijuana, calling it a modern-day Prohibition that has similarly led to smuggling and organized crime.

The beverage alcohol industry in America is huge now, and it obviously owes its success to Repeal. As does NASCAR; today’s stock cars are the descendants of bootleggers’ souped-up rides used to outrun the revenuers. And even the drugstore business soared with the widespread prescription of “medical” alcohol - Walgreens went from 20 stores in 1920 to 525 in 1929. Soft drink sales rose as well as mixed drinks became more in vogue.

As cocktail historian David Wondrich writes, “Prohibition, in short, was not a good time for the discerning drinker. ...The bartender’s art was directed toward covering the taste of bad liquor, not enhancing the taste of good.”

How will you celebrate Repeal Day? Why not have a Prohibition-era cocktail? The Bee’s Knees is easy, delicious and you’re drinking history.

The Bee’s Knees

  • 1 1/2 oz. gin (bathtub or otherwise)
  • 3/4 oz. honey syrup (made by mixing equal parts honey and hot water, stirring until dissolved)
  • 1 tsp fresh-squeezed lemon juice

Shake all ingredients well over ice, strain into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with a lemon twist.

Or, people who drank during Prohibition were called “scofflaws”, a word coined in 1924 by a contest sponsored by the Anti-Saloon League. A few days after the word was first published, Harry’s New York Bar in Paris debuted the Scofflaw Cocktail:


  • 1 oz. Canadian whisky
  • 1 oz. dry vermouth
  • 1/4 oz. lemon juice
  • 1 dash grenadine
  • 1 dash orange bitters

Stir all ingredients with ice, strain into a chilled cocktail glass, and garnish with a lemon wedge.

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Filed under: Cocktail Recipes • Culture • Food History • Food Holidays • Sip • Spirits

soundoff (51 Responses)
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  3. Pete M

    America's alcohol industry sure is huge, as they mentioned. However, did you know that 10 percent of the drinking population consumes 50 percent of alcohol that is produced? .... Keep coming back my friends :)

    December 6, 2012 at 10:36 pm |
  4. mmi16

    Prohibition of anything the public desires is what creates Organized Crime to supply whatever has been prohibited.

    Alcahol prohibition created the power in the Miafia.
    Drug prohibition has created the various drug cartels.

    Substance abuse – any kind of substance – drink, drugs and anything yet to be invented – is a personal family problem – the individuals with the problem have DONE IT TO THEMSELVES and only they can pull themselves out of it.

    The illegality of drugs just raises the overall crime rate as addicts undertake a life of petty crime (robbery, house breaking etc. etc.) to gain funds to feed their addicitons at black market prices. Legal, cheap recreational pharmacuticals would decrease the overall crime rate.

    December 6, 2012 at 1:48 am |
  5. us_1776

    And you would have thought that we would have learned the hard lesson about prohibition. But NO.
    We have now repeated the same failed policies with drugs that we did with alcohol. And we have spent over $2.5 TRILLION on this stupid failed war on drugs. And what did we accomplish? Exactly NOTHING. More drugs than before the prohibition. Millions of harmless users in our "for-profit" prisons where they learn to become REAL criminals. Drug gang turf wars every single day in every city in America. The prohibition has ruined the country. Far far worse than the drugs could ever possibly do.


    December 5, 2012 at 10:27 pm |
  6. Dave Rev

    "On the darker side, Prohibition also enabled bootleggers, corruption and violence, and enforcement cost the government staggering sums."

    Yes, prohibition was one extreme. Yet, today the pendulum has swung to the opposite extreme. In our day, alchohol consumption and its resultant problems add up to staggering sums not only in fire & emergency dept. expenses, but most tragically, the maiming and loss of lives. It is only a matter of time before many of the companies bottling alcohol face burgeoning lawsuits just as the tobacco companies a few years back.

    I believe I read that Native Americans somewhere in the USA have already filed a lawsuit against an alcohol producing company.

    December 5, 2012 at 10:13 pm |
    • us_1776

      Prohibition is never the answer. Alcohol and drug dependencies are health problems that need dealt with through treatment programs – not prisons.

      What did the human race ever do before there was any prohibition? They lived perfectly well.


      December 5, 2012 at 10:31 pm |
  7. MilitaryAF

    Funny how many people posting here actually BELIEVE that prohibition was successful! Have you folks ever heard of the Mafia/Mob? Do a bit of research on the era & see what they were involved in back then & the very large element that enabled them to increase their power.

    We dodged a major bullet with Romney losing. Through him the LDS church would have quickly taken over to run the country. Take it from a non-mormon that lives in Utah! Romney's mormon leaders combined with the ridiculous right GOP's misguided minds would have wreaked absolute havoc on this country!

    December 5, 2012 at 10:12 pm |
  8. abbydelabbey

    Just think of the tax money that could be made from legalizing marijuana - just a thought ... not necessarily a good one, but still ...
    Prohibition did not and does NOT work ...

    December 5, 2012 at 9:55 pm |
  9. K from AZ

    And today in AmeriKA we need a lot more drinks because of the fools & idiots who re-elected this EVIL!

    December 5, 2012 at 8:55 pm |
    • Rick edgy and hip

      Have another drink, boy

      December 6, 2012 at 6:29 am |
  10. Nietodarwin

    There are several deaths of babies and toddlers each year from nicotine poisoning, (just eating a half smoked cig can do it.)
    Many more deaths from alcohol poisoning.
    Total deaths from marijuana use in the entire recorded history of humanity, ZERO.

    December 5, 2012 at 8:26 pm |
    • K from AZ

      What's your point pothead?

      December 5, 2012 at 8:56 pm |
      • Rick


        December 6, 2012 at 5:39 am |
  11. TonDef

    The Constitution does not grant the federal government the power to outlaw drugs it disapproves of. It's a states rights issue. That's why it required a Constitutional amendment to prohibit the production, distribution, and consumption of alcoholic beverages. It took another amendment to repeal that amendment and end prohibition. So why wasn't an amendment required to ban other recreational drugs such as marijuana? The answer is that the federal government tramples the Constitution whenever it's convenient and/or popular to do so. The war on drugs needs to be challenged
    fiercely, not only because of it's hopelessness and fiscal irresponsibility, but because it is, and always has been Unconstitutional.

    only because of it's hopelessness and fiscal irresponsibility, but also because it is, and always has been

    December 5, 2012 at 7:57 pm |
    • TonDef

      Oops. I had a little trouble editing my comment, but you get the point.

      December 5, 2012 at 8:03 pm |
  12. JC

    What America needs right now is a toke. What congress and the senate need right now are an enema, an old person roid cushion, a bottle of viagra and some gay porn.

    December 5, 2012 at 7:17 pm |
  13. Jeff

    I'm still waiting to hear the toxicology tests on Jovan Belcher. I'm guessing he was either high..or drunk when he shot his girlfriend.

    December 5, 2012 at 7:07 pm |
    • sharoom

      Maybe he was just angry.

      December 5, 2012 at 9:00 pm |
      • Jdizzle McHammerpants

        Reports were he was drunk. Stones people are rarely violent.

        December 5, 2012 at 10:25 pm |
        • sam stone

          true....just sort of happy

          December 6, 2012 at 5:44 am |
  14. theoldfool1950

    Why have we not learned from this lesson? We have half of a country that absolutely gets it wrong every time. And they keep criticizing the governent but continue to vote for the same people and the same party. Well THE party will not start until this party is brought to its knees. We seem to keep getting close but then the right wingers just need the pain. Why do they make us do everything the longest, hardest, most painful way? They are everything they hate. They are the true American Taliban. The have the same problems with abortion, homosexuality and, in general, anyone who is not just like them. And they all just love their guns. They have to stop, because that is not what this country is about. This is the great melting pot, seasoned with spices from all around the world. The thing that messes up the soup the most is the sour grapes of those who think that they are entitled to a life and a living simply because they have spent their entire lives here.

    December 5, 2012 at 6:56 pm |
  15. sinsationalbulk

    It's crazy...cartels are profiting over drugs while the world wage this unbeatable war. There is no less amount of drugs on the streets and corrupt gov are making money on the side. Why is it ok for ppl to be able to relax with a book, alcohol, or anything else they enjoy but hate that I may want to smoke in the comfort of my own home? Land of the FREE is only when you are going with what others believe is moral. Silly ppl don't even realise many ppl smoke it just isnt't announced. I know surgeons to other professionals that enjoy it.

    December 5, 2012 at 6:31 pm |
    • Nietodarwin

      YUP Other professionals like teachers, who don't even take a drug test. It's BIG BUSINESS locking people up, (and highly privatized now.) Pheuck 'em if they can't take a toke.

      December 5, 2012 at 8:16 pm |
  16. kbbcoop

    Who in the hell would have a dry county now, and why?? That is so backwards, I would move if I lived there, how embarrassing.

    December 5, 2012 at 6:01 pm |
  17. 2frugalfoodies

    Reblogged this on 2frugalfoodies and commented:
    79 years ago today the 21st Amendment was ratified! Be sure to raise a glass to this day in history this evening...

    December 5, 2012 at 5:53 pm |
  18. dan

    The income generated from incarcerating MJ users is far too great for it to ever be legal. What would the DEA do if they could not seize all of your property to finance their employment. What would our politicians do for under the table money if they were not on the take to condemn someone property so that a new jail could be built. We have to get real people, in a corrupt society ruled by corrupt politicians any enjoyment by the masses is going to be either illegal or taxed out of business.

    December 5, 2012 at 5:36 pm |
    • Sailor101

      Just what the heck does your comment have to do with this articule? Go spout your diatribe someplace else! REALLY???

      December 5, 2012 at 6:29 pm |
  19. Clown

    To bad i'm at work, could use a couple of drinks about now.

    December 5, 2012 at 5:36 pm |
  20. Margo

    Prohibition is NOT OVER in Arkansas. We live in a dry county.

    December 5, 2012 at 5:07 pm |
    • pep

      Bootlegging must be big business then.

      December 5, 2012 at 5:53 pm |
    • Nietodarwin

      Dry county= overly DELUSIONAL evangelical county too I'll bet. I bet all the high school biology teachers are AFRAID to teach well, because teaching biology well means teaching evolution, the FOUNDATION of modern biology, as much as the theory of gravity to physics, or basic algebra and calculus to mathematics. RELIGION is ruining our country, it's the reason our student's test scores are so low in comparison to other countries.

      December 5, 2012 at 8:22 pm |
  21. T-Bone

    Though I didn't see this article as being about legalizing marijuana, it may be interesting to note that the liquor industry is one of the top lobbyists against legalization. Also, both appear to have been passed off as having medicinal value in order to slip by the law.

    December 5, 2012 at 3:07 pm |
    • Jdizzle McHammerpants ♫♫

      Because the rate of alcoholism would drop sharply. Less profits.

      December 5, 2012 at 3:19 pm |
      • SteveDave

        Why not both? That's the way I like to party.

        December 5, 2012 at 3:39 pm |
        • Cheech N. Chong

          Dave's not here...

          December 5, 2012 at 3:47 pm |
      • sam stone

        i agree.....if you have some good bud, why would you want to ruin the buzz with the effects of alcohol?

        December 6, 2012 at 5:47 am |
  22. AnneSD

    The biggest problem I have with legalizing marijuana is the way it is normally used. When you smoke pot, everyone around you is also affected. This would especially be a problem in high density areas like apartment buildings and condos. As one who is allergic to the stuff, that is a real issue. If it was just ingested personally, like in food, it would be much less of a concern.

    December 5, 2012 at 2:46 pm |
    • AleeD®

      Then I say bring on the peanuts!!!

      December 5, 2012 at 3:01 pm |
    • Destry

      Clueless brainwashed morons like you are part of the reason its illegal. There is no possible way someone smoking a joint is going to affect anyone else even in the same room let alone a neighbor. That kind of rhetoric is the problem, you have no clue what your talking about.

      December 5, 2012 at 5:21 pm |
      • sam

        And I mean ALL smoking. YOU don't know what YOU'RE talking about.

        December 5, 2012 at 5:40 pm |
      • Sailor101

        I consider you to be a clueless, brain dead moron.

        December 5, 2012 at 6:32 pm |
    • sam

      @Destry – hey pothead, guess what? She said she's allergic. I live in an apartment complex where smoking was banned and we can be evicted for it. The folks upstairs say yes, the smoke travels up. Idjit.

      December 5, 2012 at 5:40 pm |
      • Destry

        Hey SAM guess what?! I have two close friends that are deathly allergic to pot smoke and as long as they dont ingest it in any way they have no problem. One of them even rolls doobies, can touch it and etc.. as long as they dont smoke it they have never had any problems. Go smoke on that idjit...

        December 5, 2012 at 6:10 pm |
      • Allergic to idiots

        So how about dogs and cats? My son is allergic to dogs, but I don't get to ban dogs. You sound like the families that get bans on peanut products at schools because their "lone" kid has bad genetics. Get a HEPA system if your that allergic.

        December 5, 2012 at 6:17 pm |
    • abbydelabbey

      okay - I have a quick ? – you make some brownies with marijuana and get the munchies and then eat more brownies and get more munchies! what a vicious cycle that would be! ;) and of course all the weight you gain ... LOL

      December 5, 2012 at 9:58 pm |
    • sam stone

      your alergies are not realisticly a reason to continue massively failed public policy

      December 6, 2012 at 5:51 am |
  23. Jdizzle McHammerpants ♫♫

    Next: da MaryJane. Break out the bongs in anticipation, everyone.

    December 5, 2012 at 12:19 pm |
    • SteveDave

      I am waiting till they legalize Meth. Talk about a party!!!

      December 5, 2012 at 2:01 pm |
      • Jdizzle McHammerpants ♫♫

        Dave's not here.

        December 5, 2012 at 3:18 pm |
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