Mention Prohibition and one has a mental image of a smoky speakeasy that’s down a back alley. Or you think of a list of cocktails that have been forever labeled as “Prohibition Cocktails.” Even today, craft beverage makers are marketing their own version of historical Prohibition Parties.
“On January 16, 1920, America Went Dry”
But Prohibition was a thirteen- year period that changed America. Edward Behr’s award-winning book provides a vivid glimpse into this period in American history. I picked up a softcopy of the book at the Prohibition Museum in Savannah, Georgia. I spent a few hours browsing the museum and tasting cocktails in their replica speakeasy. The visit only whets my appetite to learn more about both Prohibition and the 1920s. I found Prohibition, Thirteen Years that Changed America in the gift shop. (You can find it on Amazon)
Edward Behr’s book is not just for history buffs. It is for anyone curious about this period. It is for those that question, “How did Prohibition happen?” and “Could such a movement happen within today’s politics?”
Before visiting the Prohibition Museum and reading Behr’s book, my vision of Prohibition included those of the speakeasy, my favorite cocktail, gangsters, and revenuers. What I learned is that American ingenuity also prevailed. Some of today’s leading businesses and products were established during Prohibition. Entrepreneurs that could not produce spirits found alternative business ventures. Housewives even became proficient in building their own basement stills. Many claim that Prohibition gave birth to today’s Nascar.
Here are a few examples of alternative business plans during Prohibition:
Bevo, by Anheuser-Busch, was the most popular non-alcoholic beverage during Prohibition
Did Prohibition make Walgreens Drugstore? The company started with a single drug store in 1901. In 1919 the company had 20 stores in Chicago. By the end of Prohibition, Walgreens had over 500 stores, nationwide. Walgreens had a legal prescription whiskey business. You will read about the rampant growth of the prescription alcohol business in the book, Prohibition.
From Behr’s Book: “On January 16, 1920, America Went Dry…for the next thirteen years the Eighteenth Amendment prohibited the making, selling or transportation of intoxicating liquors, heralding a new era of crime and corruption on all levels of society…..Formerly law-abiding citizens brewed moonshine, became rumrunners and frequented speakeasies.”
I especially enjoyed Behr’s description of the weeks leading up to January 16, 1920. Americans had a pre-notice to the start of Prohibition. One could store those intoxicating liquors in one’s home for personal use. Anti-Prohibitionist hoarded alcohol and transported alcohol in any means possible. I tried to imagine what I would be doing in the first two weeks of January 1920….
Prohibition is about the tumultuous days. It’s about flappers, and it’s about gangsters. You will read about Pretty Boy Floyd, Lucky Luciano, and Al Capone. You will also learn about the story behind the famous St. Valentines’ Day Massacre. You will imagine the jazz music and the flapper clothes.
But you will also realize the ties to the Commonwealth of Virginia. Not all of the stories are from Chicago or New York City. Some of the most exciting tales are from the mountains of Virginia. Revenuers chased cars laden with moonshine down mountain roads. Some Virginia moonshiners established a national footprint for their shine and even had a known brand. They transported their moonshine to big cities, including Chicago. And crime followed the trail back to Virginia.
While walking through the museum, I found a display showcasing Virginia’s Franklin County and the Bondurant brothers. America was legally dry, but Franklin County became known as the wettest county in America during Prohibition. (Actually, they claim to be the wettest in the world)
As you are scrolling through social media, you will probably land on an invitation to a Prohibition Party or maybe a recipe for Sidecar, a Rickey, or a Southside cocktail. If you are curious about Prohibition, read the book by Edward Behr. It is a vivid description of the days of Prohibition. Could a movement of this magnitude happen again? Well, some say that history repeats itself…
In future editions of Dine Wine & Stein, I will explore the books and movies about this time in Virginia history. I will even visit the new Bondurant Brothers Distillery in Chase City, Virginia. Perhaps, they have the secret family recipe?