The Tippling Point | Cocktail, Jazz, Bathtub Liquor: When US Booze Ban Led to Accidental Pleasures of Life
Once women tasted the drops of the funny liquid, inhibition shed, hemlines rose, and legs began to shake. It was also the birth of Jazz age.
A woman drinks a spritz cocktail with Aperol at the "Spirit de Milan" in Milan (Representational Image)
As the US went dry, its citizens, who until the previous day dunked themselves in spirit, now had only two options before them — either throw in the towel and turn sober or pick up the gauntlet and fight their way to the banished booze.
Most of them chose the latter.
In no time there was a reversal of roles: the good Samaritans they once were in maintaining law and order, the cops overnight became the villains and bad guys and bootleggers the public had despised for long turned into angels helping them to the illegal stuff. Bootlegging became a national pastime.
The fight against the law prohibiting alcohol in the US needed not only brain, but a lot of brawn as well. For the first time in the country, organised crime known as the mafia sprang into life. The thirst of America must be quenched. Notorious dons like Al Capone would see to that enough thirst would be sustained in the country to soak up whatever they smuggle across the vast borders of the country.
The law might be strict but loopholes were aplenty.
Doctors were allowed to keep a quota of alcohol for medicinal purposes. They got a lot of patients, they got a lot rich. Churches were allowed to keep wine for ecclesiastic purposes. Result? America became ardently religious in little time.
Those days, wine producers were allowed to produce grape juice instead of wine. Look close. In the labels you would find the statutory notice: “Warning: will ferment and turn into wine”. The label would then go on into a detailed instruction telling the user what he should not do in order to prevent from turning into wine. What an idea sirji!!!
The jury played along. Out of the 1,422 cases that were brought to trial, only 18 were convicted.
All the salons where alcohol was once sold still remained closed. But new shady joints, named ‘speakeasy’ (thus named because you should not speak about their existence in public) mushroomed in every parts of the country. For the camouflage, men took women with them to the joints.
Thus, for the first time in history, alcohol became democratic and one can even argue that the speakeasies, where men shared space with women, sowed the seeds of feminist movement in the west. There was more. Once women tasted the drops of the funny liquid, inhibition shed, hemlines rose, and legs began to shake. It was also the birth of Jazz age.
What were the kinds of drinks that poured in from across the border like?
Many drinks were crudely mixed in bathtubs (and were called bathtub liquor). Yak Yak Bourbon, Soda Pop Moon, Squirrel whiskey were some of their names. Squirrel whiskey was so named because one sip would make you dash towards a tree, dig your nails into its bark and climb up to the top.
So, in order to cut the bite of those drinks, they poured into them whatever liquid they came across (including iodine and glycerine). At some point a few started to pour in fruit juices. That worked. Cocktail was born.
After 13 years and 10 months common sense dawned in America, and the then President Franklin D Roosevelt declared the ban on alcohol void by signing the necessary documents. “This would be a good time for a beer,” he said.
The country heaved a sigh. By that time the national consumption of alcohol registered an increase of 11.6%. Still known as the prohibition era.
(Manu Remakant is a freelance writer who also runs a video blog - A Cup of Kavitha - introducing world poetry to Malayalees. Views expressed here are personal)
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