Today marks 83 years since the repeal of Prohibition, the 13-year ban on the production, importation, transportation and sale of alcoholic beverages in the United States. While the government had strong intentions to halt drinking, its citizens had other plans and maneuvers in mind to skirt the law and get their hands on booze, which included smuggling in rum from the Bahamas, whiskey from Canada, Champagne from France and gin from England.
Prohibition had lasting effects on cocktail culture. Top bartenders in the country left for London, Paris and Cuba to pursue their careers behind the bar, and with that, the recipes and overall cocktail know-how left with them as most cocktail intelligence was spoken, rather than written down. The quality of alcohol consumed in many cases during Prohibition was lowered when factoring in industrial ethanol, or methanol which can blind or kill the drinker.
Cocktails did not really begin to shine again until 1934, the year after Prohibition ended when the tiki craze hit. Tiki culture swept the country for decades, but fell out of fashion in the 1970s after original recipes had been altered into almost undrinkable and overly sweet concoctions masked with tiny umbrellas.
The pre-Prohibition cocktails did not begin to resurface until the late 1980s and early 1990s. Famed bartender Dale DeGroff is credited with returning to the days of using fresh ingredients in cocktails (in lieu of sour mix in many cases) during his stint at The Rainbow Room. This approach lead to the research of original recipes and techniques to bring back classic cocktails including the sidecar, the mojito and old fashioned.
Fast forward to the present day, serving craft cocktails has become the industry standard and if you know what you’re doing, you can score a free one today to celebrate their resurgence.
Written by Mike Clemente