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  • Prohibition at 80

    This month marks the 80th year since that failed social experiment known as Prohibition was repealed for our southern neighbours in the USA.

    Yes, gentle reader, that long dry spell from 1920-1933 finally came to an end in December 1933, with the 21st Amendment to the United States Constitution, and what a party was thrown that day!

    By the 1930’s, pretty much everyone had realized that Prohibition was a failure, with the average alcohol consumption during Prohibition being higher than the days before the demon liquor was outlawed.

    With the laws openly ignored by citizens and lawmakers alike, everyone knew it was only a matter of time before Prohibition was repealed, and the local brewers and distillers miraculously had enough beer and spirits on hand at the stroke of midnight to whet the whistle of the entire nation.

    The last holdouts were the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union, that same band of merry muckrakers that made all the fuss in the beginning.

    Despite the word Christian appearing prominently in the name of the organization, make no mistake, this was a group of Evangelical Protestants, and the Catholics or Jews were most unwelcome among their ranks, largely because some of their religious customs included the consumption of wine.

    Even Muslims, Buddists, and Hindus were forbidden to join the WCTU, despite their religious aversions to alcohol making them natural allies.

    By today’s standards, the WCTU of the 1920’s would seem to be an entirely bigoted and racist organization, who held particular disdain for the large-scale immigration from Ireland and Germany, who were apparently considered the most morally corrupt and drink-addled of all the immigrants.

    The WCTU even had branches in Canada, with famous novelist and Alberta politician Nellie McClung an avid member and staunch supporter of Prohibition.

    Of course, Nellie McClung also supported the forced sterilization of the so-called simple-minded folk to ensure their defects did not pollute the gene pool, so we might need to consider her as less than a shining beacon of morality.

    The WCTU believed in moderation for all healthful activities, and total abstinence from anything they considered unhealthy.

    Unfortunately, the list of activities the WCTU considered unhealthy was pretty long, so they would not be considered a lot of fun at parties.

    Your intrepid liquor reporter takes a more relaxed view; I believe in moderation in all things, especially moderation!

    Lest you think that we could not be so crazy here, take note that even our home province of Alberta has gone thirsty under the cruel yoke of Prohibition, not once, but twice!

    Yes, gentle reader, Alberta was a dry province from 1875 to 1892, and again from 1916 to 1924.

    Unfortunately for those busybodies in the WCTU, the arrival of the roaring 20′s made an open mockery of Prohibition, and Alberta was a dry province in name only.

    Realizing the futility of the law, the Alberta government repealed Prohibition in 1924. Calgary’s own Palliser Hotel was the first establishment to be granted a license to operate a beer parlour, and it still operates to this day!

    To mark the solemn passing of Repeal Night, your loquacious lounge lizard of a liquor reporter has been drinking Prohibition-era cocktails that were once common in the speakeasies and illicit gin joints of those dark days.

    One of my favourites is the Sazerac, which is widely considered to be America’s oldest cocktail, dating all the way back to 1850. Start with a short and wide rocks glass, then muddle up a sugar cube with a few splashes of bitters. Add two ounces of Rye Whiskey and a splash of Absinthe. Add a few ice cubes, then garnish with lemon peel if desired.

    If, unlike your humble narrator, your liquor cabinet does not normally stock Absinthe, a simpler cocktail recipe from the same era is called the Southside. Named after the south-side bootleggers in Chicago, it consisted of rotgut bathtub gin, which needed a lot of mixers just to make it palatable to the illicit boozers during Prohibition. Luckily, you can start with 2 ounces of more civilized store-bought gin, then add an ounce of lime juice, a sugar cube, 3 ounces of soda water, a few mint leaves, and a squeezed lime wedge.

    After a few sips you will almost believe that you are drinking with the Great Gatsby himself!