I know it’s Monday, and we are traditionally abstemious on this day, but if you have a sneaking suspicion you should be celebrating something today, you’re right.
Today, dear Muddlers, is Repeal Day.
On this day, 83 years ago, Utah ratified the 21st Amendment to the USA Constitution.
The 21st Amendment over-turned the ridiculous 18th Amendment which banned the sale of booze for nearly 14 years.
Given the conservative religious character of Utah, perhaps it is understandable that some were keen to get back on the drink.
But for it to be the trigger for the end of Prohibition, surprised many.
On 5 December 1933, it became the 36th State to ratify the Amendment, giving it the required support from ¾ of the States some eight months after Michigan – which has been quite a disappointment to me in 2016 – became the first to sign (Mississippi kept Prohibition until 1966, possibly worried no one would be able to spell their own State if they were given a Tia Maria).
In spite of the tenaciousness of the residents of Elvis Presley’s birthplace, Prohibition had actually been opposed for a long time – Maryland never bothered enforcing it and New York repealed it at a State level in 1923.
So there were plenty of places to get a drink in most of the country – but by 1933, the Great Depression had made it clear that the policy which denied Governments much-needed tax revenue as it stimulated just one industry – organised crime – had to officially go.
Good-bye to the world’s dumbest public policy idea (although, watch this space on that front).
But let’s not throw the baby out with the bath-tub gin.
There was, in fact, some good to come out of those 13 years 10 months and 18 long days and nights of Prohibition.
A bunch of damn fine cocktails still worth drinking today.
Thanks primarily to the appalling taste of most of the booze available in the USA during Prohibition, many well-known cocktails were invented.
If you’ve got a glass in your hand with gin and muddled fruit – particularly citrus fruits – there’s a good chance it was invented or adapted during Prohibition. Throw in the strong taste of citrus juice, a bunch of sugar or honey and suddenly your rocket fuel becomes palatable.
The closure of the official whiskey-for-fun business in the USA (there was still a steady trade in whiskey for “medicinal” purposes), saw a rise in the whisky business from other areas, notably Scotch whisky.
So we all win there.
And as the USA’s skilled bartenders headed off-shore, they were exposed to a range of liquors and influences from Cuba and Europe that might have otherwise taken decades to hit the USA, but were instead brought home in 1933 and introduced to a huge market.
And we saw the rise of the gin cocktail.
As bad as the bath-tub gin was, it had the advantage of not needing to be aged in the way Bourbon or Rye did, so it became more popular and as a result, features today in more cocktails than it otherwise might.
Again, a win for us all thanks to the unintended consequences of Prohibition.
So next time you order a cocktail, perhaps consider one of these Prohibition cocktails (which happily for those of us living in the Southern Hemisphere, are especially good for summer).
Mary Pickford – it’s pretty, it’s pink and it’s summery – Cuban rum, pineapple juice, maraschino liqueur and grenadine – and was invented in Havana for one of the world’s biggest movie stars (who also went on to establish United Artists).
Gin Rickey – although originally made from Bourbon, gin was substituted into the F. Scott Fitzgerald favourite because it was readily available. Get the good stuff, add lime and soda.
Mint Julep – invented before Prohibition but really took off because the mint and sugar hide a number of tastebud evils. Bonus points for letting you trot out your Melanie Hamilton Wilkes and/or Foghorn Leghorn impersonations.
Sidecar – mix up Cognac, Cointreau and lemon juice and you’ve got half of my all-time celluloid hero Aunty Mame’s morning-after breakfast.
The other half – black coffee – is entirely optional.
So here’s to unintended consequences and Happy Repeal Day!