Today is the 75th anniversary of the return of our constitutional right to have a drink. (Well, except for those forsaken places known as “dry counties,” which translates as “places I don’t want to go.”) There are those of us who’d like to see this as a national holiday, but until then, we’ll just keep celebrating it every year.

Ah, those lovely words in the 21st Amendment …

Section 1. The eighteenth article of amendment to the Constitution of the United States is hereby repealed.

The 18th Amendment, of course, being the one that instituted prohibition of alcohol. And as much as we love the 21st Amendment, there’s that pesky Section 2 that leaves the regulation of liquor up to the states, which is why to this day we still have trouble shipping wine and spirits to certain places, and state liquor stores in others, and where you can’t get certain products because it’s not in the state liquor store’s inventory, etc. Maybe we’ll get over some of that one day too.

Mitch Frank has a great article on the history of Prohibition and its effects on the wine industry in particular in the Wine Spectator, and while we think about the bad things about Prohibition, Camper reminds us of the upsides of Prohibition:

– It also popularized tequila in the United States. Mmm, tequila.

– It set the stage for the tiki movement. Rum fell out of popularity in America long before Prohibition. But during those long years, tourists flocked to rum-producing countries like Cuba to enjoy Daiquiris and other rum drinks. After Repeal, a lot of rum sat around in barrels with nobody drinking it. After WWII, Donn the Beachcomber and Trader Vic used this cheap supply of inexpensive aged rum to create some of the best cocktails the world has ever known.

– It pushed American cocktails and American bartenders abroad to find employment. Yes, this sucked for America, but was great for the rest of the world as bartenders relocated in Europe and South America vastly improved the quality of drinking throughout the world.

– It ended the great sausage party. Speakeasies were integrated with both men and women, allowing the female gender to join the party for the first time. Bars without women are depressing and scary in one way or another.

– It created cocktail hour and cocktail parties and the demand for barware and all the other terms and practices and amenities for drinking at home and entertaining at home with cocktails. As people had to keep drinking on the DL during Prohibition, they turned to entertaining behind closed doors. I, for one, love a good house party, and enjoy the occasional happy hour cocktail.

By the way, if you’re not reading Camper’s most excellent blog of all things boozy, Alcademics, you should me.

Now … let’s drink!

I got this drink via Jay, who adapted it from Jamie, who got it from an 1878 tome called American and Other Drinks. Use whatever aromatic bitters you have on hand — Angostura, no doubt, but also try Fee’s (especially the Whiskey Barrel-Aged one), or Hermes or the wonderful stuff from The Bitter Truth. I got a big box of stuff from them last week, and I’ve been enjoying all of it (expect a feature next week). They don’t have distribution in the States yet, so shipping from Germany is a tad expensive, but I think it’s all worth it. For the recipe below, I followed Jay’s suggestion to use the most excellent (and very limited edition) Bitter Truth Repeal Bitters, in honor of the holiday.

(adapted from Leo Engel, Criterion’s American Bar, London, 1870s)

1-1/2 ounces VSOP Cognac.
2 barspoons Cointreau.
1-1/2 barspoons fresh lemon juice.
1 barspoon simple syrup.
1 barspoon aromatic bitters.

Stir with ice and strain into your most elegant cocktail glass. Garnish with a lemon peel.

This is in Sidecar/New Orleans sour territory, but you get a great spice flavor from the bitters, which are also quite bracing on the tongue. This is a cocktail for grownups. It’s also got more subtlety and complexity than a simple Sidecar (which I do love, don’t get me wrong). I enjoy using smaller amounts of ingredients as accents in cocktails, which is why I’ve taken to 19th Century-style “improved cocktails” so much, and wny I now keep a few ingredients like maraschino and absinthe in dasher bottles for convenience. (I’m still trying to develop a taste for the original Casino cocktail recipe, thanks to Erik’s encouragement, but at the moment I’m still drinking them with the heavyhanded amounts of 1.5 teaspoons of maraschino, I’m afraid. But I’m workin’ on it!)


I'll keep drinking,  thanks.