History, despite what the media would have you believe, is often quite complicated. Prohibition, however, is an exception to that. It has been glamorized and Hollywood-ized, but the effect of the law and its impact on our country is quite clear: it was nearly a complete disaster. But since we tend to look on the sunny side of life here at Lifted Spirits, let’s point out one positive thing:
The development of cocktail culture
Kansas City was part of a group of cities that became hubs for the illegal speakeasy trade. As such, we participated early on in the development of cocktail culture, which is still continuing to this day.
Cocktails exploded in popularity in part because people were looking for ways to cover up the taste of bad booze. They continued to grow in popularity because, well, cocktails are delicious.
But that’s pretty much it. It’s not an insignificant side effect, but it pales in comparison to the destruction wreaked upon the US from 1920, when the Eighteenth Amendment was in force, to 1933 when the Twenty-First Amendment ended Prohibition.
The Down Sides of Prohibition
Destroyed the tradition of craft distilling
Since the United States was just a loose collection of colonies, distilling was a part of the community and the family, and a tradition we held dear. There were thousands of distilleries in the United States before Prohibition. Only a small handful survived. It wasn’t until about 10 years ago that the laws finally started to change, making it feasible for small distilleries (like us!) to exist again.
This chart shows how ubiquitous distilling used to be in our culture, and how completely that part of our heritage has been lost. We’re trying to bring it back!
Created bad liquor
Since nearly all reputable distilleries were shut down, people were subjected to dangerous “bathtub gin” which not only tasted bad but in some cases were very dangerous. A lot of the stories about moonshine or home-distilled spirits making you go blind date back to spirits made badly during Prohibition. Deaths from alcohol rose over 400% during Prohibition. Not because people were drinking more, but because they were drinking terrible alcohol.
Boosted and glamorized organized crime
The demand for alcohol did not decrease during Prohibition, but it put all legal breweries and wineries out of business. In effect, the government handed the Mafia a gift-wrapped monopoly on alcohol sales. The incredible amount of wealth this poured into organized crime turned gangsters into the royalty of the Roaring Twenties, even as homicide rates increased by 50%.
Whether it’s a series like Boardwalk Empire that glamorizes this specific period we are talking about, or something like Goodfellas that came so many years later, organized crime became glamorized during this time period, and ever since. (But seriously, Boardwalk Empire was awesome…).
Corrupted law enforcement, courts, and politicians
People were trying to pay bills and support their families and when money was waved in front of them, a lot of money, often, they folded. Other times when some tried to do the right thing they were intimidated, beaten, or in many cases, killed.
“Prohibition was a period of time accompanied by ‘the greatest crime record ever attained by a nation'”
– Rattling the Cup on Chicago Crime, 1929
The new illegal industry wanted to protect its revenues and made sure that they protected themselves all the way up and down the chain.
Created disrespect for the law and religion
The Eighteenth Amendment was widely (and rightly) seen as a crusade by self-righteous temperance types who were seeking to reform society through the government. They promised a richer, healthier, safer, more moral society. That didn’t exactly pan out. As a result, people felt free to disrespect the law in this aspect (and perhaps in others) and, in part, blamed the religious groups which were a driving force behind the temperance movement.
Loss of tax revenue
There was a loss of billions of dollars of tax revenue, which, adjusted for inflation, would be in the trillions today. Nearly all of that revenue ended up going to organized crime. Now, we don’t love writing those big checks to the government, but it beats supporting crime families that routinely shook down law-abiding businesses for “protection” money.
Created a stigma associated with drinking
To this day, America is weird about alcohol. We’ve created an age disjunction where you can drive a vehicle, get married, serve in the military, get a credit card, or legally execute contracts, but still can’t consume alcohol. Such a gap occurs nowhere else in the world and goes to show that almost a century on, this period is still in the American consciousness and culture.
Which Brings Us to Today…
Unfortunately, we can’t ask for a do-over on the whole Prohibition thing. What we can do (and aspire to do each day here at Lifted Spirits) is encourage a love for the craft of making alcohol, and helpful knowledge about the art and culture around it, all while being a responsible part of our community. We’re glad to have you with us.
Want to learn more about the process of creating incredible spirits? Come visit us for a tour of our distillery, any day we are open, starting at 5 p.m. And we promise… not even our earliest experiments were ever made in a bathtub.