Daniel Okrent, Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition

At AlcoholReviews.com, we try to point readers in the direction of products worth their money. We have been remiss in not adding a post encouraging readers to acquire Daniel Okrent’s Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition (Scribner, 2010).

It is not as if we only just saw this book. Oh no. We had Last Call in hand hot off the presses, and reviewed it at length in the January 31, 2011 issue of the Weekly Standard magazine. (Read it here, if you’re a subscriber.)

Put simply, after our Weekly Standard review ran, we simply forgot to add an entry to AlcoholReviews.com.

So let it be said here and now—this is a good book, one that both those with little or much knowledge of Prohibition will enjoy. It carries many fine illustrations, and it moves along pretty quickly.

The book’s lone down-size is its heft—it is 400 pages, and it probably could have benefited from a bit of editorial trimming.

That said, take our it word—it is worth your time and would make a fine gift. New and used copies can be had here.



How One Winery Prospered Under Prohibition

San Antonio Winery Tasting Room. Source: Sanantoniowinery.com

For the most part, Prohibition was fantastically destructive of the American drinks industry. Producers were driven out of business, and thirsty citizens had to source their tipple from illicit sources.

But, some firms did prosper. Amy Scattergood has an enjoyable article in the June 2012 Smithsonian Magazine on the San Antonio Winery. This immigrant-started company “struck a deal to continue to make sacramental wine during Prohibition…Before Prohibition, San Antonio was a small winery, making about 5,000 cases of red wine, the kind of wine that was sold “family-size,” or in jug form, to local immigrants and five area churches. By the time Prohibition ended, it was producing 20,000 cases. Today, San Antonio Winery is the largest supplier of sacramental wine in the country”… (read more)


Garrett Peck, Prohibition in Washington, D.C.: How Dry We Weren’t

Not long ago we wrote well of Daniel Okrent’s book on Prohibition in The Weekly Standard.  For all its strengths, though, Okrent’s book is a bit much for your average reader—what with its more than 400 pages of text.

Garrett Peck has produced a trim volume—158 pages and perhaps 40,000 words—that makes a splendid introduction to the subject of Prohibition and its implementation in Washington, D.C.  We devoured Prohibition In Washington, D.C. (The History Press, 2011) in a few nights.

Peck previously wrote a bigger book on Prohibition and its repercussions, The Prohibition Hangover (Rutgers University Press, 2009).  So the man knows his stuff.  Yet, Peck’s prose is light and his tone amiable.  He is not interested in lecturing at you like a school marm.  Rather, he trots you through the debacle that Prohibition was. (No surprise there, seeing as Peck operates a Temperance walking tour.)

The subtitle of this new book says it all—“How Dry We Weren’t.”  A ward of the federal government, the Districtof Columbia  had Prohibition forced on it a couple years before the rest of the nation, and D.C. citizens resisted it mightily.  Speakeasies were  everywhere, and bootleggers had the run of the town.  Members of Congress voted dry but usually were wet.  One illicit booze salesman even set up shop in the halls of Congress.

We are tempted to say more, but we would rather not give away the story.  Suffice to say, the reader will come away amused, astonished, and greatly relieved that the days of Prohibition have long passed.

You can shop for a copy here.



Whiskey and the Kennedys

As everyone who has been conscious knows, Senator Edward “Ted” Kennedy died in 2009. RIP.

Kennedy, like his brothers, went to Harvard, and profits from whiskey might have helped pay the tuition bill.

Joseph P. Kennedy, Sr., Ted’ s tough-as-nails father, had his hands in many businesses, including booze. According to the Kennedy Presidential Library, he was an importer of Haig & Haig Scots Whisky, Dewar’s Scotch Whiskey, and King William IV Scotch Whisky.

Rumors long have swirled that Papa Kennedy was a bootlegger during Prohibition or a smuggler. Whether he had a hand in production and sales of any illicit hooch is unclear, and seems a bit farfetched. Others have suggested that Kennedy was just a sharp businessman, that he bought large stocks of whiskey before Prohibition began, which he sold afterward.

Whatever the case, as this blog is at pains to make clear, whiskey has had a Forest Gump-like presence in the history over the past few centuries.


Bootlegger Supplied Whiskey to Congress

It was the worst of times and the silliest of times.

If, during Prohibition, you wanted a nice stiff drink in Washington, your best bet was to befriend a congressman. It didn’t much matter which particular congressman. Republican or Democrat, Bible-thumping son of the South or worldly big-city Yankee — nearly all had access to whiskey and gin.

The Washington Post‘s original expose on Cassidy, known as “the man in the green hat,” began on October 24, 1930.

Source: John Kelly, “Congress Winks at Prohibition in Bootlegger’s Tale,” Washington Post, April 27, 2009, p. B3.


Warren G. Harding, Whiskey Drinker

Ah, Prohibition—a time when the law said “no boozing” yet even the President flaunted the law.

“Warren G. Harding, sometimes acted more like a frat boy than a president, but he was serious about golf. He placed a wager on every swing, and despite Prohibition, he sipped cocktails as he played. After his on-course drinking caused an uproar, he switched to a private club where black-jacketed butlers served Scotch-and-sodas from silver trays.”

See a photograph of Harding with an elephant as a caddie here.

Source: Don Van Natta, Jr., “They Got Game. It Just May be the Wrong Game,” New York Times, April 6, 2008, p. 3.