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The Prohibition Hangover

The Prohibition Hangover: Alcohol in America from Demon Rum to Cult Cabernet

Garrett Peck
Copyright Date: 2009
Published by: Rutgers University Press
Pages: 336
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  • Book Info
    The Prohibition Hangover
    Book Description:

    Spirits are all the rage today. Two-thirds of Americans drink, whether they enjoy higher priced call brands or more moderately priced favorites. From fine dining and piano bars to baseball games and backyard barbeques, drinks are part of every social occasion.

    InThe Prohibition Hangover,Garrett Peck explores the often-contradictory social history of alcohol in America, from the end of Prohibition in 1933 to the twenty-first century. For Peck, Repeal left American society wondering whether alcohol was a consumer product or a controlled substance, an accepted staple of social culture or a danger to society. Today the legal drinking age, binge drinking, the neoprohibitionist movement led by Mothers Against Drunk Driving, the 2005 Supreme Court decision inGranholm v. Healdthat rejected discriminatory curbs on wine sales, the health benefits of red wine, advertising, and other issues remain highly contested.

    Based on primary research, including hundreds of interviews with those on all sidesùclergy, bar and restaurant owners, public health advocates, citizen crusaders, industry representatives, and moreùas well as secondary sources, The Prohibition Hangover provides a panoramic assessment of alcohol in American culture. Traveling through the California wine country, the beer barrel backroads of New England and Pennsylvania, and the blue hills of Kentucky's bourbon trail, Peck places the concerns surrounding alcohol use within the broader context of American history, religious traditions, and governance.

    Society is constantly evolving, and so are our drinking habits. Cutting through the froth and discarding the maraschino cherries, TheProhibition Hangoverexamines the modern American temperament toward drink amid the $189-billion-dollar-a-year industry that defines itself by the production, distribution, marketing, and consumption of alcoholic beverages.

    eISBN: 978-0-8135-4849-4
    Subjects: History, Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-7)

    It’s a cold April afternoon, one of those damp North Atlantic days whose cold drizzle and gusts makes carrying an umbrella irrelevant. Your only defense is a raincoat, but even then the wind whips right through it, chilling you to the bone. Not an Arctic cold, but a wet chill. You expect this on Cape Cod or in Seattle, but not in our nation’s capital—certainly not in spring. It’s cold enough to keep the cherry blossoms around for a few more days in their pink-and-white glory. Cold enough that you wonder, who would be crazy enough to go to...

  5. Chapter 1 The Noble Experiment
    (pp. 8-24)

    The year 1933 was the darkest time of the Great Depression, which had started more than three years before. A quarter of the American labor force was out of work; others were barely making ends meet, struggling to hold on to their jobs, struggling to pay the mortgage, hoping and praying that the bank did not foreclose on their house or go out of business, taking away their life’s savings. America’s Greatest Generation—the men and women who would fight and win World War II—was still living at home, doing whatever they could to help their parents survive to...

  6. Chapter 2 So What Are We Drinking?
    (pp. 25-52)

    I picked up this amusing little book calledAtomic Cocktails. It’s ultra-retro and totally swanky. All the cocktail recipes are from the 1950s, complete with 1950s-style graphics. For example, the recipe for urban bourbon (bourbon with Tuaca liqueur) features a picture of an urbane couple. Mommy is wearing her pearls, a blue dress, and her best lipstick; daddy is resting his head in her lap (face up, of course), telling her about his day while they both hold martini glasses. I mean, who wouldn’t want to be these people?¹

    American culture is continually changing. Nothing stays static—and our drinking...

  7. Chapter 3 Whiskey and Rye
    (pp. 53-77)

    Europeans discovered distillation in Salerno, Italy, around 1100 c.e. Monks were seeking the essence of alcohol—the pure “spirit” of the drink—and were building on science they learned from the Arabs. They already knew how to ferment grain to make beer, but they took this to a new level by heating the fermented grain—called a mash—to vaporize the liquid. Alcohol evaporates at a lower temperature than water, and the vapor condenses on a cold surface into a clear liquid, similar to water. This process is called distillation. The monks believed these distilled spirits had beneficial medical properties,...

  8. Chapter 4 Ninety-nine Bottles of Beer
    (pp. 78-99)

    The Brickskeller is an institution in Washington, D.C. This restaurant and bar opened in 1957, just west of Dupont Circle on 22nd Street. As the name implies (“brick cellar,” a takeoff from the GermanRatskeller), the main bar is half-underground in a dark, wood-paneled brick room. Wooden cases feature hundreds of antique beer cans—cone tops sealed with a bottle cap, and flat tops opened with a church key (the aluminum can did not come into use until 1959). A Wurlitzer jukebox stands proudly against the wall, an ATM facing it. Four decades of progress separate these two machines, each...

  9. Chapter 5 The Golden Age of Wine
    (pp. 100-137)

    Drive up Interstate 5 through the San Joaquin Valley—the southern half of California’s Great Central Valley—and you will see an astonishing sight. Thousands and thousands of acres, mile after mile, of grape vines. They stretch from Bakersfield all the way to Lodi, just south of Sacramento. The coast may produce the best quality wines in California, but the valley produces the bulk of wines that Americans drink. When a wine’s geographic origin on the label reads “California,” chances are the grapes were grown in the San Joaquin Valley.

    California produces about 90 percent of American wine. Go to...

  10. Chapter 6 The Supreme Court Decides
    (pp. 138-157)

    It was a fine Sunday morning in early November 2005. I drove through southern Loudoun County, Virginia, about forty miles west of Washington, D.C. My route took me through the rolling countryside of the Virginia Piedmont horse country. Limestone peeked through lush green grass in wide fields neatly staked off with white fences high enough to keep a horse from wandering. The leaves were just peaking in their dazzling fall colors. Virginia this time of year is as beautiful as Vermont and as green as Kentucky.

    There was hardly another car on the road. So far, this part of Loudoun...

  11. Chapter 7 Alcohol and Your Health
    (pp. 158-178)

    On April 4, 1952, a young Mississippi representative named Noah S. “Soggy” Sweat Jr. rose to deliver his famous “Whiskey Speech” as his state debated legalizing alcohol.

    My friends, I had not intended to discuss this controversial subject at this particular time. However, I want you to know that I do not shun controversy. On the contrary, I will take a stand on any issue at any time, regardless of how fraught with controversy it might be. You have asked me how I feel about whiskey. All right, here is how I feel about whiskey.

    If when you say whiskey...

  12. Chapter 8 What Would Jesus Drink?
    (pp. 179-197)

    When I was in high school, my family attended a weeklong Baptist revival at the Memorial Auditorium in Sacramento, California. The speaker, a conservative Christian, stood morally against any alcohol consumption. In his opinion, there were two forms of wine in the ancient world: real wine and freshly pressed grape juice. He espoused an argument invented by the American temperance movement in the 1830s. They thought alcohol was so evil that there was no way Jesus would have condoned any drinking—and therefore he must have been a teetotaler, just as they were.

    Some attribute this theory to Eliphalet Nott,...

  13. Chapter 9 Beating the Temperance Drum
    (pp. 198-229)

    Temperance was a social reform movement of the nineteenth century, pushed by middle-class evangelical Protestants who meant to root out an apparent evil from American society. Drunkenness was indeed a problem, particularly among men. Eliminating alcohol from society would free the workingman from the clutches of the liquor trade. It would shut down the corner saloon where he poured out his wages. It would save his wife and family from abuse and poverty, from widowhood and the orphanage. Ultimately it would sober up the nation and create a more God-like country. Temperance succeeded in pushing Prohibition onto the nation.


  14. Chapter 10 Not until You’re Twenty-one
    (pp. 230-256)

    When Prohibition was repealed in 1933, most states established the minimum legal drinking age at twenty-one years. That was the constitutional age at which a person became an adult, and it was the age at which people earned the right to vote. Most states did not have a formal drinking age before then; it was up to the bartender to decide if a person was old enough, and no one objected if a father brought his son in for a drink. After Prohibition, people believed that youth needed to be protected from the evils of the saloon. Eugene O’Neill explored...

  15. Conclusions
    (pp. 257-270)

    Society is constantly evolving, and so are our drinking habits. The aftermath of Prohibition left the United States with outdated attitudes, policies, and laws about alcohol. We are unsure of how to deal with the stuff. Is it an everyday consumer product that two-thirds of American adults enjoy? Or is it a dangerous controlled substance? The answer: it’s both. Although the abstinence movement has effectively died and the social stigma against drinking has worn off, some are concerned about the consequences of American drinking. Public health advocates want more control and enforcement, while civil libertarians believe drinking alcohol is an...

  16. Notes
    (pp. 271-294)
  17. Index
    (pp. 295-310)
  18. Back Matter
    (pp. 311-312)