October 28: The Volstead Act

VolsteadToday is the anniversary of one of the darkest days in American history. I speak of course of October 28, 1919, the day that the United State Congress passed the National Prohibition Act. The National Prohibition Act, also known as the Volstead Act after House Judiciary Committee Chairman Andrew Volstead (right) who sponsored the legislation, was a law created to enforce the 18th Amendment to the U. S. Constitution and end the sale of alcoholic beverages in the U. S.

When the 18th Amendment was ratified, it simply said that one year after its ratification (So, starting on January 17, 1920) all “manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors” would be illegal in the United States. However, the amendment did not say how this should be enforced, and thus the National Prohibition Act was created to define intoxicating liquor and set the new laws of the land for the newly “dry” America.

The Act was conceived and written by Wayne Wheeler, the de facto leader of the Anti-Saloon League and a man who despite not being elected to any office by the American people, essentially controlled Congress. How did he do this? Well, simply put, his Anti-Saloon League fanatics were so loud, that politicians were scared of disagreeing with Wheeler for fear that he and his band would try to end their careers. So, Wheeler was allowed free reign to semi-secretly push the “moral crusade” of prohibition.

Now, if you’ve purchased an alcoholic beverage anytime in the last 80 years, then you know that Prohibition was an absolute failure.  How big a failure? Well, let’s put it this way, Prohibition took effect at Midnight on January 17, 1920; the first known Volstead violation happened in Chicago just 59 minutes later and it was all downhill from there. Speakeasies popped up everywhere, organized crime kept the liquor flowing, and the police and federal agents who weren’t on the take found the law nearly impossible to enforce. In New York alone, the first 4,000 arrests only led to six convictions and not a single jail sentence. As time went on, Americans got tired of the “noble experiment” of Prohibition, and it’s unsurprising that in 1932 Franklin Roosevelt ran for president on a platform that included the promise to end Prohibition.

As we saw with the Scofflaw cocktail when we discussed the death of Carrie Nation, bartenders love making jokes at the expense of prohibitionists. So, it should be no surprise that Jeremy Strawn, a bartender at New York City’s MPD Restaurant, would create a drink called Volstead. It’s a bubbly and fruity cocktail that’s more ideal for the spring, but still delightful in mid-autumn.

Volstead

  • 1/4 ounce simple syrup
  • 2 ounces fresh berries
  • 3/4 ounce Vodka
  • 3/4 ounce St. Germain Elderflower Liqueur
  • 1/4 ounce lemon Juice
  • Champagne

Muddle the simple syrup and berries in the bottom of a shaker. Combine with ice, vodka, St. Germain and lemon juice and shake. Strain into a Champagne flute and then top with Champagne.

Tomorrow: The start of the internet, and the first internet error.

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