What will you be drinking during 'Prohibition'?

Drawing from 'Barrels & Drams'
By now, you've probably made at least a preliminary decision on what to drink while you view Ken Burns' documentary series "Prohibition," scheduled to be shown this Sunday through Tuesday on public television.

What? You haven't? Tsk, tsk.

Well, when you do, consider these points:

1. The drink probably should be American in origin since we were alone in enacting Prohibition. Kind of a harmless thumbing-your-nose-at-authority decision.

2. As a backup, a Canadian blended whisky would be OK since much of that made its way across the border during that period.

3. A weak beer, in honor of the low-alcohol "near beer" that was the only legal brew then (3.2% alcohol by volume or less), would be proper, if not all that enjoyable.

If it doesn't seem that I'm taking this whole thing seriously, I'm not. If we still were under Prohibition it would be a serious matter, but we're not. From the distance of history, it's more of an offbeat topic to be consumed with a smile.

Actually, I had my interest in that era ramped up while doing research for essays to include in my just-released anthology "Barrels & Drams: The History of Whisk(e)y In Jiggers and Shots" (Sterling Epicure Books, NYC, 224 pages, $18.95 hardcover).

I included four separate essays in the chapter called "The Great Experiment." One, by Pulitzer Prize-winner Daniel Okrent, makes the case that although the common view is that illicit whiskey-making during Prohibition was most common below the Mason-Dixon Line "it was not just a southern phenomenon.

"A single wholesale grocer in Rockford, IL, took delivery of two to three railroad carloads of corn sugar [used to make whiskey] every week. Prohibition officials announced that they had seized 35,200 illegal stills and distilleries in 1929, plus 26 million gallons of mash, but judging from the amount of liquor washing over the country by that point, it was as if they had plucked a few blades of grass from a golf course."

The other essays concern the finding of a sunken boat full of iconic gangster Al Capone's illicit liquor in Illinois, a French-Canadian immigrant family's moonshine activities in Vermont, and an oral history from a Maryland man well versed in the secretive sales and distribution of spirits.

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