My Fellow Inebriates,
Oh, to be an American today…. As a Canadian I can’t get in on the action (so my parents tell me), but in the US it’s the 80th anniversary of the day beer became available in the US—the beginning of the end of Prohibition. Back in 1933, thirsty citizens lined up at bars and taverns all over the country waiting for midnight to strike so they could finally enjoy a legal brew.
Prohibition was, no doubt, one of the dumbest legislative ideas ever conceived, spawning an infamously violent underground economy and string of HBO series concerned with the crimes committed in the name of supplying and procuring alcohol to a populace that undoubtedly wanted it. Lasting an unbelievable 13 years, Prohibition produced—in addition to the gangland events that continue to supply screenwriters with fodder—some unintended consequences for alcohol production in America: consequences that would delay America’s international acceptance as a serious wine producer and instead mire it with a persistent reputation for producing bathtub moonshine.
Consider something as simple as grape planting. Driven to produce their own wine during the dry years, Americans created a demand for hardy, disease-resistant, “no-brainer” grapes that weren’t necessarily optimal for making wine. California grape growers increased their land allocation by 700% to accommodate the demand, ostensibly for table grapes, tearing up decent vines and planting crappy consumer ones because this was the only way they could stay in business. Growers even produced thick slabs of grape concentrate bearing cautionary labels: “After dissolving the brick in a gallon of water, do not place the liquid in a jug away in the cupboard for twenty days, because then it would turn into wine.”
The result was a steady flow of barely drinkable near-vinegar that would render the US’s fledgling wine industry internationally risible. Illegal wine was hideously unstandardized and even watered down. At best it was undrinkable; at worst it was unsafe for consumption. Worst of all, those citizens in such thrall to alcohol that they sought out and drank it anyway could find no psychological help.
Prohibition destroyed or caused serious winemakers to flee the country. When the dry years finally ended, grape cultivators would be left with large swaths of thick-skinned, flavorless grapes planted for the sake of easy transportation, and an industry brain drain that left behind little winemaking knowledge.
Thus April 7 is cause for celebration, my fellow inebriates. In the years since the Volstead Act was declared unconstitutional, American winemaking has followed a long road to recovery. Not until the 1980s did it manage to penetrate the international wine market with any degree of seriousness, and its fight against European derision is to some extent still being waged.
Okay, so logically, I should be reviewing some American wine here. This was the plan, but my parents are being dickheads again, and they wouldn’t buy any. (Apparently “we” are drying out for a while.) So I’ll tell you instead about the Canadian Cream in the fridge.
How does this tie in with Prohibition? It doesn’t really, except that it’s a good example of what happens when citizens with very little expertise decide to make their own booze. Cooking up our own Irish cream variant seemed like the best idea we’d ever had, but four months later the stuff is looking a bit gross. Sure, it passes the sniff test, and my mum baked something with it last month, but it has some weird curds that have to be strained out of it, and nobody OMG! I totally want to drink it but I can’t get into the fridge really wants to drink it.