Pleading the 21st

21 Jul

Some of the most stirring words in the American language are found in the Twenty-First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States:

§1. The eighteenth article of amendment to the Constitution of the United States is hereby repealed.

When ratification was completed on 5 December 1933, the curtain finally came down on the era of Prohibition (a “doctrine based upon the theory that what I drink ruins your kidneys”, as Mencken¹ put it). To celebrate the end of the interregnum, one William Guyer rushed into print The Merry Mixer, a short collection of cocktail recipes whose foreword, no less spirited than the legislation that made it possible, expresses the renewed faith in the inherently civilizing effects of the ars bibendi:

It is our hope again to revive the pleasures of the past …. to recall those simple days when drinking was an honored social custom, and when the man who sipped enjoyed the full protection of the government.

Perhaps in due time drinking as a fine art will again manifest itself. […] During the dark decade just past, cocktails became part and parcel of American life. But what cocktails! Cocktails manufactured with every base from raw corn to bathtub gin . . . cocktails flavored with every ingredient from mock-Chartreuse to tartaric acid.

Those days are past. There are no tears. Cocktail mixing is with us once again . . . an art, not an apology. We have gins of maturity and quality, whiskies and brandies with place names and genealogy. We have liqueurs whose delicate essences extend over the entire gamut of flavor.

Once again imagination and taste have full play. Once again the cocktail can express the personality of the host . . . and test the discernment of the guest.

— William Guyer (ed.), The Merry Mixer, or, Cocktails and their Ilk: A Booklet on Mixtures and Mulches, Fizzes and Whizzes (New York: Finch, 1933), p. 7.

¹ The Smart Set, vol. 59:1 (May, 1919), p. 52.


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