Friday, March 17, 2017

Booknote: Contraband Cocktails

Paul Dickson, Contraband Cocktails: how America drank when it wasn't supposed to. Brooklyn, NY: Melville House, 2015. ISBN: 978-1-61219-458-5.

Genre: nonfiction
Subgenre: pop culture, history, recipes, cocktails and bar culture
Format: hardcover
Source: Berea branch of the Madison County (KY) Library Public Library

The book is a combination of history and trivia with cocktail recipes. The books looks at the drinking culture that flourished during the American Prohibition. Let's be honest, Prohibition is up in the top of the list of stupid things Americans have voted for (but at least they eventually had the sense to repeal it). All that Prohibition did was driving drinking culture underground, and it helped organized crime rise and be profitable. Heck, as the book documents, even the law enforcers and legislators promoting Prohibition kept on drinking; so much for those Christian temperance morals. A fascinating part of the book is documenting the hypocrisy and corruption of government officials, agents, cops, so on because in the end everybody just wanted a drink (even if they were either stupid enough or cynical enough to fall for the temperance lines).

The book is an easy read loaded with many interesting facts and stories. The book is organized into ten chapters; the last chapter is a collection of recipes from the Prohibition era. The author does indicate that not all recipes are for replication; he may have included them for historical value, but you probably should not drink them. Do not worry; he provides plenty of recipes too that you can drink today and even a non-alcoholic drink or two. In addition, the book includes a "Glossary of Volstead English." Another effect of Prohibition was the addition of a lot of new words and slang into American English; many of these words are still in use today.

I really enjoyed this book. If you enjoy U.S. history, this is a good book for you. Trivia fans will enjoy it as well. For example, I learned about other businesses related to booze that also flourished during Prohibition. Not many histories of Prohibition discuss that. Plus, if you are a cocktail enthusiast, there are many recipes here to try out. The book makes a good selection for public libraries. Academic libraries with  an interest in popular culture may want to consider it.

4 out of 5 stars.

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Additional reading notes:

21st century revival speakeasies are glamorized versions of Prohibition reality where cocktail makers had to really be ingenious to take seriously raw alcohol and polish it to make into a drink that was actually drinkable. Yet Prohibition also did give rise to a cocktail culture and its trappings. And that interest in the trappings lives on today:

"Meanwhile, the same urge that has given the twenty-first century speakeasy has also given us a revival of interest in shakers, hip flasks, and the hardware trappings of Prohibition" (x). 

More on that:

"Along with what some have termed the Cocktail Age came a certain style complete with sleek chrome cocktail shakers snazzy portable bars, Art Deco-styled bar tools, and streamlined cocktail carts" (27). 

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