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'King Cocktail' Serves Up Prohibition History, Hangover Cure

If you're going to a holiday party, there's a good chance you'll be sipping on an adult beverage of some sort. You can do that without looking over your shoulder for authorities because exactly 80 years ago today, Dec. 5, Prohibition came to an end and Americans were able to legally pick up their drinks again.

Dale DeGroff, aka King Cocktail, and the president and a founder of the Museum of the American Cocktail in New Orleans, says the Prohibition era left its mark on American life. He joins Tell Me More host Michel Martin to talk about that, and about current trends in cocktails.

Interview Highlights

On the idea that organized crime took off during Prohibition

I'm afraid that it's spot on. Really, basically, alcohol transportation, importation if you want to call it that, bootlegging was all controlled by organized crime. We actually did not even have organized crime in that official and very exact way prior to Prohibition. It really developed during Prohibition. So none of the benefits that we expected to accrue — none of that came to pass, unfortunately.

On the long-lasting effects of Prohibition

There are still so many states that have dry counties. There's something called DISCUS: Distilled Spirits Council of the United States. And it's kind of the lobby group for the beverage industry — alcohol beverage industry I should say. And they still, state by state, go after this byzantine group of what they called "blue laws" right after Prohibition, which are unique to each state and even county. Some of them were really silly. There were certain bars where only small 50 milliliter bottles were allowed to be used. There were other bars where alcoholic beverage bottles were not allowed to be on view, [laughs] just crazy stuff. And one by one, they're defeating these and overturning them. But yeah, even my profession — the profession of bartending — was badly damaged by Prohibition.

On Prohibition-era doctors who wrote alcohol prescriptions for malaise, depression, nerves, etc.

There were distilleries that were allowed to produce alcohol for medicinal purposes only, and that was a tongue-in-cheek goofy kind of a joke. Because a lot of the legal bootlegging took place right out of pharmacies. [Laugh]. ... I have copies of the old prescriptions doctors would write.

On the most exciting thing in cocktails today

I think it's the culinary bent that the profession has taken. Bartenders have adopted not only the ingredients from the culinary side — a lot more savory, herbal, unusual vegetables, fruit, spices — they've also adopted a lot of the techniques, a lot of the tools. When I hired 36 bartenders in 1986 at the Rainbow Room in New York City that had just been restored to its former glory, not a single bartender arrived with a tool of any sort in his hand — not even a paring knife; and my heart sank. But that's changed, and now bartenders are going to work with kits just like chefs are.

On a surefire cure for hangovers

Don't start or don't stop, because you can't have a hangover as long as you're drinking. ... You know the real only cure is to take a multivitamin and an aspirin just before you go to bed, but who remembers to do that when you come home after a night of drinking?

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Tell Me More Staff
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