The Volstead Act officially kicked off Prohibition on January 17th, 1920.
With that act, the manufacture, sale and transport of alcohol was banned — although you wouldn’t necessarily know it, given the proliferation of bootlegging and speakeasies. Still, those were dark days for America’s drinking public, and it certainly divided the history of the industry: there was the time before Prohibition, and the time after.
Now that we’re at the 100-year mark of that milestone legislation — which was thankfully repealed 13 years later — we decided to look back at the biggest moments in American booze since the 18th Amendment initially went into effect. Below, you’ll find 100 events, ideas, people and bits of pop-culture ephemera that have shaped the beer, wine and spirits industries in America over the last century.
KIRK MILLER / JANUARY 2020
New York City Deputy Police Commissioner John A. Leach, right, watching agents pour liquor into sewer following a raid during the height of prohibition / Library of Congress
The Volstead Act (as it was informally called) prohibited the manufacture and sale of alcoholic beverages; however, loopholes still allowed families to make up to 200 gallons per year for home use with the help of “wine bricks.” Another exception was made for sacramental wine for the church. The federal government also made an exception for “medicinal whiskey” prescribed by a doctor and sold through a pharmacy. The government issued 10 licenses, but only six were ever used.
“I picked him for a bootlegger the first time I saw him, and I wasn’t far wrong.”
King of the Bootleggers
4. Bootlegger George Remus is indicted for thousands of violations of the Volstead Act. “He built this enormous octopus of a bootlegging operation. And most cleverly, he started a drug company, a wholesaler to drug stores. And then he would send his trucks out, his own men would hijack those trucks and put it into the illegal liquor trade,” writer Dan Okrent later noted.
The Women’s Organization for National
Prohibition Reform / Library of Congress
6. Pauline Sabin forms The Women’s Organization for National Prohibition Reform. Consisting largely of “society” women and wives of industry leaders, the group argues for the repeal of Prohibition. Within two years, their membership is nearly 1.5 million.
Memorial to Ernest Hemingway in Cojimar, Cuba / Carol M. Highsmith Archive / Library of Congress
8. Legend has it that Ernest Hemingway creates what’s now known as the “Hemingway daiquiri” during an impromptu visit to El Floridita in Havana sometime during the decade, although that story is a bit of a stretch.
Congressional beer crusaders witness signing of beer bill / Library of Congress
9. The Cullen-Harrison Act, which allows for the sale of beer with up to 3.2% ABV, takes effect. Despite the fact that Prohibition won’t be repealed until December, it allows for the sale of low-ABV beer, which is believed to be too low to be intoxicating.
Don’s Beachcomber opens in Hollywood (the name is later changed to Don the Beachcomber).
The brand later helped popularize the Moscow Mule.
It’s co-founded by Julian P. “Pappy” Van Winkle.
She becomes the first woman to ever operate a major brewery.
Paris, France- American troops in a club in Paris raise their glasses high and drain them as they stage a jubilant celebration of news of Japan’s surrender. Brettman / Getty Images
The classic Mai Tai at Trader Vic’s / Trader Vic’s Worldwide
In the Supreme Court case Goesart v. Cleary, a Michigan law prohibiting women from being bartenders in all cities with a population of 50,000 or more is upheld. It will later be overruled in 1976.
25. Hank Williams records “There’s a Tear in My Beer,” but the song doesn’t become a hit until 38 years later, when it’s remade by Hank, Jr.
26. Ted Saucier releases the cocktail book Bottoms Up! This eventually leads to the re-introduction of a pre-Prohibition cocktail favorite: the Last Word.
A U.S. embargo curtails rum importation from the island. Bacardi relocates to Bermuda.
New Zealander Morton W. Coutts patents the continuous fermentation technique by splitting the functions of the yeast into two stages — one where it grows and another where it ferments — creating a continuous flow by which brewers can add raw materials in the first stage and draw off a steady supply of beer from the second, thus increasing production efficiency.
Sportsman’s Park is purchased by August Busch in April 1953 for $800,000. The ballpark is renamed Budweiser Stadium briefly before being named Busch Stadium.
– Frank Sinatra
31. The infamous and very wrong “Shaken, not stirred” drink directions appear in Ian Fleming’s James Bond novel Diamonds Are Forever.
33. Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev enjoys a bourbon highball during a meeting with Richard Nixon. “This is very good whiskey,” he said. “But you Americans spoil it. You put in more ice than whiskey.”
Harry’s American Bar launches a new cocktail in honor of the Apollo-11 astronauts. Christened “Moon Shot” it is “guaranteed to make anybody take off” / Bettman / Getty Images
Distiller Joseph Wathen plugs a bourbon whiskey barrel in the warehouse of a Louisville, Kentucky, distillery / Bettman / Getty Images
It’s for Schlitz.
Patrons and a bartender inside Terminal Bar, NYC / Sheldon Nadelman
Cascade hops, now the most widely used hop variety by American craft breweries, are released to brewers for the first time after being developed at Oregon State University (and named for the Cascade mountain range) by Dr. Stanley Nelson Brooks and Jack Horner.
It still does to this day.
The Judgement of Paris (formally known as the Paris Wine Tasting of 1976) establishes California as a serious contender in the wine-making game after a panel of judges score several Cali-based wines above top-rated Bordeaux and white Burgundy in a blind tasting.
49. Smokey and the Bandit released — aka the movie in which Burt Reynolds smuggles a truck full of Coors (!) across the country.
53. Herbert Allen introduces the “Screwpull” corkscrew, a device made to make opening wine bottles fool-proof. The screwpull was later purchased by Le Cruset and is now part of the Museum of Modern Art’s permanent collection.
54. Billy Dee Williams stars in several iconic ads for Colt 45.
55. Absolut begins its iconic print advertising campaign.
Their well-loved ad campaign, starring two fictional old men as the wine’s namesakes, started in 1984.
61. Buffalo Bill’s Brewery, the first brewpub in America, opens its doors in Hayward, California. Prior to January of that year, it was illegal for brewers to sell directly to consumers, but California Assembly Bill 3610 allows them to do so provided they also serve food.
— Frank Booth, Blue Velvet
Jack Nicholson drinks in a liquor store December 15, 1997 in Queens, NY / Arnaldo Magnani / Liason
69. Sierra Nevada becomes the first microbrewery to break out of that classification.
— Hannibal Lecter, The Silence of the Lambs
71. For the first time since 1935, it’s legal for beers to list ABV on their labels. It had previously been illegal because Congress feared breweries would engage in “strength wars” and consumers would just want to buy the beer with the highest ABV.
— Homer Simpson, during The Simpsons Prohibition-themed episode “Homer vs. the Eighteenth Amendment”
Heath Ledger and Joaquin Phoenix enjoying champagne at the 2006 Vanity Fair Oscar Party /
E. Charbonneau / WireImage
“When Sasha Petraske opened his bar Milk & Honey on a desolate Lower East Side block in 2000, the coming cocktail revival was barely a pie-eyed glimmer in the public’s eye.” – Robert Simonson New York Times / Evan Sung for The New York Times
83. The Association of Brewers and the Brewers’ Association of America merge to form the Brewers Association with the mission to “promote and protect small and independent American brewers, their craft beers and the community of brewing enthusiasts.”
Via Lakefront Brewery, it’s the first gluten-free beer.
86. In Granholm v. Heald, the Supreme Court rules that laws permitting in-state wineries to ship wine directly to consumers while prohibiting out-of-state wineries from doing the same are unconstitutional.
89. Jay-Z drops support for Cristal after the brand’s Managing Director Frédéric Rouzaud of Roederer makes racist comments about the drink’s popularity with rappers and their fans.
George Rose/Getty Images
Mad Men / AMC
John Taffer courtesy of Spike TV
— The Hound, Game of Thrones
97. Swish Beverages launches White Girl Rosé — a blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Zinfandel with an Instagram-worthy label — and is crazy successful thanks to social media. Rosé becomes less of an alcoholic beverage and more of a lifestyle.
Fawn Weaver gathers with the descendants of Nathan “Nearest” Green (Marc Bagani)
99. In the New York Times, Clay Risen writes about the contributions of Nearis Green, the slave who helped teach Jack Daniel about the art of making whiskey. You can read more about his story here.
Additional reporting by Lee Cutlip, Logan Mahan and Bonnie Stiernberg.
Special thanks to all the bar and booze professionals who lent their suggestions, including Benoit Cornet, Pam Wiznitzer, Prairie Rose, Rashaun Hall, Tara Fougner, Giacomo Ciminello, Chockie Tom, Nick Detrich, Gergo Murath, Katie Renshaw, Nico Martini, Effie Panagopoulos and Alexandra Clough.