Bourbon to Kill For – Mobster style

Guest Author: Albert W. A. Schmid, author of How to Drink Like a Mobster and The Hot Brown: Louisville's Legendary Open-Faced Sandwich

Ah, bourbon – the sweet nectar distilled from corn, perfected in barrels, guarded, kissed and sipped by angels, until the American whiskey emerges from the rickhouse and delights the palates of whiskey enthusiasts all over the world. As Prohibition infected the United States, becoming the law of the land in 1920 because of the 18th Amendment to the United States Constitution – prohibiting the production, sale, and transportation of all types of intoxicating liquor. The demand for this illicit beverage was never higher. The mob saw an opportunity to make money by selling that which was not expressly illegal to consume. Al “Scarface” Capone regularly visited Louisville, staying at the historic Seelbach Hotel with an eye on Kentucky’s most famous export because some was still being produced legally – for medicinal purposes while other distilled spirits were being produced by the same people who a few years earlier had run legal stills.

Capone once said, “I am just a businessman, giving the people what they want,” he also said “Some call it bootlegging. Some call it racketeering. I call it a business.” Capone and others, like the Purple Gang in Detroit and Charles “Lucky” Luciano in New York, as well as other members of the “Commission” were able to identify a marketplace need and deliver tangible goods, albeit illegally, because they had no problem doing whatever it took, even murder, to bring product to the marketplace – even if that marketplace was a speakeasy. If anyone got in their way mobsters had no issue with “whacking” them. In fact, mobsters took “hits” out on their own including the infamous St. Valentine’s Day Massacre to expand their own territory and wealth. Omertá the mobster code of silence allowed many killings to go unsolved.      

The outlawing of alcohol was in part thanks to a group called the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) of which my Great-Great-Great-Grandmother Celestia Bush Hatch was one of the charter members and was the first President of that organization’s chapter in Atlanta, New York, near the Finger Lakes. My Great-Great Grandmother Minnie Hatch Lyon followed in her mother’s footsteps as President of the local chapter of the WCTU. Both were teetotalers and lived long lives. I am sure that both would be thrilled to find out one of their descendants writes cocktail books. They unwittingly helped open the door for a 14-year mobster bonanza!

Prohibition ended in 1933 with the passage of the 21st Amendment to the Constitution which invalidated the 18th Amendment. During the 14-years of Prohibition many mobsters died, others were sentenced to jail or prison terms including Capone – who served time for tax evasion. Most mobsters moved on to the next opportunity to make money abandoning alcohol for other illicit products. Today, when I hear people say, “I would kill to taste that bourbon,” I always take their statement metaphorically. During the Prohibition many people died, literally, to produce, sell and transport liquor or to prevent that from happening. Thank God we live in the 21st Century! All three are legal so enjoy National Bourbon Heritage Month with bourbon, neat, on-the-rocks or in a cocktail. Of course, know your limit, be safe, enjoy responsibly!  

Albert W. A. Schmid is a Gourmand Award winner and author of several books, including The Old Fashioned: An Essential Guide to the Original Whiskey Cocktail, The Manhattan Cocktail: A Modern Guide to the Whiskey Classic, and The Hot Brown: Louisville's Legendary Open-Faced Sandwich, and How to Drink Like a Mobster. 

In his latest book, How to Drink Like a Mobster, Schmid shows how you can recreate the allure of the gangster bar life with step-by-step instructions on how to set up the best Prohibition-style bar and pour the drinks to match. Now until September 17th, you can enter to win a copy!  Enter to win and share with a friend! 

Enter to win a copy of How to Drink Like a Mobster!