Dec 152015


On this date in 1933 the Twenty-first Amendment to the United States Constitution officially became effective, repealing the Eighteenth Amendment that prohibited the sale, manufacture, and transportation of alcohol. The Twenty-first Amendment was ratified on December 5, 1933. It is unique among the 27 amendments of the U.S. Constitution for being the only one to repeal a prior amendment and to have been ratified by state ratifying conventions rather than by state legislatures.

The text is as follows:

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 The eighteenth article of amendment to the Constitution of the United States is hereby repealed.

Section 2. The transportation or importation into any State, Territory, or possession of the United States for delivery or use therein of intoxicating liquors, in violation of the laws thereof, is hereby prohibited.

Section 3. This article shall be inoperative unless it shall have been ratified as an amendment to the Constitution by conventions in the several States, as provided in the Constitution, within seven years from the date of the submission hereof to the States by the Congress.


The Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution had ushered in a period known as Prohibition, during which the manufacture, distribution, and sale of alcoholic beverages was illegal. Passage of the Eighteenth Amendment in 1919 was the crowning achievement of the temperance movement, but it soon proved highly unpopular. In my opinion, Prohibition transformed not only the culture of drinking in the US, but also the nature of crime. Furthermore it attempted to legislate private moral values, and therefore pit ordinary people against the government, and destroyed tens of thousands of previously legitimate businesses. It was an unmitigated disaster whose lessons ought to have been learned, but, sadly have not. There are no end of victimless crimes on the books – smoking marijuana, prostitution, pornography, etc etc. I don’t subscribe to any of them, and obviously they need to be regulated to prevent harm to certain groups such as minors. But by making them illegal they are simply forced underground and promote crime and violence.


During Prohibition, the production, importation, and distribution of alcoholic beverages — once the province of legitimate business — were taken over by criminal gangs, which fought each other for market control in violent confrontations, including murder. Major gangsters, such as Omaha’s Tom Dennison and Chicago’s Al Capone, became rich and were admired locally and nationally. Enforcement was difficult because the gangs became so rich they were often able to bribe underpaid and understaffed law enforcement personnel and pay for expensive lawyers. Many citizens were sympathetic to bootleggers, and respectable citizens were lured by the romance of illegal speakeasies, also called “blind tigers”. The loosening of social morals during the 1920s included popularizing the cocktail and the cocktail party among higher socio-economic groups. Those inclined to help authorities were often intimidated, even murdered. In several major cities — notably those that served as major points of liquor importation (including Chicago and Detroit) — gangs wielded significant political power. A Michigan State Police raid on Detroit’s Deutsches Haus once netted the mayor, the sheriff, and a local congressman.

Prohibition came into force at midnight on January 17, 1920, and the first documented infringement of the Volstead Act (a refinement of the Eighteenth Amendment) occurred in Chicago on January 17 at 12:59 a.m. According to police reports, six armed men stole $100,000 worth of “medicinal” whiskey from two freight train cars. This trend in bootlegging liquor created a domino effect, with criminals across the United States. Some gang leaders were stashing liquor months before the Volstead Act was enforced. The ability to sustain a lucrative business in bootlegging liquor was largely helped by the minimal police surveillance at the time. There were only 134 agents designated by the Prohibition Unit to cover all of Illinois, Iowa, and parts of Wisconsin. According to Charles C. Fitzmorris, Chicago’s Chief of Police during the beginning of the Prohibition period: “Sixty percent of my police [were] in the bootleg business.”


Crime rates soared under Prohibition as gangsters, such as Chicago’s Al Capone, became rich from a profitable, often violent, black market for alcohol. The federal government was incapable of stemming the tide: enforcement of the Volstead Act proved to be a nearly impossible task and corruption was rife among law enforcement agencies. In 1932, wealthy industrialist John D. Rockefeller, Jr. stated in a letter:

When Prohibition was introduced, I hoped that it would be widely supported by public opinion and the day would soon come when the evil effects of alcohol would be recognized. I have slowly and reluctantly come to believe that this has not been the result. Instead, drinking has generally increased; the speakeasy has replaced the saloon; a vast army of lawbreakers has appeared; many of our best citizens have openly ignored Prohibition; respect for the law has been greatly lessened; and crime has increased to a level never seen before.

As more and more citizens opposed the Eighteenth Amendment, a political movement grew for its repeal. However, repeal was complicated by grassroots politics. Although the U.S. Constitution provides two methods for ratifying constitutional amendments, only one method had been used until that time; and that was for ratification by the state legislatures of three-fourths of the states. However, the wisdom of the day was that the lawmakers of many states were either beholden to or simply fearful of the temperance lobby. For that reason, when Congress formally proposed the repeal of Prohibition on February 20, 1933 (with the requisite two-thirds having voted in favor in each house; 63 to 21 in the United States Senate and 289 to 121 in the United States House of Representatives), it chose the other ratification method established by Article V, that being via state conventions. The Twenty-first Amendment is the only constitutional amendment ratified by state conventions rather than by the state legislatures.


The Congress proposed the Twenty-first Amendment on February 20, 1933. The proposed amendment was adopted on December 5, 1933. It is the only amendment to have been ratified by state ratifying conventions, specially selected for the purpose. All other amendments have been ratified by state legislatures. It is also the only amendment that was approved for the explicit purpose of repealing a previously existing amendment to the Constitution. The Twenty-first Amendment ending national prohibition became officially effective on December 15, though people started drinking openly before that date.

Although the Twenty-first Amendment legalized sale and consumption of alcohol on a federal level, Section 2 of the Amendment gave states essentially absolute control over alcoholic beverages, and many U.S. states still remained “dry” (with state prohibition of alcohol) long after its ratification. Mississippi was the last, remaining dry until 1966; Kansas continued to prohibit public bars until 1987. Many states now delegate the authority over alcohol granted to them by this Amendment to their municipalities or counties (or both), which has led to many lawsuits over First Amendment rights when local governments have tried to revoke liquor licenses. Here’s a map of the US indicating “wet” (blue), “dry” (red), and “partially dry” (yellow) counties:


So, to a degree, Prohibition still exists locally in the US, as many tourists come to discover. My favorite paradox arising from this situation is the case of Jack Daniel’s distillery, situated in a dry county in Tennessee. They can distill whiskey, but cannot sell it on the premises (except for certain commemorative, very expensive, bottles). Not to worry; if you visit the distillery you’ll get drunk on the fumes in the storage warehouses !!


Cooking with alcohol is, of course, a very important component of many cuisines. In many cases, such as coq au vin, the alcohol is boiled off during cooking. But there are plenty of recipes that use alcohol at the end when it is not eliminated. A spoonful of Madeira perks up oxtail soup when added just before serving. A classic example is rum baba, which I first tasted in France when I was 15. A rum baba or baba au rhum is a small yeast cake saturated in rum, and sometimes filled with whipped cream or pastry cream. It is most typically made in individual servings (about a two-inch-tall, slightly tapered cylinder) but sometimes can be made in larger forms similar to those used for Bundt cakes.


Many people now make rum baba using a rum syrup of sugar, water, and rum that is boiled so that the alcohol evaporates but leaves the flavor. Not this time. Classic rum baba calls for a cake drenched in raw rum.

Rum Baba


120 g plain flour
150 g caster sugar
10 g baking powder
50 g melted butter
3 eggs (separated)
3 tbsp warm milk
dark rum


Pre-heat oven to 180°C.

Cream egg yolks and sugar. Add the warm milk, melted butter, sifted flour and baking powder. Mix well.

Whisk egg whites till stiff, and gently fold into first batter.

Pour into individual buttered and floured cake molds.

Bake for about 15 minutes (until a toothpick comes out clean). Leave to cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes.

Turn out the cakes and drench with rum.

For variety you can glaze the cakes with apricot preserves and/or add whipped cream.