Whisky Magazine Issue 137
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The effect it had on the Bourbon industry
Given Bourbon's current dizzying status as the world's brown spirit darling, thoughts of an industry put to almost death by National Prohibition have the unreal quality of a bad dream. The industry is worth a billion dollars plus, in exports alone. In Kentucky, source of near on all of the world's Bourbons, there are more barrels in maturation than there are Kentuckians. America today is home to hundreds of distilleries. Far away and seemingly the stuff of history books, Prohibition's a faint blip on the otherwise seemingly forward motion of America's 350 hundred odd year relationship with whiskey.
Nothing, of course, is ever so clean cut. The National Prohibition Act came into effect on 17 January 1920, implementing the 18th Amendment to the American Constitution, prohibiting the manufacture and sale of ‘intoxicating beverages'. Much popularised in histories drawing various pictures of an America whacked on hooch and homemade wine, the birth of organised crime, porous borders penetrated by Canadian and Scottish sponsored bootleggers, and the seemingly counter intuitive rise in per capita spirits consumption, National Prohibition effectively pulled the plug on a distilled spirits industry that in 1919 had been worth $365 million in taxes.
Meaning, the majority of the turn-of the-century's 3,000 odd distilleries closed their doors, never to reopen again. Save the few rich or lucky enough to sit it out, either licensed to produce government sanctioned alcohols or alread...