The Great Illusion: An Informal History of Prohibition

By Herbert Asbury | Go to book overview

CHAPTER THIRTEEN

What America Drank

Almost all of the liquor held in the warehouses when prohibition began was whiskey, manufactured by distillers who had been in business for many years and who took a natural pride in their product. The processes by which it was produced were essentially the same as those used today; good whiskey in pre-Volstead times would be good whiskey now, and would conform very closely to modern standards. It was all made, as it is today, from grain, finely ground, mixed with pure water, and cooked into a mash. A portion of the mash, the quantity depending upon the ultimate flavor desired, is malt, which is any grain, but usually barley, that has been moistened, allowed to sprout, and then dried. It transforms the natural starches of the grain into fermentable sugars. No actual sugar has ever been used in the manufacture of legal whiskey. When the mash has cooled, it is transferred to vats and yeast is added to induce fermentation. When this is completed, the mash is distilled, and the alcoholic vapors are condensed and run into tanks, or cisterns. Most whiskey is bottled at from 85 to 100 proof, although under the law it may be as high as 110. The legal minimum is 80, below which the product cannot be called whiskey. Proof is simply a term used to indicate the amount of alcohol, which is one

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