By Ray Pearson, CityRoom Contributor and Scotch Whisky Expert
Prohibition, the latest opus by Ken Burns, co-produced by Lynn Novick, began with this quote by Mark Twain: “It is the prohibition that makes anything precious.” Knowing that America’s “Noble Experiment” was enacted by Congress in 1920, and that Twain died in 1910, I wondered about the backstory of Twain’s feelings toward whiskey and the long-brewing storm leading to its eventual (but temporary) ban.
A bit of digging produced this Twain quote, from the article “Educators, Authors”, in the Los Angeles Times, March 8, 1908:
I don’t think prohibition is practical. The Germans, you see, prevent it. Look at them.
I am sorry to learn that they have just invented a method of making brandy out of
sawdust. Now, what chance will prohibition have when a man can take a rip saw and
go out and get drunk with a fence rail? What is the good of prohibition if a man is
able to make brandy smashes out of the shingles of his roof, or if he can get delirium
[tremors] by drinking the legs off his kitchen table.
I’m a whiskey guy. Make that primarily whisky – with no E – the real stuff – single malt Scotch whisky, right from Scotland. Retired after 20 years in the business, I’m now writing and teaching about the magic stuff. What’s the big deal, you might ask, with or without a single vowel? For diehards, whiskey is the generic name for a distilled spirit made from cereal grain – and, for most American whiskies. Whisky usually means the liquid distilled and aged in Scotland. There are exceptions to both spellings.
These Twain quotes got me thinking about how other quotes by literary figures could be catalysts to learning a bit more about “aqua vitae”, or the water of life. A short series has been born!
Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.