Historic photo of men dumping bourbon into a sewer during Prohibition

Given Kentucky is as famous for its bourbon as it is its fried chicken, it’s difficult to think that the Bluegrass state ever turned down sipping a lowball glass of spirits. But it did. In November 1919, Kentucky narrowly voted to ban sale and distribution – but not use – of alcohol, two months before Prohibition started nationwide. 

What followed afterwards put the roar into the 20’s. Whiskey businesses were shut down overnight. Bootlegging and bandits cropped up out the woodwork as illegal activities spiked. Large caches of whiskey were confiscated by thieves, underground tunnels were used to shift merchandise, and speakeasies cropped up all over. While consumption of spirits did drop dramatically, organized crime became a much more fruitful enterprise.


Hopeful intentions

Why, oh why? You may ask. Remember, this was a country returning from World War I, a conflict that saw over 100,000 American soldiers not return from battle. Alcohol consumption had risen sharply. It was also a time when women had taken positions as railway guards, police, firefighters and bank tellers while the men were overseas. It was a time of social turmoil, but also a time where the concepts of societal rights and wrongs were rapidly shifting. 

The temperance movement had grown significantly for over a decade, and marches and rallies targeting alcohol were common. The concept of banning the drink was seen as progressive and an attempt to cure social ills – drastic measures for a drastic situation.

One of the more well-known and radical members of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union was a native Kentuckian named Carry A. Nation. Her husband was an alcoholic, and she took it upon herself to bring her famous hatchet to saloons and tear them apart with what must have felt to her like acts of righteous vengeance. Her rampage lasted from 1900 to 1911 when she passed away.



The ban decimated Louisville’s thriving Whiskey Row. It is gauged that about 6,000 to 8,000 distilling jobs disappeared overnight. While the city has done a fabulous job at reconstructing its bourbon industry, many distilling families blinked out of existence. Those that remained could only target the medical community to stay afloat. Prohibition also had a huge effect on ancillary businesses, such as cooperages, bottle manufacturers, taverns and even farmers. A lot of people were put out.

Prohibition was harder on the Bluegrass state than most. Kentucky’s terrain and rurality made it an ideal spot to mix up some moonshine and earn a great deal of untaxed income. Given that corruption was high and public figures were being paid to look the other way, Prohibition underlined just how broken the system was. Instead of upping morality, it unwound it. The ban on booze also meant that people weren’t having a slow sip at dinner, but downing buckets at illegal speakeasies. Additionally, the government was no longer collecting taxes on alcohol, instead it was funding organized crime.


Local activity

A large centre of Louisville’s backdoor trade was the luxurious Seelbach Hotel. Built in 1905 by Bavarian brothers Otto and Louis Seelbach, the lodging was constructed with many modern amenities not yet seen in the state. Even though Louisville had its own city water, the brothers dug wells and had sewer tunnels built. Additional tunnels were built when the hotel became a large provider of steam for neighboring businesses. These unused basements and tunnels were an easy railroad to freedom should authorities come knocking. 

In fact, legend has it that F. Scott Fitzgerald based his titular character of The Great Gatsby on the infamous George Remus, who he met at the hotel’s illegal drinking business. Seelbach became a magnet to some of the more colourful mobsters of the 20s. Besides George Remus, coined King of the Bootleggers, the hotel also saw the likes of Lucky Luciano and Dutch Shultz pass through its doors. Today you can sit where Al Capone himself would play blackjack and poker and smoke cigars. According to local lore, the front desk had a button to press should law enforcement show up so that Capone could quickly tunnel for cover.


End of an era

By the 1930s, the damage Prohibition had caused the country was evident. Both parties running for the 1932 election agreed that the 18th amendment to stop the sale of booze should be struck. The noble experiment was not seen as a success in Kentucky; over 80% of voters called for repeal. Under President Franklin Roosevelt, the Prohibition era officially ended on December 5th, 1933. Distilleries were reopened and Louisville began construction of its – now legal – bourbon empire. Let’s raise a glass to that.

woman holding a pink cocktail and wearing a fur coat

It’s party time. You’ve folded the vintage napkins, pressed your lime sofa covers and delicately wrapped your hipster warehouse poles that make your kitchen in silly LEDs you bought at that ultra-trendy knick-knack store on the fanciest corner of you-know-where. Guests in strange hats pool in as you prepare your house blend of the world’s finest cocktail. You’ve mildly sugared the rim with lavender, you’ve shaken the icy broth like a practiced Tom Cruise (from Cocktail – before all that… well, you know) and the room is now filled with strange aromas like tamarind, manuka honey and utazi leaves. You pour it, lovingly, into … your faded alma mater coffee mug.

Let’s be honest, you’ve failed. No matter how much your arrangement of porcelain tiki masks may have impressed Nick from accounting, he will not be coming back. Jenny from the copy desk just passed out on your collection of punk rock vinyl and may never recover. James from HR actually just fired you.

You need help.

Luckily, it’s not string theory. There is a pretty set list of rules you can follow that are easier than folding a lazy Oriental knot on your lightly stitched necktie. Some follow science, others follow fashion and all of them are terribly important. Let’s begin.


Champagne flute

Well la-dee-da, look who came over for high tea on the rocks. Tall, straight and slender – just your mother’s type. The vessel for France’s most infamous swill was traditionally a coupe glass. It wasn’t until some cheese-loving admirers decided the narrow glass better preserved the bubbles. And let’s be honest, it’s definitely easier to hold onto as you drunkenly sway around trays held by sour-looking help at your odd aunt’s annual fundraising gala in remembrance of her dead puppy Whiskers.

Suitable drinks: mimosa, bellini, Kir Royal, champagne, pretension


Highball glass

The highball glass is mainly reserved for lowball people who want more mixer than poison. Karen, I know you just want a coke, but we’re at a party. Like its brotha from anotha motha, the champagne flute, the highball glass’ tall stature keeps those bubbles in where they’re supposed to be. Its robust bottom (I’m talking about the glass, Karen) is great for muddling ingredients. Interestingly, the cup was born in the late 19th century to a group of drunk railroad workers and refers to the colored ball near stations that signaled for train operators to make like Keanu Reeves in Speed or Keith Richards at all times.

Suitable drinks: mojito, Bloody Mary, Cuba Libra, gin and tonic, a Friends marathon


Old Fashioned glass

This hot piece of glass is reserved for those who want to fast track to the old codger stage of life where you sit at the bar and tell youngsters things like, ‘I walked uphill to school, both ways!’ and ‘In my day, we thought porn was blocking real information on the internet, not actually being the only real information on the internet!’ Also called a lowball glass, it dates back to the 1800s and was mostly used for mixing spirits, sugar syrup, waters and bitters. Given its small build, it’s best for liquors that backhand you across the face like its namesake the Old Fashioned or a 17-year-old, 90-proof Eagle Rare.

Suitable drinks: whiskey, Negroni, old fashioned, Sazerac, functioning alcoholism


Cognac glass

No, sit back down, that person is not holding an actual monkey skull, but a cup so large their ego can fit in it. Want to have everyone stare at you? Of course you do! This 20-ounce see-through balloon should only be filled to about a quarter to preserve the bouquet and show everyone how much you care about it. The elixir should be slightly warmed, albeit the smoldering looks you’ll receive while circling the giant glass orb in your palm might well do the trick. The ancient Egyptians used similar-like goblets for drinking brandy and ritual practices. So, when someone comes up to you and remarks on how embarrassingly large your glass is, feel free to Pharaoh them into the next life.

Suitable drinks: brandy, cognac, the end of all things


Wine glasses

You’ve been using the same glass for red and white wines? No wonder you still live in New Jersey with your parents. (What, it’s not the economy?!) Etiquette dictates that reds take a larger glass with a rounder bowl to up the rate of oxidization, while whites remain shorter and thinner and can’t play basketball. Let every bartender that has ever served you ever know. It’s for their own good.

Suitable drinks: red wine, white wine, rose wine, existential dread


The bottle

In an age when ending pollution and conserving time are of utmost importance, the real philanthropist swigs from the source. Or at least that’s what you tell people as they throw change in your frayed chapeau on 4th Street. After all, drinking from the wrong glass at your apartment fiesta is what led you here in the first place. It’s not that they’re better than you, you’re better than them.

Suitable drinks: beer, vodka, soup, giving up

While cocktail making isn’t the most important part of a party, filling the wrong sink with ink could have guests questioning your moral compass and projected survival rate amongst others of your kind. ‘What a sociopath,’ your mom may say as she leaves your apartment for the last time in disgust. ‘I give him till next week,’ your fiancé may retort to their best mate as they toss your ring into the garbage disposal unit on their way out the closest window. Play it safe. Be aware. Use the right mug for your glug.