Library of Congress
Library of Congress

6 Absurd Alcohol Myths People Believed During Prohibition

Library of Congress
Library of Congress

The pro-temperance “dry” lobby, whose existence culminated in its successful campaign for the passage of the 18th amendment in 1920, was one of the most formidable political organizations in American history. It united such diverse bedfellows as veterans, women’s suffrage groups, religious communities, the NAACP, and even the Ku Klux Klan. Dry propaganda deeply penetrated the nation’s educational system and much of it soon became required reading in hundreds of public schools, spreading some truly outlandish misinformation in the process. Here are six of the period’s most widely-held myths about alcohol.

1. Alcohol Turns Blood Into Water

This strange notion was popularized by the “Department of Scientific Temperance Instruction,” a branch of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, which believed federal prohibition could eliminate domestic violence. Though it’s become a political shadow of its former self, the now-international union still exists today.

2. Merely Smelling Alcohol Could Deform Unborn Children

Alfred Ploetz, a German eugenicist who later joined the Nazi party, believed that alcohol consumption was a driving force behind genetic inferiority. In his pamphlet The Influence of Alcohol Upon Race, he actually suggested that pregnant mothers could bear “defective offspring” simply by taking in the very scent of alcohol. Ploetz moved first to Springfield, Massachusetts, in 1890 and then to Meriden, Connecticut, before ultimately returning to his native country, spreading his radical views to receptive American audiences in the process.

3. Some Bootleg Wines Were Made With Cockroaches

Hailed for its distinctive flavor, Madeira wine has been enjoyed by Americans for centuries. Even the founding fathers adored the drink, as importer Bartholomew Broadbent explains in this clip:

Hoping to tarnish the Portuguese beverage’s popularity, dry preacher T. P. Hunt of Wyoming, Pennsylvania claimed that it was common practice for wine-makers to lazily “put a bag of cockroaches” into a bottle of ordinary liquor and leave it there until it dissolved, thus replicating the famed Madeira aftertaste.

4. Most Beer Drinkers Die of Dropsy

Mary Hannah Hanchett Hunt, a former Massachusetts school-teacher, quickly became one of the aforementioned WCTU’s highest-ranking officers. While tirelessly working to push the temperance agenda in schools, she claimed then-recent scientific findings “proved” that the majority of beer drinkers die of dropsy. Though some have recently suggested that alcoholism is indeed linked to the disorder, Hunt’s assertion is, mildly-put, a huge exaggeration.

5. Alcohol Can Give You a 25-Pound Liver

The average human liver weighs somewhere in the vicinity of 3.5 pounds (roughly 1.5 kilograms) and the fact that excessive alcohol consumption can wreak havoc upon the vital organ is common knowledge. But this cautionary advice wasn’t terrifying enough for temperance newsletters, one of which wrote that “in some cases the liver [of a drinker] reaches an enormous weight, fifteen, and even twenty to twenty-five pounds being not uncommon.”

6. Drunkards’ Brains Can Be Used As Torches

Prohibitionist George McCandlish claimed to have once observed two surgeons performing an autopsy on the gray matter of a heavy drinker: “After removing the top of the skull, for the purpose of examining the condition of the brain, they tested it for alcohol by holding a lighted match near it, and immediately the brain took fire and burned with a blue flame, like an alcohol lamp.”  

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Bibo Barmaid
Bibo Barmaid Is Like a Keurig for Cocktails—and You Can Buy It Now
Bibo Barmaid
Bibo Barmaid

To make great-tasting cocktails at home, you could take a bartending class, or you could just buy a fancy gadget that does all the work for you. Imbibers interested in the hands-off approach should check out Bibo Barmaid, a cocktail maker that works like a Keurig machine for booze.

According to Supercall, all you need to turn the Bibo Barmaid system into your personal mixologist is a pouch of liquor and a pouch of cocktail flavoring. Bibo's liquor options include vodka, whiskey, rum, and agave spirit (think tequila), which can be paired with flavors like cucumber melon, rum punch, appletini, margarita, tangerine paloma, and mai tai.

After choosing your liquor and flavor packets, insert them into the machine, press the button, and watch as it dilutes the mixture and pours a perfect single portion of your favorite drink into your glass—no muddlers or bar spoons required.

Making cocktails at home usually means investing in a lot of equipment and ingredients, which isn't always worth it if you're preparing a drink for just yourself or you and a friend. With Bibo, whipping up a cocktail isn't much harder than pouring yourself a glass of wine.

Bibo Barmaid is now available on Amazon for $240, and cocktail mixes are available on Bibo's website starting at $35 for 18 pouches. The company is working on rolling out its liquor pouches in liquor stores and other alcohol retailers across the U.S.

[h/t Supercall]

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iStock
Is There Any Point in Letting Red Wine Breathe?
iStock
iStock

by Aliya Whiteley

At the end of a long day, few things beat simple pleasures like watching a good film, eating a bar of chocolate the size of your head, or drinking a big glass of red wine.

By this point in the evening, most people don’t want to be told that they need to uncork the bottle and let the wine sit for at least 30 minutes before it becomes pleasantly drinkable. Yet that's (by the letter of the unwritten law) what you're supposed to do.

But why? Well, let's start with the assorted historical reasons.

Red wine has been around since the Stone Age. In fact, in 2011 a cave was uncovered in Armenia where the remains of a wine press, drinking and fermentation vessels, and withered grape vines were uncovered; the remains were dated at 5500 years old. Early winemaking often had a ritualistic aspect: Wine jars were found in Ancient Egyptian tombs, and wine appears in both the Hebrew and Christian bibles.

The concept of letting wine "breathe" is, historically speaking, relatively new and probably has its roots in the way wine was once bottled and stored.

Traditionally, sulfur is added to wine in order to preserve it for longer, and if too much is added the wine might well have an ... interesting aroma when first opened—the kind of "interesting aroma" that bears more than a passing resemblance to rotten eggs. Contact with the air may have helped to remove the smell, so decanting wine may once have been a way of removing unwelcome odors, as well as getting rid of the sediment that built up in the bottom of bottles.

It’s also possible that the concept springs from the early 1860s, when Emperor Napoleon III asked Louis Pasteur to investigate why so much French wine was spoiling in transit. Pasteur published his results, which concluded that wine coming into contact with air led to the growth of bacteria, thus ruining the vino. However, small amounts of air improved the flavor of the wine by "aging" it. In bottles, with a cork stopper, the wine still came into contact with a small amount of oxygen, and by storing it for years the wine was thought to develop a deeper flavor.

However, how much of that actually matters today?

Many experts agree that there is no point in simply pulling out the cork and letting the wine sit in an open bottle for any period of time; the wine won’t come into enough contact with oxygen to make any difference to the taste.

However, decanting wine might still be a useful activity. The truth is this: It entirely depends on the wine.

Nowadays we don’t really age wine anymore; we make it with the aim of drinking it quickly, within a year or so. But some types of wine that are rich in tannins (compounds that come from the grape skins and seeds) can benefit from a period of time in a decanter, to soften the astringent taste. These include wines from Bordeaux and the Rhône Valley, for instance.

If you really want to know if a particular wine would benefit from being given time to breathe, try your own experiment at home. Buy two bottles, decant one, and let it breathe for an hour. Do you notice a difference in the taste? Even if you don’t, it's an experiment that justifies opening two bottles of wine.

One word of warning: No matter where a wine comes from, it is possible to overexpose it to oxygen. So remember Pasteur’s experiments and don’t leave your wine out of the bottle for days. That, friends, would be one hell of a waste.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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