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15 Pictures of People Wasting Perfectly Good Alcohol During Prohibition

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Anyone who has ever caught an episode of Boardwalk Empire knows the extreme—and sometimes violent—lengths to which bootleggers went to keep the alcohol flowing during America’s Prohibition years. But 20th century lawmen and teetotalers were just as committed to their cause, as evidenced by these vintage photos of people wasting perfectly good alcohol.

1. Dismantling a still

Agents in San Francisco ensure that the hooch would stop flowing from this particular still by dismantling it altogether.

2. Orange County Sheriff dumps bootleg booze

In California’s Orange County, Sheriff Sam Jernigan, Undersheriff Ed McClellan, and Santa Ana Constable Jesse Elliott oversee the destruction of some bootlegged booze.

3. Prohibition agents destroy barrels of alcohol

This photo, which shows Prohibition agents emptying several barrels of alcohol, first appeared in the Chicago Daily News in 1921.


With a deck full of contraband, the crew of the Linwood—a rum-running ship—opted to set their boat afire in order to destroy the evidence when they were pursued by a patrol boat in 1923.

5. Zion City, Ill. destroys 80,000 pint bottles of beer

Mrs. Graze Knippen holds up one of the 80,000 pint bottles of beer she helped to get rid of in Zion City, Ill.


Zion City Mayor Hurd Clendinen made sure the press was on hand to witness—and photograph—his city’s commitment to the Prohibition movement.

7. Smashing Barrels

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An axe makes a perfect took for smashing barrels full of alcohol, as this man discovers in 1921.

8. Pouring It Away

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A well-placed sewer drain could be a teetotaler’s best friend.

9. Bottle throwing in Boston

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Bottles of wine and spirits are hurled at a brick wall in Boston in 1920.

10. Wine flush

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In February 1920, just after the start of Prohibition in America, a crowd of excited onlookers watch as 33,100 gallons of vino are flushed into the gutter outside of the North Cucamonga Winery in Los Angeles.

11. Beer street

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Barrels of suds are spilled into the streets, forming a river of beer in 1925.

12. Down the drain

A thirsty drain is the final resting place for this barrel of liquid contraband.


In 1932, a year before Prohibition was repealed, deputies in Orange County, Calif. rid the city of an impressive stash of illegal booze.

14. Nine men smashing bottles in dump

Dewar's Repeal, Flickr

Taking a cue from Zion City, 18,000 bottles of beer made their way from Philadelphia to Washington, DC—only to be smashed to smithereens at the local dump.

15. Drink poured down the sewer

A group of officials look on as a barrel of alcohol is poured down a New York manhole.

Big Questions
Is There Any Point in Letting Red Wine Breathe?

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

A Beer From the Middle Ages Is Making a Serious Comeback

Hop-forward beer is all the rage today, but in the middle ages many imbibers preferred brews that skewed towards the sweeter side. Now, centuries after it fell out of fashion, Atlas Obscura reports that gruit ale is making a comeback.

Gruit beer is any beer that features botanicals in place of hops. The ingredients that give the drink its distinctive sweet, aromatic taste can be as familiar as ginger and lavender or as exotic as mugwort and seabuckthorn. The herbs play the role of hops by both adding complex flavors and creating an inhospitable environment for harmful microbes.

It may be hard for modern beer lovers to imagine beer without hops, but prior to the 16th century gruit was as common in parts of Europe as IPAs are in hip American cities today. Then, in 1516, that style of beer suddenly vanished from pint glasses: That was the year Germany passed a beer purity law that restricted beer formulas to hops, water, and barley. Many of the key botanicals in gruit beer were considered aphrodisiacs at the time, and the rising Puritan movement helped push the brew further into obscurity.

Hops have dominated the beer scene ever since, and only in the past few decades have microbrewers started giving old gruit recipes the attention they're due. In 2017, the Scratch Brewing Company in Illinois released their seasonal Scratch Tonic, made from a combination of dandelion, carrot tops, clover, and ginger. The Põhjala Brewery in Estonia brews their Laugas beer using Estonian herbs, caraway, and juniper berries. Get in touch with your local microbrewery to see if they have their own version of the old-school beer in their line-up.

[h/t Atlas Obscura]


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