The Loophole That Made Bourbon Legal During The Prohibition

When you think of the Prohibition Era of the 1920s, the first images that might come to mind could be images of bathtub gin, or people ducking into speakeasies to socialize and imbibe — maybe even people dressed to the nines doing the Charleston. It was a time of pre-depression era frivolity, which seems a bit counterintuitive since the sale of alcohol was banned nationally with the 18th amendment (Volstead Act) in 1920 (per Encyclopedia Britannica).

While those that supported prohibition might have had good intentions, it was hard to enforce, according to the History Channel. Proponents of halting the manufacturing and sale of intoxicating liquors were generally groups of people who felt it would lead to a better society, but by the early 1930s, the constitution was ratified again and prohibition ended. During the prohibition era, most people got their alcohol from bootleggers, made it themselves, or were served at a speakeasy, but there was, in fact, one legal way you could get one type of hard alcohol.

Call it Medicine

Time Out Magazine shares that people could have a doctor's note written to obtain a small amount of medicinal bourbon. This act alone may have saved some of the Kentucky distilleries during that time, notes Time Out.

Smithsonian Magazine explains that doctors prescribed medicinal bourbon to those suffering from cancer, indigestion, or even depression. Smithsonian Magazine also notes that many of those who got a prescription for alcohol were working the system, and that a very small percentage of people actually saw a perceived medical need for it. 

According to the L.A. Whiskey Society, medicinal whiskeys from the prohibition era might be some of the best out there. They note that before prohibition, there were thousands of distilleries in the US; once the Volstead Act went into effect in 1920, there were few left, and those distilleries seemed to really perfect their craft.

Curious to have a taste of the Prohibition Era? Try the 14 best cocktails of the time.