Liquor is a Luxury

23 Jun

Here’s a quick overview of the availability, from 1942 on, of the two fortified wines–sherry and, particularly, vermouth–used in my last post. Mary Frances was prescient in recommending their use in cocktails because of the possibility of their ongoing domestic production while the harder, distilled liquors would be increasingly difficult to come by.

Luxuries weren’t rationed by the national government but gasoline rationing cut down on the deliveries of nonessential commodities like beer, liquor, and soft drinks. There was a bottle shortage. At the same time, foreign imports were drying up due to the war. And those who’d been frustrated by the repeal of the 18th Amendment (Prohibition) less that a decade before took the opportunity presented by World War II to enact tighter local controls on availability of alcohol. Curfews were imposed on businesses selling liquor, and some state-run liquor stores instituted rationing

Distilleries were producing alcohol for the war effort rather than beverages so new stocks of items like whiskey, gin, and the like were not forthcoming. Their output was used in the manufacture of rubber, munitions, anesthetics, and other necessities. By 1944 alcohol production was 400% of any previous year but it wasn’t appearing in bars. One enterprising distillery, Schenley, seemed unwilling to get out of the beverage business during the war even though they were distilling alcohol for the government. In 1942 Schenley diversified its holdings and purchased several California wine company, among them the Roma Wine Company–then the largest winery in the country (but that’s another post). Another of Schenley’s divisions, Dubonnet, makers of vermouth transferred all their operations to the Roma winery in Lodi, California. Vermouth was safe.

1943 Dubonnet Ad

Dubonnet ad from October 25, 1943 LIFE Magazine. Image via Google Books.

But it was still getting harder to have a legal drink when you were out on the town. Bootlegging (still illegal), speakeasies (illegal), and the practice of adulterating liquor stocks (also illegal) to eke out the contents were on the rise. Raids by authorities were commonplace. And due to the short supply of alcohol, it was estimated that by 1944 in California, for instance, 1/4 of the liquor license holders would go out of business.

Fortunately, some liquors were still being produced in the US. It was still possible to distill brandy and rum because the necessary equipment couldn’t easily be converted to war use. And there was always sherry or vermouth.


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