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Here’s Churchill’s Script For Whiskey Shots And A Few Other Secrets From Prohibition

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Steve Birr Vice Reporter
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An assortment of libations were never far from Sir Winston Churchill, who allegedly always had “some alcohol in his bloodstream.”

Churchill, a notorious drinker who kicked off the day with a whiskey and soda, even managed to sidestep U.S. prohibition to feed his insatiable thirst for alcohol. His remedy came in the form of a doctor’s note acquired after a traffic accident while in New York City in December 1931, according to Food & Wine.

The bibulous prime minister initially found himself facing a dilemma when he traveled to the U.S. for a lecture tour during prohibition. While visiting a friend one night, the Englishman made the mistake of looking the wrong way when exiting a cab in the city and got hit by a car.

After a trip to the Bahamas to recover from fairly severe injuries, he returned for his lecture tour along with a prescription from Dr. Otto Pickhardt giving him legal permission to acquire alcohol in America for medicinal use.

“This is to certify that this post-accident convalescence of the Hon. Winston S. Churchill necessitates the use of alcoholic spirits especially at meal times,” reads the note. “The quantity is naturally indefinite but the minimum requirements would be 250 cubic centimeters.”

Churchill’s minimum prescribed dose equates to roughly six shots of liquor, but as the note says, the quantity was not limited. For a man who averaged six whiskey and sodas, three brandies and several glasses of champagne a day, it’s understandable the doctor would not want to place constraints on Churchill’s consumption.

While the average American had to endure forced abstinence or navigate the world of speakeasies during prohibition, alcohol was easily acquirable for the rich and well connected.

The 18th Amendment may have limited liquor availability to the public, but doctors and members of the clergy kept their access to the beverage. Doctors were authorized to write medical prescriptions for whiskey, brandy and beer that patients could fill at a local drug store. Medical groups discouraged the practice, but many doctors ignored such recommendations in an effort to profit off their special access.

Historians suggest some members of the clergy may also have taken advantage of their privileged access to alcohol to earn some extra money.

Unfortunately for companies like Anheuser Busch and Coors, that privilege did not extend to breweries in the U.S., which were forced to make drastic shifts in their business models over the course of prohibition’s 13-year life. Coors started manufacturing pottery, using large clay deposits around their brewing facility. Its ceramics business, now called CoorsTek, is still in operation and reportedly produces more revenue than the company’s beer, according to Forbes.

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Meanwhile Anheuser-Busch focused its efforts on making ice cream and an assortment of non-alcoholic beverages. Pabst Blue Ribbon took another direction, going into the lucrative cheese-making business. PBR used the ice cellars of its brewery to age the cheese, which they called “Pabst-ett.” After prohibition ended in 1933, PBR sold Pabst-ett to Kraft.

Consumers seeking a buzz had to get creative when these experienced alcohol producers were out of the market. Desperate drinkers turned to “bathtub gin” and rotgut moonshine, which carried the risks of blindness and death. Historians estimate more than 10,000 people perished at the hands of tainted booze over the 13 years of prohibition.

The era finally came to an end in 1933, but for some in America, prohibition extended for several more decades. It took until 1948 for Kansas to ratify the 21st Amendment, which overturned prohibition at the federal level. Oklahoma waited until 1959 to let their residents buy alcohol again, and Mississippi held out for sobriety until 1966.

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