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Pre-Prohibition Whiskey: A Taste Of History


Pre-Prohibition Whiskey: A Taste Of History


Written by Thomas Adams 
September 27, 2013

“In 1917, President Woodrow Wilson issued a temporary ban on booze to save grain for food production during WWI. Three years later, Congress made it official when the 18th Amendment came into effect. For almost 14 years, that grand experiment banned the production, importation, transport, or sale of liquor for consumption. It also proved impossible to enforce, leading to the covert boozing that has now been thoroughly co-opted by Hollywood: Where would movies be without the advent of bootlegging, speakeasies, moonshine and the gangsters who profited from all three?” — Maggie Bullock, CNN


“In addition to spawning a pirate industry of alcohol manufacturers in Rochester, Prohibition also witnessed the development of a league of alcohol smugglers. Rochester’s lake access and proximity to Canada, where alcohol still flowed freely, turned the city into a major bootlegging hub.” – Emily Morry, Local History ROCs 

Many Rochesterians took alcohol production into their own hands after the 18th Amendment took effect in January of 1920, sparking constant raids throughout the city. The Rochester Police Department, Federal Marshalls and the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office confiscated prohibition whiskey to be disposed of in the city’s sewers. Hundreds of thousands of gallons of alcohol were dumped into the depths of our city, never to be consumed. 

“While former saloons and restaurants formed the bulk of Rochester’s alcohol dispensaries, speakeasies also sprung up in a range of commercial and residential properties throughout the city. Apartments, houses and garages served as makeshift barrooms as did hotels, social clubs, barber shops, cigar stores and groceries. One 1931 raid uncovered half a barrel of beer in a Monroe Avenue establishment fronting as a bookstore.” – Emily Morry, Local History ROCs 

A group photograph of Monroe County Sheriff Morse (center, wearing a gray suit) and nine of his deputies, wearing suits, jackets and hats. They are surrounded by bottles of liquor confiscated during Prohibition raids.
Caption appearing with this photograph when published in the Rochester Herald reads, “Crowds watch as police pour “Good old Hooch” into the “Unappreciative sewer”
An unidentified Federal Agent smiles for a photograph as he carries confiscated liquor to a police car during a Prohibition raid in 1923. Rochester Police and Federal Marshals conducted the raid at 74 Ferndale Avenue and arrested Mr. Fred Batchellor when 534 bottles of liquor where found on the premises.
Rochester Property Clerk Joseph Sheridan (to the right in flat-top touring cap), in charge of liquor destruction in Rochester during Prohibition, pours confiscated liquor down a city sewer drain.
Motorcycle Patrolman Elmer Wolfe from the 4th precinct crouches in the entrance of an underground tunnel leading to an illegal still used during Prohibition. The entrance leads from the cellar of a house owned by Charles S. Ellis, a tinsmith, at 15 Saunders Street near Bay Street in Rochester, N.Y
Barrels filled with confiscated liquor were stored in the basement of the Federal Building, Rochester, N.Y. during Prohibition. These barrels were later drained into the city sewers for disposal. Among the barrels are four unidentified men.


When you sip on Black Button’s Pre-Prohibition Style Straight Bourbon Whiskey, you are sipping on a testament to our city’s past. In the years before the production and sale of bourbon was made illegal, distillers heavily used corn in their mash bills. Wheat was expensive, and corn cut costs. Because there wasn’t much time to age in the barrels, these whiskeys were bottled at a higher proof than what we normally see today. A high corn content plus a high proof makes for a particularly rugged whiskey.  

Our Pre-Prohibition whiskey consists of 80% Corn, 10% Rye and 10% Malted Barley. Aged four years and bottled at a 92 Proof, it boasts the same strength as a whiskey crafted 100-plus years ago. It is intended to be a little rough around the edges and bold on the nose, while finishing smoothly. You can expect to taste an earthiness mixed with a slightly muted caramel and vanilla sweetness. 

With the Prohibition experiment (thankfully) behind us, you can legally purchase this pre-prohibition whiskey at our Tasting Room! Just promise us you won’t be dumping it into any “unappreciative sewers.”  


Master Distiller Jeff Fairbrother enjoys our Pre-Prohibition Whiskey neat or with a cube. He does prefer it straight so as not to take away from its essence. 

Bartender Peggy Gilmartin also recommends enjoying it straight up!  

Get yours today: Pick up in store or ship directly to you.


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