The Library of Congress > Wise Guide > May 2011 > Show Me the Way to the Next Whiskey Bar
Show Me the Way to the Next Whiskey Bar

For those whose beverage of choice is a whiskey, you probably never thought of yourself as drinking the “water of life.” Well, apparently the early Celtic people did, at least according to their language translation. That being said, prior to the 20th century, drinkers could never be too sure of what they were imbibing. Unscrupulous profiteers could distill practically anything into alcohol and pass it off as whiskey.

Old Crow Whiskey. 1870. Prints and Photographs Division. Reproduction Information: Reproduction No.: LC-USZC4-6497 (color film copy transparency); Call No.: LOT 10767 <item> [P&P] [P&P] Bottles and barrel of confiscated whiskey. Between 1921 and 1932. Prints and Photographs Division. Reproduction Information: Reproduction No.: LC-USZ62-96026 (b&w film copy neg.); Call No.: LOT 12351-5 <item> [P&P] [P&P]

Kevin Kosar discusses "Whiskey: A Global History" (University of Chicago Press, 2010) in a recent webcast. He presents the drink’s history, from its obscure medieval origins to the globally traded product of today. Focusing on three nations – Scotland, Ireland and the United States – Kosar charts how the techniques of distillation moved from ancient Egypt to the British Isles.

Even though prohibition banned the sale of alcohol in the United States, the federal government made an exemption for whiskey when it was prescribed by a doctor and sold through licensed pharmacies.

Searching through the Library’s American Memory collections for the word “prohibition” reveals a variety of interesting resources, including this audio clip featuring Irish performer William Cahill. Or perhaps a tune paying homage to Caribbean “rum-runners” can entertain you. Or when the bartender calls “last call,” you can pull this song out, titled “Goodbye Booze,” to lament an end to the evening.