How America Was Founded On Booze and Taxes
Running a country with huge debts, George Washington taxed the young country’s farmer distillers, leading to the Whiskey Rebellion.
Between the paperwork to file in time for this Monday, the anxiety and, for many of us, the inevitable check writing, paying your income tax every year hardly seems like a time for mixing up celebratory drinks. But just as death and taxes are often inextricably linked, so too are alcohol and taxes, which, in tandem, actually shaped American history.
In fact, you may need to take a stiff slug of whiskey before you continue reading this: The federal income tax was instituted to help pave the way for Prohibition.
With the nation’s breweries, wineries and distilleries out of business the federal government needed to find another source of revenue: you and me.
“By the time Congress voted to approve a constitutional amendment authorizing income tax, the antiliquor caucus and the protax caucus were remarkably congruent,” wrote Daniel Okrent in his book Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition.
Given how significant the change was, it makes sense that there is even an Income Tax Cocktail in Harry Craddock’s legendary art deco The Savoy Cocktail Book, which was originally published in 1930.
It combines gin with both dry and sweet vermouth, a squeeze of orange juice and some bitters.
The concoction is very similar to the classic and extremely popular Bronx cocktail that is only missing the bitters. (The Bronx recipe, according Philip Greene’s Hemingway cocktail companion To Have and Have Another, was most likely first published in 1908.)
The legacy of booze and taxation is at the root of America’s founding.
As any middle school history scholar can tell you, the country’s Founding Fathers were outraged by Britain’s policy of taxation without representation.
However, after driving the redcoats back to England, the country’s first president, George Washington, found himself running a country that had huge debts from the Revolutionary War.
To bridge the gap he was forced to, you guessed it, tax the young country’s farmer distillers. That decision was, of course, less than popular and led to the Whiskey Rebellion, which had to be forcibly put down.
It’s a particularly ironic chapter in American history, considering that Washington himself would later open the country’s largest rye distillery after leaving office.
Even to this day, one reason for the high price of hard alcohol in America is that spirits are taxed at just about every possible level.
Thanks to IRS scheduling you get an extra few days this year to finish filling out your 1040 form. And for those of you who have diligently already filed you certainly deserve a drink (perhaps an Income Tax Cocktail) and for those of you who are still filing, we toast you!
Income Tax Cocktail
Contributed by Harry Craddock
1 dash Angostura Bitters
Juice of one quarter of an orange
.25 oz Dry vermouth
.25 oz Sweet vermouth
.5 oz Dry gin
Add all the ingredients to a cocktail shaker and fill with ice. Shake and strain into a cocktail glass.