10 Iconic Prohibition-Era Cocktails: Drink Like It’s the 1920s!
Written by Keg N Bottle
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Prohibition in the United States may have banned liquor, but spirits still flowed freely in the back alleys, speakeasies, and countrysides – in fact, many of the best cocktails came out of (and long survived) those dry years! Whether it was to cover up a particularly unpalatable batch of hooch, or to stretch a little bit a long way, the Prohibition era birthed some of happy hour’s most iconic - and creative - cocktails. Here are our ten favorites! (note: with the exception of the Old Fashioned, these cocktails are all mixed in cocktail shakers).
1. Gin Rickey
The gin rickey is a refreshing highball drink that dates back to the early 1900s. It’s a classic from the era – so much so that it’s still Washington D.C.’s official cocktail! The original likely contained bourbon or whiskey, because that was preferred before they started mixing up gin in bathtubs during Prohibition.
For as long as there have been cocktails, the Old Fashioned has been around. Until the late 19th century, it’s what you would get if you asked the bartender for a “whiskey cocktail.” While the cocktail survived Prohibition, lots of creative takes were dreamt up when the country was dry – which caused several different conflicting versions of the recipe!
Few cocktails can rival the iconic sidecar: it’s one of the great sour drinks found in every bartending guide published around Prohibition. This brandy sour is often served with cognac, orange liqueur, and lemon juice; and in true 30s fashion, add a sugar rim for a sweet contrast.
When champagne came around during Prohibition, it was time to mix up a French 75! This World War I cocktail would have stretched the sparkling wine and a bottle of gin a little further, especially once a little lemon and syrup were added. The cocktail is actually named after a rather intimidating gun that was used by the French during WWI – a fun fact to impress your friends with at your next cocktail party!
Mary Pickford was America’s sweetheart in the 1920s and starred in silent movies alongside famous chaps like Charlie Chaplin, and rum was one of the hottest commodities during the Prohibition. The story goes that she, her husband Douglas Fairbanks, and Chaplin were in Havana when a bartender whipped up this tropical concoction and named it in her honor.
Although considered a novelty cocktail because of its “odd addition,” it was one of the first drinks to get bartenders interested in using honey as an ingredient since colonial days. The sweetness of the bee's knees cocktail certainly added to its appeal!
Whether you mix it with gin, tequila, or green-tea infused whiskey, the patriarch of the Highball family is the scotch and soda. Legend has it that the English actor E.J. Ratcliffe brought the cocktail across the pond to New York all the way back in 1894. (Tip: use a tall, narrow Collins glass for this one, and large ice cubes).
2 ounces whiskey or scotch
4 ounces club soda
8. Ward Eight
This cocktail's name is a nod to its origin, dating back to 1898 Boston when politician Martin M. Lomasney celebrated his win of a seat in the General Court of Massachusetts with a newly minted cocktail – named for the district that cinched his victory.
The preferred beverage of bootlegger Al Capone and his crew, the Southside’s name (sometimes called Southside Fizz) is linked to Chicago's South Side, which his gang ran.
2 ounces gin
1 ounce lime juice
¾ ounce simple syrup
5 fresh mint leaves
10. Corpse Reviver
This cocktail family's motto is "cheers to the hair of the dog that bit you,” and were meant as hangover cures. They were essentially seen as medicinal in their earliest days, and are believed to reach back as far as the 1860s. However, the Corpse Revivers cemented their popularity in the Prohibition era by being catalogued in the 1930 Savoy Cocktail Handbook.