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Celebrate the 80th Anniversary of Prohibition's Repeal With These Prohibition-Era Cocktails

It may have taken the rest of the country until December to repeal Prohibition, but here in Texas we did it on November 24.
It may have taken the rest of the country until December to repeal Prohibition, but here in Texas we did it on November 24.
Photo courtesy Distilled Spirits Council of the United States

November 24, 1933, was a really good day.

After 13 years of being unable to sell, produce, import or transport alcohol, thanks to the Anti-Saloon League and the passage of the 18th Amendment, Texas approved ratification of the 21st Amendment, ending Prohibition. Even though few drinkers had ceased to imbibe as a result of Prohibition, its repeal spawned wild, raging parties in the streets and helped revitalize the defunct liquor, wine and beer companies that had once thrived in the U.S.

If you liked a good, stiff, legal drink at the end of a long day, November 24 might as well have been the Fourth of July.

Eighty years later, the notion of drinking being outlawed is foreign to most of us, but the effects of Prohibition are still enjoyed every day. And by that, I mean the awesome cocktails invented by law-flouting party animals while the 18th Amendment was still going strong. Many of today's favorite cocktails were created by sneaky drinkers hoping to mask the taste of bathtub gin or really bring out the flavors in unlawfully imported whiskey.

This Sunday, the 24th, salute these brave innovators by re-creating some of their beloved recipes and rejoice in the fact that drinking is no longer outlawed. Unless you do it out in the street. That's still illegal.

Southside Many cocktails made during Prohibition were based on gin, because it was relatively simple to produce (giving rise to the term "bathtub gin") and because the strong juniper-berry flavor tended to mask how truly awful homemade gin was. Cocktails themselves grew in popularity during Prohibition for the same reason: Something was needed to dilute or cover up the taste of really bad booze.

Enter the Southside, a simple cocktail made with gin, citrus, sugar and mint (all of which make that gnarly gin a little more palatable) that was supposedly invented on the south side of Chicago in the 1920s. It's still a favorite summer beverage, and that's because it's cool, crisp and refreshing.

This recipe comes from the 21 Club in New York City: 2 ounces gin juice of one lemon 2 teaspoons of granulated sugar several fresh mint leaves

Place ingredients in a cocktail shaker and shake vigorously to bruise the mint leaves. Strain into a chilled collins glass filled with ice. Garnish with fresh mint.

French 75 This classy drink was invented in 1915 (so a little before Prohibition) at Harry's New York Bar in Paris. It's so named because people thought it was so strong that it felt like being shot with a French 75mm field gun. The drink became popular in America thanks to the Stork Club in New York.

This recipe is from the Savoy Book of Cocktails, which was published in 1930: 2 jiggers gin 1 part lemon juice a spoonful of powdered sugar cracked ice Champagne

Stir first four ingredients in a tall glass, then fill with Champagne.

Sidecar The Ritz Hotel in Paris claims to have invented this drink around the end of World War II, but Buck's Club in London also purports to have created it. The first recipes appeared in 1922, in Harry MacElhone's (of Harry's New York Bar) Harry's ABC of Mixing Cocktails.

Here's the original recipe: 1 ounce Cointreau 1 ounce brandy 1 ounce lemon juice

Shake with ice and strain into a cocktail glass.

 

Ward 8 Most classic cocktails have several murky origins, but the story behind the Ward 8 seems pretty legit. It was allegedly invented in Boston in 1898 to celebrate an election. Democrat Martin M. Lomasney was elected to the state legislature after Boston's Ward 8 delivered him a winning margin.

Locke-Ober, the bar in which the Ward 8 may have been invented, was forced to close during Prohibition, but as soon as Prohibition ended the bar reopened and served Ward 8s made from this recipe: 2 ounces rye whiskey 1/2 ounce fresh lemon juice 1/2 ounce fresh orange juice 1 teaspoon grenadine

Shake the rye whiskey, lemon juice, orange juice and grenadine with ice. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with a maraschino cherry, if desired.

Bee's Knees Back in the good ol' days, "bee's knees" was slang for the best. The origin of the cocktail has been lost to history, but the recipe remains, and thank goodness for that, because it's delicious!

Here's a recipe from the History Kitchen: Honey Simple Syrup ½ cup honey ½ cup water

Combine water and honey in a small saucepan. Heat over medium, whisking often, until the mixture reaches a slow simmer and the honey is smooth and liquified. Remove from heat and cool to room temperature.

Bee's Knees Cocktail 1 ounce honey simple syrup 3/4 ounce gin 1/2 ounce freshly squeezed lemon juice 1/2 ounce freshly squeezed orange juice

Combine 2 tablespoon of the honey simple syrup and the gin, lemon juice and orange juice in a cocktail shaker filled with ice. Shake vigorously. Strain into a small chilled cocktail glass and serve.

Scofflaw This drink has probably the most appropriate name of anything on the list. Clearly, everyone who was continuing to buy and sell alcohol during Prohibition was a scofflaw. This supposedly debuted at Harry's New York Bar in Paris, though, where it wasn't illegal to drink.

According to Liquor.com, "The recipe came into being as a result of the word scofflaw coming to prominence on January 15, 1924. It won a contest held by prohibitionist Delcevare King that asked people to coin a term to describe the lawless drinker, 'to stab awake the conscience.'"

And here's how to make it:

2 ounces bourbon or rye whiskey 1 ounce dry vermouth 1/4 ounce fresh lemon juice 1/2 ounce grenadine 2 dashes orange bitters

Add all the ingredients to a shaker and fill with ice. Shake, and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

12-Mile Limit The 18th Amendment made it illegal to drink alcohol anywhere in the U.S. and within 12 miles of the coast. This meant people with boats were the only ones who could legally drink (because boating and drinking sounds like a great idea). People poked fun at the somewhat arbitrary distinction between legal and illegal places to drink with this strong cocktail.

This recipe comes from Saveur magazine: 1 ounce silver rum 1/2 ounce rye whiskey 1/2 ounce brandy 1/2 ounce grenadine 1/2 ounce fresh lemon juice 1 lemon twist, to garnish

Combine rum, whiskey, brandy, grenadine, and juice in a cocktail shaker filled with ice. Cover and shake until chilled, about 15 seconds. Strain into a chilled highball glass and top with lemon twist.

Mary Pickford This drink is obviously named for the silent film star of the 1920s. According to legend, she was in Cuba filming a movie with her husband, Douglas Fairbanks, and the two stayed at the Hotel Nacional de Cuba. The bartender there, Fred Kaufman, invented this sweet girly drink in Pickford's honor.

This recipe, which appears not to have changed much over the years, comes from Liquor.com: 1.5 ounces white rum 1.5 ounces pineapple juice 1 teaspoon grenadine 6 drops maraschino liqueur

Add all the ingredients to a cocktail shaker and fill with ice. Shake, and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.


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