In 1919, the 18th Amendment was passed, clearing the way for 13 years of the folly that was Prohibition. The Noble Experiment lasted from 1920 to 1933. During this time, it was illegal to sell alcohol, so people completely stopped drinking. Yeah, right. They actually drank more than ever, even though the cocktails weren’t exactly top notch.
Barkeeps had limited access to good booze, so they used sweeteners and juices to cover up the taste of the rough hooch. A few cocktails from the era survived, having been lovingly restored in the best mixology joints around the country. Here are 10 of our favorites to sip on whle channelling your inner Nucky Thompson from HBO’s Boardwalk Empire.
- French 75: How can you go wrong with Champagne? The original recipe, from The Savoy Cocktail Book, published in 1930, calls for gin, lemon juice, simple syrup and some bubbles. A later recipe replaces the gin with Cognac.
- Southside: “It’s known as a Prohibition gem,” says Meaghan Dorman of Raines Law Room — a New York speakeasy named for a precursor to Prohibition, the Raines Law, which limited drinking on Sundays. “I’ve read that it was the drink of Al Capone and his gang.” The drink is typically made with gin, lime, mint and simple syrup.
- Sidecar: This one’s a stiff one, made of Cognac, Cointreau and lemon juice, in a 3-2-1 ratio that’s shaken and served up. It’s said to be named for an army captain who liked to be driven to the bar in a motorcycle sidecar. So old-timey.
- Dubonnet Cocktail: Dubonnet — which is essentially foritifed red wine made spicy with herbs — was used to mask the taste of rotgut gin in this drink, according to Maxwell Britten of Maison Premiere in Brooklyn. But making it with a quality gin, he points out, results in a suave sipper.
- Mary Pickford: Britten also recommends this fun little concoction of white rum, fresh pineapple juice, maraschino liqueur and grenadine, created by Eddie Woelke — who like many a bartender during Prohibition fled to Havana, where he was free to shake and stir to his heart’s content.
- Tuxedo #2: Created in the late 1800s, this drink resurfaced during the 1920s. Do the main ingredients — gin and vermouth — sound familiar? It’s a cousin of the Martini. Add a dash of maraschino liqueur, bitters and dose of absinthe, and you have yourself a Tuxedo #2.
- Ward 8: Also created before Prohibition, it’s easy to see why this one was popular during the Noble Experiment. Rye whiskey, which would have been harsh stuff at the time, is masked with lemon juice, orange juice and grenadine. Nowadays, better quality rye — like Templeton made in Iowa — has much improved this drink.
- Bee’s Knees: A spoonful of honey, plus lemon and orange juice, would have taken the edge off bathtub gin in this 1920s cocktail. Today’s craft gins lend a much-welcome complexity to this sweet-tart recipe.
- Bacardi Cocktail: In his 2008 book, The Essential Cocktail: The Art of Mixing Perfect Drinks, Dale DeGroff writes that the Bacardi Cocktail was the Cosmo of the post-Prohibition era. It was created earlier, though, and wildly popular in Havana, where Americans who could afford to would escape the booze ban.
- Highball: A simple brown spirit-and-ginger ale highball was a common order during the era, says Dorman. She recommends mixing your favorite bourbon with one of the craft ginger beers on the market now, like Fever Tree, and adding a twist of lime for a pleasantly spiced refreshment.
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