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6 Prohibition Era Cocktails that Are Still the Cats Meow


The 18th Amendment was passed in 1919, and made it illegal to sell or consume alcoholic beverages. However, humanity has been been getting drunk on fermented grains, fruits, and vegetables since before recorded history; passing a few laws wasn’t going to keep our thirsty species from kicking a few back. One thing that prohibition did accomplish was that it forced bartenders to be a tad more resourceful. After all, they no longer had access to the high-quality booze that had been the hallmark of earlier years. Instead, they had to make do with the bathtub-concoctions of basement stilleries. This Grade F hooch tasted about a good as you might expect, so drink mixers had to get creative if they wanted their patrons to bother buying it. Anything they could find that would cover the kick-in-the-mouth flavor of bathtub gin was mixed into the drinks, and some of the resulting concoctions were pretty interesting. Here are six of the best prohibition era cocktails that are still being mixed today.

1. Between the sheets. An alcoholic beverage made popular during a time when alcohol was illegal, so people didn’t really have to worry about giving drinks overly scandalous names. It consisted of 3/4 ounces light rum, 3/4 ounces brandy, 3/4 ounces cointreau mixed with a teaspoon of lemon juice shaken with ice and served in a chilled cocktail glass with a lemon twist for garnish.

2. Southside. The Southside supposedly gets its name from Chicago, where particularly nasty gang wars between northsiders and southsiders were raging. The north gangs imported their bootlegged liquor from Canada, while their competition was stuck with homemade gin (which tasted like gasoline and pine-scented furniture cleaner). To increase their profits, they mixed it with mint and citrus, and the Southside was born. It contained 2 ounces of gin, 3/4 ounces lime juice, 1 ounce simple syrup, 3-4 ounces soda water, 2 sprigs of mint, and 2 pieces of lime. So, yeah, it took quite a bit to make bathtub gin drinkable.

3. Bee’s Knees. Unfortunately not named after any sort of secret ingredient, Bee’s Knees got its name from contemporary slang that simply meant “the best.” That may seem like high praise for a drink whose main ingredient probably began life in an open-air cistern in a mildewy basement, but the reality is that this drink was good enough to retain its popularity even to today. How was such an enduring drink created? Pretty simply, actually. It contained 2 ounces of gin, 3/4 ounces honey syrup, and 1/2 ounce lemon juice. It was served in a chilled cocktail glass.

4. White Lady. Have you ever wanted an omelet, but also wanted to get drunk at the same time? Of course you have, and that’s where the idea for the White Lady comes from. Basically, it’s a gin cocktail with some egg white dumped in for good measure, and believe it or not, it’s actually pretty darn good. In all honesty, it was probably a little upscale for your basic hole-in-the-wall speakeasy, but some wealthy party goers would have been right at home sipping on one within the confines of a wealthy patron’s mansion. It contains 2 ounces gin, 1 egg white, 1 ounce cream, and a teaspoon of sugar.

5. 12-Mile Limit. When it became illegal to drink alcohol in the Unite States, some people got the bright idea to take their imbibing ways out to international waters. 12 miles out seemed far enough, and thus the name of this cocktail came into existence. Although there are several ways to make a 12-Mile Limit, one version includes 1 ounce rum, 1/2 ounce rye whiskey, 1/2 ounce brandy, 1/2 ounce grenadine, 1/2 ounce lemon juice, and is garnished with a lemon twist.

6. Brandy Crusta. Prohibition may have been a time when people would have sipped at paint thinner if they thought that it would give them a decent buzz, but that doesn’t mean that the alcohol of the time was completely devoid of art. The ability to mix a Brandy Crusta was the mark of a great bartender, and as such you probably wouldn’t have found it anywhere but the most high-class joints and parties. It basically consists of an entire lemon peel, 2 ounces of cognac, 1 teaspoon Grand Marnier, 1 teaspoon Maraschino, 1/2 teaspoon lemon juice, 2 dashes bitters, and a whole lot of sugar. See, a Brandy Crusta gets its name from the crusted sugar around its outside. I’m not talking about the rim, I mean the outside of the entire glass. Crusty, perhaps, but man oh man. Once you find a bartender who can make a proper Brandy Crusta, you are in for a treat.

Want more?  Check out Michael’s Top Ten Drink Infographic!

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