Prohibition cocktails

Prohibition lead to the rise of  'speakeasy' bars in the US in the 1920s.
Prohibition lead to the rise of 'speakeasy' bars in the US in the 1920s. 

Australia never had full prohibition – not quite. The 'noble experiment' was an American thing. It failed spectacularly too, resulting in a rise of organised crime centred around illicit hooch and the speakeasies that sold it.

It's an era that has been much romanticised and popularised leading to the rise of 1920s inspired 'speakeasy' bars and the success of television series like Boardwalk Empire.

Australia's own infamous 'six o'clock swill', introduced a few years before American Prohibition during World War I, did considerable damage to Australia's bar landscape. Thanks to the temperance movement any chance Australia had in developing a sophisticated drinking culture was washed away in a tide of mass binge drinking that was the result of early closing.

However, despite the very best efforts of the law and the temperance unions, be it in Australia or the US, the cocktail was never truly stamped out. The Antipodes and the US might have slipped into the cocktail dark ages, but Europe thankfully kept the cocktail shaker close to hand.

If you're looking to celebrate in 1920s style then it's to European bars like Harry's New York Bar in Paris and London's The Savoy Hotel where you'll find the best cocktail inspiration. I've even thrown together a hit list of great 'prohibition' cocktails to get you in the mood to do the Charleston.

The Scofflaw Cocktail

The term 'scofflaw' was the result of a national contest in the US instigated in 1923 by a prominent Anti-Saloon League member Delcevare King. King offered a $200 reward for the creation of a term "which best expresses the idea of lawless drinker, menace, scoffer, bad citizen, or whatnot, with the biting power of 'scab' or slacker".

The competition certainly attracted attention. According to the January 16, 1924 edition of the Boston Herald there were over 25,000 entries with two separate contestants coming up with the term 'scofflaw' and splitting the prize money.

This newly coined term was immediately the subject of ridicule by objectors to prohibition. In fact, Harry's New York Bar in Paris – less than two weeks after the actual coining of the term – invented a cocktail that humorously baited American prohibition ideals. The Scofflaw Cocktail was created by a Harry's bartender apparently going by the name of 'Jock'. The drink, was for a time a favourite amongst the scofflaws for whom the very term was created.


45ml rye whiskey (try Tasmania's Belgrove White Rye whiskey for an authentic prohibition style drop)
30ml Dry vermouth
20ml lemon juice
20ml real pomegranate grenadine (pomegranate juice and sugar)
Dash of orange bitters

Method: Add all ingredients into a shaker. Add ice, shake briskly and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a lemon twist.

Prohibition Cocktail

Once the US Congress passed the Volstead Act on October 28, 1919, bartenders across the States were suddenly out of a job. Many became soda jerks dispensing cola from the local pharmacy, many switched trades altogether, but a few fled to Europe where their skills might still be appreciated. One such bartender was Harry Craddock.

Craddock became a bartender at the famous Savoy Hotel in London where he went on to become one of the most popular barkeeps of the 1920s and '30s. He's credited with inventing a host of cocktails, often erroneously, but he did contribute massively to cocktail culture with one of the most influential cocktail books of all time: The Savoy Cocktail Book first printed in 1930.

The Prohibition Cocktail, printed in Craddock's book, is likely one of his creations though it never really achieved much fame. To make it at home these days you'll need a couple of harder to source ingredients: Lillet Blanc or Cocchi Americano – white wine based aperitifs – and apricot brandy. Maybe just learn the recipe and teach it to your favourite barkeep.

30ml Plymouth gin (it's what Craddock calls for)
30ml Lillet Blanc or Cocchi Americano
10ml freshly squeezed orange juice
5ml apricot brandy

Method: Add all ingredients into a shaker. Add ice, shake briskly and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a lemon twist.

Mary Pickford

Born in 1892 as Gladys Smith, Mary Pickford - and indeed the cocktail that bears her name - may well have faded from the limelight had it not been for her smart decision to adopt a stage name.

As it stands Pickford was a legend of the silent movie era staring in hundreds of films until her retirement in 1933. Pickford's name was the first to ever appear above the title of a movie on bills and promotional material and she raked in the same pay per appearance as Charlie Chaplin.

The Mary Pickford cocktail is a Prohibition classic first appearing in the 1920s at the height of her fame. The cocktail makes its way into in print in the The Savoy Cocktail Book, but this drink really belongs to America's Prohibition playground - Cuba. The concoction was developed by Constantino Ribalaigua from the La Florida bar in Havana.

45ml white rum
30ml pineapple juice
3 Dashes maraschino liqueur
3 Dashes real pomegranate grenadine

Method: Add all ingredients into a shaker. Add ice, shake briskly and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a wedge of pineapple or a cocktail cherry if you're feeling fancy.

Source: This article was published as a blog entry on Booze Hound on August 24, 2012.