If you love a good cocktail, you might be surprised to learn you can thank the Prohibition era for sparking the creation of some of the most delicious libations that remain favorites a century later.
Alcohol was illegal between the years of 1920 and 1933, but that didn’t stop speakeasies from serving up cocktails — it just meant they had to get creative with their mixology.
The hard liquor accessible during the Prohibition era was often of questionable taste and quality. In order to make it drinkable, bartenders and drinkers got creative by mixing the liquor with flavored ingredients — often of the sweet variety. Because it was simple, cheap, and quick to produce, gin quickly became one of the most popular liquors of the era and gin-based cocktails like the Bee’s Knees and the French 75 were born.
The cocktails weren’t just served in the dimly lit speakeasies that we often associate with Prohibition. Fancy house parties where cocktails were served also became popular, adding a festive element to the consumption of these drinks.
Today, Prohibition-era cocktails are more popular than ever — and the good news is that mixologists can serve them up using high-quality alcohol.
Here’s a look at some of the classics, what inspired the recipes, and how they’re made today.
The Hemingway daiquiri
“The Hemingway daiquiri has the coolest backstory of all of them, being created and inspired by Ernest Hemingway himself,” says Charles St. Germaine, beverage supervisor at Snoqualmie Casino.
The rum-based Hemingway daiquiri was created at El Floridita, one of the author’s favorite watering holes in Havana, Cuba. Hemingway famously aspired to drink the largest amount of alcohol in the shortest period of time (don’t try this at home, friends). For this reason, he frequently requested that his cocktails be made with extra liquor and no sugar or sweeteners.
“He attributed his lack of hangovers to having no sugar or sweetener in his drinks,” St. Germaine says. Here’s how it’s made today.
- 2 ounces white rum
- 1/4 ounce maraschino liqueur
- 3/4 ounce grapefruit juice
- 1/2 ounce lime juice
- 1/4 ounce simple syrup
- Garnish: lime wedge
After gathering the ingredients, pour them into a cocktail shaker filled with ice, shake well, and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Add a lime wedge as a garnish and serve it up.
Snoqualmie Casino has a slightly different twist. St. Germaine explains that their version has a little bit of agave, which is added to give the cocktail a smoother taste. At the casino, the Hemingway Daiquiri is made with Bacardi Cuatro rum, Luxardo Maraschino, fresh lime juice, grapefruit juice and agave nectar.
The French 75
Served in a champagne flute, the French 75 dates back to post-World War I and is somewhat macabrely named after a highly advanced piece of artillery that was used during the war to cover an open field with deadly fire. It’s been speculated that the French 75 illustrates the dark sense of humor of Prohibition-era bartenders. Plus, despite the country’s recent dark era, they were still committed to having a good time. Today it’s known as a gin cocktail, but some 20th century bartenders opted to use cognac instead.
St. Germaine says the French 75 is the most classic New Year’s Eve cocktail. “It’s champagne-based, so with the gin component and the strong citrus component, you can do a lot of cool funky things by adding different citrus components,” he explains. Although the classic version uses lemon juice, he notes that you can switch things up and use grapefruit juice instead.
Here’s the classic recipe:
- 5 ounces lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 1 ounce gin or cognac
- Lemon twist
Stir the sugar and lemon juice until the sugar dissolves. Add spirit, ice and stir, then strain into a flute, add champagne and garnish it with a lemon twist.
Snoqualmie Casino makes a twist called the “French 76,” which is made with Wycliff sparkling wine, Ketel One Botanicals vodka, fresh lemon juice and simple syrup.
The Bee’s Knees
Named after the Prohibition-era phrase meaning “the best,” this gin-based cocktail was originally made from bathtub gin. Instead of the usual sugar component, it was traditionally made with honey, which some drinkers found strange. However, it served to sweeten the beverage and make it more palatable for drinkers who didn’t love the taste of gin. Here’s the classic recipe:
- 2 ounces gin
- ¾ ounces fresh lemon juice
- ¾ ounce honey syrup (1 tablespoon mixed with ½ tablespoon warm water)
Snoqualmie Casino sticks to the classic recipe for this one: Hendrick’s gin, fresh lemon juice and honey syrup.
St. Germaine and Mary Burley, beverage manager at Snoqualmie Casino, are excited about a new twist on the old fashioned they’re serving up. Called the vanilla old fashioned, it’s made from Woodinville rye whiskey, vanilla cola reduction and Aztec chocolate bitters. “We’re using a Coca-Cola reduction for the sweetener on it, which is something I’ve never seen done,” St. Germaine says. “It’s gonna be funky and pretty original and we’re excited about it.”
Meanwhile, we’re excited to drink up! Cheers to the creativity of the Prohibition-era bartenders for creating delicious cocktails for the ages.
For New Year’s Eve, Snoqualmie Casino Ballroom will be transformed into a speakeasy, complete with strolling cigarette gals, flappers and a DJ to keep you dancing. Enjoy cocktails inspired by an era when liquor was banned but spirits still flowed freely.