5 Prohibition Cocktails You Should Try

– by JD Westfall –


Two of my personal passions are old-timey styles (music, fashion, movies, etc.) and, of course, delicious drinks. Naturally, I’m overjoyed when those two things can join together as one. If you’re anything like me, you should absolutely adore Prohibition cocktails, drinks that were invented undercover during the countrywide ban on alcohol. Some of these were disgusting and existed solely out of necessity, but some of them are amazing, and you should absolutely still give them a try. Bust out your old George Gershwin records while testing out these top-notch drinks.

  1. Bee’s Kneeslemon

Despite having first been created during the days of bathtub gin (which was every bit as unappetizing as it sounds) over time the Bee’s Knees cocktail gained general acceptance amongst bartenders, though was viewed in a slightly disparaging light due to its origins. However, now that enough time has passed and we don’t readily associate gin with disgusting and overwhelming flavor, it is much easier to accept this drink now. And accept it you should. Here is one of the possible varieties for mixing the drink.

2 oz gin

¾ oz lemon juice

¾ oz honey

Mix all ingredients together and pour over top of ice. (You can either just toss them all together like that, or if you want to honey to be more smooth then you can mix it with an equal amount of water and heat it first to make the honey dissipate)

… and most recipes recommend adding a lemon twist on top, but I personally prefer to borrow the sprig of basil from the related Honey Basil Deluxe cocktail.

  1. Mary Pickford

cocktail in a martini glassesI’m fond of this one as it brings my love of classic movies into the mix as well. Named for the legendary Mary Pickford (who helped found the Academy of Motion Arts and Sciences as well as the United Artists studio), this cocktail dates back to approximately the 1920s, when it was first made in Cuba. It has a delightful strong scent with a sweet flavor, so basically the exact thing you desire anytime you’re lying on a beach. Take a look at the ingredients.

1½ oz white rum

1 oz pineapple juice

½ tsp maraschino liqueur

½ tsp grenadine syrup

If you haven’t got the maraschino liqueur, fret not. I recommend substituting amaretto, but be careful to put in a little less than the recipe suggests, as amaretto is sweeter.

Simply mix all the ingredients together, and garnish with a cherry if you feel so inclined.

  1. Ward 8ward8

This delightful mixture actually pre-dates the Prohibition by several decades, but it was during that time that it really left its mark, therefore I count it worthy of inclusion.

2 oz rye or other whiskey

½ lemon juice

½ oz orange juice

1 tsp grenadine syrup

The original directions specify that this cocktail should be served in a cocktail glass and decorated with a paper Massachusetts flag. Call me a revisionist, but I don’t think that detail is 100% necessary. Decide for yourself. And also decide for yourself if you agree that this mixture deserved to be named the best cocktail of 1934, the first year after Prohibition.

  1. Rusty Nail

rustynailSometimes, simplicity is best. This one takes exactly three ingredients, and one of those is ice.

1½ oz Scotch whisky

¾ oz Drambuie

Pour the two directly into an old-fashioned glass filled with ice and enjoy.

If you don’t happen to have Drambuie (I’ve so far met two people who offhand knew what Drambuie even was) in which case you can make a related drink, The Godfather. It’s essentially the same thing, but using Bourbon and Amaretto instead, and some suggest having each of those ingredients in equal measure to one another. It’s technically not from the Prohibition era, but I feel it’s close enough (and good enough) for at least a mention here. (For further variety, you can swap out the bourbon for vodka to make yourself a Godmother.)

  1. southsideSouth Side

What else could possibly be a deserving number one? Possibly the only drink that looks as good as it tastes. Delightfully simple and yet splendidly fancy.

3 oz gin

1½ oz lemon juice

¾ oz sugar syrup

7 or 8 mint leaves

Club soda

Lemon peel

Mix all the ingredients except the club soda and lemon peel together and serve into a highball glass with ice. Whatever space remains, fill with club soda and then toss in that lemon peel. If you haven’t got the sugar syrup, you can easily just mix ½ oz of sugar with ¼ oz of water and it’ll to the trick just fine.


Now while you’re not required to don suspenders and a fedora while making these drinks, I cannot highly enough recommend such a move. Also if you have any Al Jolson movies laying about the house, give them a watch too.

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