15 Prohibition-Era Cocktails

The drinks were simple but the flavors had impact

Prohibition in the United States may have banned liquor, but spirits flowed freely in the back alleys, speakeasies, and countrysides of America. In fact, many of the best cocktails came out of and survived those dry years.

Not all of these Prohibition-era drinks were actually created between 1920 and 1933. Quite date to the late 1800s. However, drinkers of the Jazz Age would have found them because of the drinks' abilities to mask the illicit liquor of the day. 

Bad Booze, Good Cocktails

During Prohibition, there wasn't a lot of choice in brandy, gin, rum, or whiskey. Many people had to drink whatever they could get. Whether that was smuggled booze from the rum runners, doctored up "whiskey" or moonshine, or bathtub gin, quality was not always a guarantee. 

These cocktails saved the day, turning what may have been undrinkable liquor into a boozy beverage anyone could enjoy! You'll notice patterns in the drink mixers used, including flavorful fruits, more sweeteners, long pours of soda, and ingredients like mint. It may have been a time of bad booze, but the bartenders didn't let that stop them from creating amazing cocktails.

One could even argue that it was because of Prohibition that many of the classic cocktails which top today's bar menus have remained favorites over the last century. Would we be so fond of the gin rickey or the sidecar if it weren't for the 18th Amendment? We'll never know for sure, but it is interesting to think about.

Bar Migrations

Prohibition also played a role in spreading America's cocktail scene to the rest of the world. With work hard to find and bars going underground as speakeasies, many bartenders chose to flee the U.S. Some, like Harry MacElhone, went to Europe. He made a name for himself at Harry's New York Bar in Paris where he reportedly created great drinks like the Boulevardier.

Much of the bar activity also took the short trip to Cuba. There, drinkers could spend a weekend enjoying a few drinks without the threat of a police raid and bartenders could work their magic in the open. It was the time of daiquiris, mojitos, and other favorite rum cocktails, offering temporary respite from the troubles back home.

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    The Spruce / Claire Cohen

    Mint is a powerful herb and it does a wonderful job of taking over a drink's flavor. That's why the rum mojito—as well as the whiskey-based mint julep—were among the top cocktails. They're so simple, too! Liquor, lime, mint, and sugar are all that's required.

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    The Last Word

    Last word cocktail

    The Spruce 

    Among the drinks that were reportedly created during Prohibition was the last word. The flavor may have hidden less desirable aspects of gin back then, but the lime juice, Green Chartreuse, and maraschino complement today's gins perfectly.

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    Bee's Knees

    The Bee's Knees Cocktail

    The Spruce

    The sweetness of the bee's knees cocktail certainly added to its appeal. This speakeasy favorite is a simple way to fancy up any gin. Honey syrup and lemon juice are sure to transport you back to the days of flappers, hip flasks, and the Charleston.

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    Mary Pickford

    Classic Mary Pickford Cocktail

    S&C Design Studios

    Rum was one of the hottest commodities during Prohibition and one of the hottest drinks was the Mary Pickford. Inspired by a Hollywood legend and created in Cuba, this cocktail is sweet and tropical. It mixes light rum, pineapple juice, and grenadine to create a beautiful pink drink.

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    Gin Rickey

    Gin Rickey

    The Spruce / Claire Cohen

    As cool and refreshing as it was in the 1920s, the gin rickey is a timeless mixed drink. For this recipe, you'll simply doctor up your gin with lime juice and club soda. It mixes up in a minute and will have you dancing or relaxing in no time.

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    Classic Sidecar

    The Spruce

    Few cocktails can rival the iconic sidecar. It is one of the great sour drinks found in every bartending guide published around Prohibition. This brandy sour is often served with cognac, orange liqueur, and lemon juice. In true 30's fashion, add a sugar rim for a sweet contrast.

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    White Lady

    Delilah or White Lady Cocktail Recipe

    S&C Design Studios

    The white lady was a fashionable choice during Prohibition. The only difference between it and the sidecar is the base liquor.

    Gin is the booze of choice for this recipe and it's also paired with Cointreau and lemon juice. Though it did a fair job with bathtub gin, it's a new experience with every modern gin you pour.

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    Bacardi Cocktail

    The Original Bacardi Cocktail - Easy Rum Cocktail Recipes

    S&C Design Studios

    During Prohibition, Bacardi was the rum. It wasn't the only one, but its name was often used to describe the entire category. Appropriately, the Bacardi cocktail was one of the most popular drinks at the time. This sweet cocktail requires light rum, lemon or lime, and grenadine.

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    Ward Eight

    Ward Eight Cocktail on the rocks

    David Douglas / Photodisc / Getty Images

    Grenadine was used often to make up for any liquor deficiencies. That may be why the ward eight become such a popular drink at the time. This whiskey cocktail is sweetened with simple syrup as well, and the lemon juice brings it back into balance.

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    French 75

    French 75 Champagne Cocktail

    The Spruce

    When Champagne came around during Prohibition, it was time to mix up a French 75. This World War I cocktail would have stretched the sparkling wine and a bottle of gin a little further, especially once a little lemon and syrup were added.

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    Tom Collins

    Tom Collins Cocktail

    The Spruce

    The Collins family of drinks would have been a big hit as well. These easy-drinking highballs could be made with any liquor and use the same lemon and syrup that were vital in the Prohibition-era bar. If you're a fan of gin, the Tom Collins is the recipe for you!

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    Monkey Gland

    Monkey Gland Cocktail - Classic Gin and Absinthe Cocktail Recipe

    S&C Design Studios

    Talk about drinks in disguise! The monkey gland is a fun drink with an interesting backstory. This gin cocktail packs in the fruit with orange juice and grenadine. Yet, it's the absinthe rinse that leaves a mark and makes it unforgettable.

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    Hemingway Daiquiri

    Classic Hemingway Daiquiri Cocktail Recipe
    Jonelle Weaver / The Image Bank / Getty Images

    Ernest Hemingway loved his daiquiris and a Cuban bartender created a special recipe for the writer in 1921. The Hemingway daiquiri takes the rum and lime combo to a new level with the addition of maraschino liqueur and grapefruit.

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    Chicago Fizz

    Chicago Fizz Cocktail

    The Spruce Eats / S&C Design Studios

    Fizzes were everywhere during Prohibition because they often include heavy ingredients and a good deal of soda. One of those recipes is the Chicago fizz, a mix of dark rum, ruby port, egg white, lemon, and club soda. It's a very fine drink worthy of a revival.

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    Jack Rose

    Jack Rose Cocktail

    S&C Design Studios

    Applejack is apple brandy and a homemade version may have been easier for some drinkers to come by. It was seen often in classic cocktails like the sweet and sour ​Jack rose. Once again, all you need are those reliable mixers of lemon juice and grenadine.