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5 Prohibition Era Cocktails Not to Try at Home

By Edited Aug 12, 2015 5 2


Each January, you hear a lot of talk in the news about ‘Blue Monday,’ allegedly the most depressing day of the year. Usually the second or third Monday of January, ‘Blue Monday,’ is when the festive buzz of Christmas wears off, the bills start to arrive, payday feels like months away, summer is literally months away, and worst of all, you can’t look forward to a drink of an evening (or lunchtime, or your, ahem ‘coffee break’) because you made up some stupid new year’s resolution to give up the booze for a month after hitting the happy juice pretty heavily through December. Imagine, then, the horror of waking up on Monday, January 19th, 1920 and realizing you couldn’t have another drink again ever, due to the enactment of the Eighteenth Amendment bringing in the age of Prohibition. The regret would not have felt so profound the day before, when the nation awoke to what must have been the worst national hangover since the Declaration of Independence, as authorities had allowed Saturday the 17th as one last bonus day of saying goodbye to the booze, despite the Act coming in to power at midnight Friday. Yet many of those that Sunday who swore off the sauce would have gone through the Monday wondering if that old bottle of cough syrup was still hiding at the back of the medicine cabinet.

One group who welcomed Prohibition, aside from those busybody temperance leagues, were the nation’s gangsters, with Chicago’s notorious Al Capone the most famous then as now. Thanks to bootleggers bringing alcohol across the border from Canada and Mexico, along with

Eliot Ness
‘home-made’ operations, alcohol never truly ran dry across America. Furthermore, with Republican presidents controlling the public purse-strings during the 1920s, underfunded state agencies hadn’t a chance of cracking down on the multitude of ‘speakeasies’ which sprung up across America; some estimates put the number of such bars at 100,000 in New York City alone by 1925.

Nowadays, we associate ‘the roaring Twenties’ with the golden age of the cocktail, and with good reason. Due to the low quality of the alcohol available, barkeepers made drinks palatable by adding fruit juices, syrups, cream or bitters to mask the roughness of the alcohol. Gin became the most popular base for cocktails, due to its comparative ease of production; unlike, say, scotch, gin did not need aging or complicated processing techniques, hence the expression ‘bathtub gin.’

Many of the cocktails devised during the twenties (or earlier; cocktails go back at least as far as the 1860s) remain popular to this day, whereas others remain consigned, for safety’s sake, in aging cocktail books such as The Savoy Cocktail Book (1930) by Harry Craddock or The Standard Bartender’s Guide (1934) by Patrick Gavin Duffy, two of the most renowned bartenders of their day. Duffy in particular warned against the following ‘unwholesome concoctions,’ the runts of the Prohibition litter, a time when people were just happy to drink something thrown together and served with a maraschino cherry by a Clara Bow lookalike in some dive downtown. Try these at your peril:

Alexander’s Sister Cocktail

Ingredients: 1/3 Gin, 1/3 Cream, 1/3 Creme de Menthe. Shake well and strain.

I don’t know who Alexander’s sister is, but she must false teeth and the stomach of rhinoceros to survive much of her eponymous cocktail. The only hope for anyone after a night with Alexander’s Sister, so to speak, is the mint in the Creme de Menthe somehow overpowers the

gin and cream, otherwise ‘shake well and strain’ is less a serving suggestion and more the symptoms you’ll experience the morning after. A brave blogger named Erik Ellestad, who made it his mission to try every cocktail listed in the Savoy guide, rated this one of the worst cocktails he’d tried in that time.

Corpse Reviver No. 1

Ingredients: ¼ Italian Vermouth, ¼ Apple Brandy (such as Calvados), ½ Brandy. Stir well in ice and strain into glass.

Unbelievably, this cocktail has its origins in the days of ‘medicinal’ alcohol, with Corpse Reviver No. 1 intended as a hangover cure, though if you can face drinking one if you’re already reeling from your nocturnal activities you’re a better, though possibly much worse, man than I. The recipe for the distantly related Corpse Reviver no.2 cannot be repeated here, as mixing those ingredients together has in the past caused the demon Gozer to enter our reality from its godforsaken ethereal netherworld.  

The Fascinator

Ingredients: 2 dashes Absinthe, 1/3 French Vermouth, 2/3 Dry Gin, 1 Sprig of Fresh Mint. Shake well in ice and strain.

Fascinating? After a couple of these, you’ll be fascinating, all right. And that sprig of mint isn’t

galloping fish
fooling anybody. Drink only if you want to know what it feels like as Vincent Van Gogh’s earache; he would have been better off washing his brushes in the absinthe than downing this unholy brew. Look upon it as the demented auntie of the Martini family, the one who always gives you a filled-in crossword book for your birthday and can’t cross her legs properly, and never mention it in this house again.

Mule Hind Leg

Ingredients: 1/5 Gin, 1/5 Benedictine, 1/5 Applejack, 1/5 Maple Syrup, 1/5 Apricot Brandy. Stir well in ice and strain.

Another cocktail to receive Erik Ellestrad’s seal of disapproval, one imagines the Mule Hind Leg owes existence to some guy from the Bronx called Mugsy who had to fill in for Sam Kowalski, usual bartender at the Nudge-Nudge ‘Tea Rooms’ on 57th and 10th, after Sam, the big lug, accidentally inhaled the fumes of a Fascinator cocktail. Mugsy, his nose broken after a – hey, who wants to know, anyhow? Are you drinking or aren’t ya? That’s more like it. Now, what are ya having? A Manhattan? Sure thing boss. One for the dame too? OK, now I’s gotta go out back and fix this up. Now, how the hell d’ya make a Manhattan? I guess it oughta take some gin. Sure, in it goes. And some of dis fancy French hooch. Deo Optimo Maximo, like Father O’Reilly always says. And this one got a picture of apples on the bottle, and momma always said apples is good for ya. Durrrr...apricot brandy,

Four Roses
sure, why the hell not. And maple syrup, everyone likes maple syrup, right? Hey, that’s a pretty color right there. That swell Bugs Moran would like this, never mind those jerks out front. OK, sir, lady, here’s your Manhattans. Hey, wossa matter wit you? Stop pukin’. This is a respectable joint. Oh, wise guy, huh? Big shot with the crazy dame? How’s about a little chin music to go with your big fancy drink? (Note: Mule Hind Leg is so named after what the unfortunate customer found in his mouth on awakening four days later).


Ingredients: 1/3 Gin, 1/3 Brandy, 1/3 Whiskey. Shake well in ice and strain.

Good God, just typing out those words made me feel sad. Honestly, if you’re going to try the Thunderclap, you might as well head to the liquor section of your local 7-11, take the Balfour Street Dry, Landy VS and Four Roses off the shelf, pour it all into a bucket, drink and wait for the police to arrive. It’d be the best thing all round, I think.



Feb 22, 2015 8:57pm
Wow those were the days, I reckon we would have all been in strife. We have made our own home brew beers and start for years. In fact when we did our first trip around Australia we took our home brew kit in the back of the car and continued making it.
We also experimented and loved making irish whisky, creme de monte, oozo, cherry brandy and many others. It was fun and also had a few headaches to go with it.
We gave up drinking a few months ago, but while on a recent trip about the place we had a few drinks from time to time, and it was great. Rated up.
Mar 30, 2015 7:27am
"And maple syrup, everyone likes maple syrup, right?": GREAT line!

My wife and I had recently looked at recipes for the typical, "Mad Men" era cocktails (1950s-early 1960s) for fun. It is surprising how sweet these things are. In other reading I'd found recipes from the late 1800s that use copious amounts of sugar ( several spoonful). Amazing how tastes change.

Good, fun (and funny) article (I got a chuckle about the completed crossword puzzle book gift). Big thumb's up.
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  1. Patrick Gavin Duffy The Standard Bartender's Guide. New York: PermaBooks, 1951.
  2. Dominic Sandbrook "How Prohibition Backfired and Gave America an Era of Gangsters and Speakeasies." The Observer. 26/08/2012. 21/01/2015 <Web >
  3. Erik Ellestad "Alexander's Sister Cocktail." Savoystomp.com. 09/11/2007. 21/01/2015 <Web >
  4. Kristy Puchko "The Origins Of 10 Popular Prohibition Cocktails." Mentalfloss.com. 10/07/2014. 21/01/2015 <Web >

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