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Cocktails During the Prohibition Era: A Brief History

Cocktail Friend Avatar  Published 01/01/2024 by Cocktail Friend

Prohibition in the United States, which lasted from 1920 to 1933, was a period during which the production, sale, and transportation of alcoholic beverages were banned. Despite the legal restrictions, the demand for alcoholic drinks persisted, leading to the creation of various cocktails and clandestine drinking establishments.
Here are a few notable points about the history of cocktails during Prohibition:
  1. Speakeasies and Hidden Bars:
    • The ban on alcohol led to the rise of speakeasies, secret bars that operated discreetly in defiance of the law. These hidden establishments became hubs for socializing, music, and the invention of new cocktails.
  2. Gin and Tonic:
    • The popularity of the Gin and Tonic increased during Prohibition, as the bitterness of tonic water helped mask the flavor of inferior-quality bathtub gin, which was commonly produced during this time.
  3. Cocktails to Mask Alcohol Flavor:
    • Due to the often poor quality of the illegally produced alcohol, bartenders started creating cocktails that used strong flavors to mask the taste of inferior spirits. Ingredients like citrus, juices, and syrups were frequently used.
  4. Classic Cocktails Originating in Prohibition:
    • Many enduring classic cocktails have their roots in Prohibition. Some examples include:
      • The Bee's Knees: Gin, honey, lemon juice
      • The Mary Pickford: Rum, grenadine, pineapple juice, and Maraschino liqueur
      • The Southside: Gin, mint, simple syrup, lime juice
      • The Sidecar: Brandy, orange liqueur, lemon juice
  5. Cocktail Culture Flourishes:
    • Prohibition inadvertently fueled the development of cocktail culture. As people sought out inventive ways to consume alcohol, mixology and the art of crafting cocktails gained prominence.
  6. Tiki Culture Emerges:
    • The Prohibition era also saw the emergence of Tiki culture, with bars like Don the Beachcomber and Trader Vic's introducing tropical and exotic cocktails that transported patrons to an island paradise.
  7. End of Prohibition:
    • Prohibition was repealed in 1933 with the ratification of the 21st Amendment, ending the ban on alcoholic beverages. The cocktail culture that emerged during Prohibition continued to influence the world of mixology, shaping the way people approached and enjoyed cocktails.

The creativity and innovation in cocktail-making during Prohibition left a lasting impact on the world of mixology. Many of the drinks created during this period remain popular and have become timeless classics in the world of cocktails.

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