7 Classic Prohibition Cocktails

What historical reenactor and living historian isn’t excited to be living in “the 20s” again?

The 1920s stand out as “the party years” and what better way to ring in the 100 year anniversary of prohibition than with some of the best historic cocktails of the era! Now yes, technically everyone and their mother is writing about prohibition era drinks right now. The biggest difference you’ll notice in this list is that every one of these comes directly from a primary source. No random “someone on the internet says it’s from the 20s” here.

Additionally, we’ve actually made, and drank, each of these, to make sure the recipes "work". All in the name of research, right?

7 Classic Cocktails from the Prohibition Era (Which You Probably Already Know)

Cocktails originated after the American Civil War, but don’t really reach their heyday until the 20th century. It’s interesting to realize that some of what we consider classic cocktails, have their beginnings in an era when booze was supposedly forbidden. Cocktails were ideal in the prohibition era. The various mundane ingredients in cocktails are the perfect cover for cheap, poorly made, bootleg booze. Add ice, chipped from a big block (which keeps longer than smaller pieces) and you can further extend the liquor while watering down it’s questionable quality.

Mint Julep

What is a hot southern summer without a nice cool mint julep? Our forefathers weren’t fools and knew the combination of cooling mint, ice and booze was the perfect way to handle the summer heat in the years before air-conditioning became common. Most recipes for 1920s era mint julep sound similar if not identical to a modern version.


(Use a tall, narrow glass)

1 teaspoon sugar,
½ wineglass water or soda
3-4 sprigs fresh mint
2 glasses of Bourbon Whisky
Or 1 ½ glass of brandy
Dash of Jamaica rum

Muddle mint & sugar well in glass until the flavor of the mint is well extracted. Remove the mint and add booze of your choice. Fill glass with shaved ice and stir until glass is frosted then add mint back on top along with orange slice for garnish. Additional garnish options include a dash of Jamaica rum, lemon slices, pineapple wedges, and a cherry. Serve with straws.(1,3,5,6)

However there are a few more interesting variations. My favorite includes “Loaf sugar, extract of mint, prepared milk, hot soda and whipped cream [topped with] grated nutmeg” (4). This sounds more like a variation on a milk shake or seltzer than what we typically call a mint julep. Additionally, it has no booze, despite being grouped with two other recipes with the same name and much more spirited ingredients.

Gin Rickey

I will be the first to admit that I never knew what a Gin Rickey was, but had heard the drink being ordered in enough old movies that I had the inkling it was old. So when researching for this article it wasn’t a surprise to find multiple books with Gin Rickey as a recipe.

As it turns out, the reason it was so frequently ordered in those old films is probably because it’s one of the simplest recipes ever. While modern people might enjoy the dozen ingredients, specialty bitters and fancy mixing tricks of craft bartenders, there is something unforgettable about a simple combo of booze, seltzer and citrus juice. Namely, once you are drinking, it’s almost impossible to forget how to make another!


(use a tall, narrow glass)

1 lump of ice
½ lime
1 pony Gordon’s Gin

Add ingredients to glass, top with seltzer. Should be served very cold. “Note, any other spirits may be used instead of gin and would “of course” give it’s name to the compound.” (4)


Maybe this is just something common in Wisconsin, but I grew up with the adults at family gatherings making Manhattans all the time without really knowing what they were drinking. Today the simple combination of whiskey, simple syrup, vermouth, and bitters can still be ordered at any bar worth their salt. I’ve seen modern variations using different flavored syrups, various craft bitters and of course there is the ongoing debate on whether it should be finished with a lemon peel(4) or a cherry(3,6) or even both(2)


(Use a short, stout glass)

⅔ rye whiskey
⅓ French vermouth
1-2 dashes Angostura Bitters (or other bitters of choice)
2 small lumps of ice, shaved small.

For a sweeter Manhattan
Add 30 drops of simple syrup
⅓ Italian Vermouth in place of French
1 dash of Aniset or Maraschino (if available)

Shake up well, and strain into the glass. Put a quarter of a slice of lemon on top, or top with a cherry as preferred.

Tom Collins

Who is Tom Collins and why does he have a classic cocktail named after him? Who knows and after a few drinks, who cares.


(use a short, stout glass)

2-3 lumps of ice
1 teaspoon sugar or simple syrup
Juice of a lemon or lime juice, or a combination
Dash of orange flower water (optional)
1 glass gin

Add all to glass, top with seltzer. Stir well & enjoy this drink “while effervescing.”(5)


If you’ve been to New Orleans chances are you’ve had one of two cocktails that the Jazz city is known for, either a French 75 or the Sazarac. While both came up in my reasearch of prohibition era cocktail books, only the latter appeared in more than one volume, earning itself a spot on this list. This requires quite a few more specialized ingredients than I would normally like in a cocktail, however the final result has such a unique flavor that it’s worth adding a few more bottles to the home bar.


(Use a short, stout glass)

3-4 dashes absinthe
⅓ part rye whisky
⅙ part rum
⅙ part anisette liquor
1 lump sugar or ⅙ part simple syrup
1 dash angostura bitters
2 dashes orange bitters
1 lump ice
Sprig of mint or lemon peel

Swirl Absinthe around the inside of the glass. Stir in the remaining ingredients and serve with mint or lemon peel on top.

Mamie Taylor

If you don’t know who this turn of the century actress & “opera singer” is, don’t worry. She doesn’t even have a Wikipedia page dedicated to her short lived career. In fact, even though I know she acted on stage & roughly when, finding out anything other than recipes for the beverage which still carries her name, is virtually impossible. Cocktail connoisseurs will recognize this drink as a member of the “mule” family of drinks, which means there is a good chance your local watering hole can make you one, even if the bartender doesn’t know who Mamie Taylor is either.


(Use a tall, narrow glass)

Juice of half a lime
1 part Scotch Whisky
1 bottle ginger ale (or ginger beer)
1 lump ice

Add everything to the glass. Stir well and serve.

Stone Fence

This is another one of those classic recipes that is so simple it’s a wonder we don’t still have it in our everyday drinking vocabulary. Especially now that alcoholic ciders are so easy to find in every liquor department. I’ve even seen a variation of this beverage sold at the local renaissance fair using fireball whisky and Woodchuck cider but it works no matter what brands you choose.


(Use a pint glass)

1 wine glass of bourbon or rye whisky
1-2 lumps of ice
Cider (preferably sweet)

Add whisky and ice to glass, fill the balance with cider. Stir well or let the fizz of the cider do the stirring.

Just a note on glasses. I have purposefully suggested the simplest types of glassware for these drinks. Sure you can be as specialized as you’d like, but when it comes to speakeasies and prohibition, how fussy were they, really. The point was being able to drink the bootleg booze without gagging, or losing your sight. As long as it wasn’t served directly from the still, that’s good enough for me!

See you in the past!

Works Cited

Down the Hatch: Drinks as They Are Mixed by the Famous "Paul" of REMOS. New Orleans, LA, 1920.

Fitchett, Joe. About Town, Recipes Gathered from the Vancouver Club, 1925.

Giggle Water, Including Eleven Famous Cocktails of the Most Exclusive Club of New York as Served before the War When Mixing Drinks Was an Art. New York: C.S. Warnock, 1928.

Hopkins, Albert A. Home Made Beverages, the Manufacture of Non-Alcoholic and Alcoholic Beverages in the Household. New York, NY: The Scientific American Publishing Company, 1919.

Kuenzle, and Streiff. One Hundred and One Drinks as They Are Mixed. Manila, Philippines, 1921.

MacElhone, Harry. Harry of Ciros A B C of Mixing Cocktails: over 300 Cocktail Recipes. London: Odhams, 1921.