December is a particularly exciting month for alcohol-enthusiasts. It has nothing to do with the copious varieties of eggnog you can now find at supermarkets to mix yourself a seasonal cocktail.
In Dec. 1933, the final state voted to ratify the 21st Amendment, thereby ending Prohibition. It was the 18th Amendment, set forth in January 1919, that banned liquor production and sales. What some argue started as a wartime effort to reserve grain for seemingly more important purposes, like producing food, evolved into an iconic era that we continue to idolize today by way of film and literature, music, fashion and, of course, spirits.
In addition to the obvious historical and cultural significance, it is important to note that this was the first constitutional amendment to ever be repealed. That’s just how important liquor is in America. Interpret that as you wish.
While not every state immediately embraced liquor sales and production, most Americans rejoiced. Notably, many Americans found a way around the dry and dreary days of Prohibition. For nearly 14 years, speakeasies and bootleggers worked (read: schemed) to bring spirits to neighborhoods. Their hard work and dedication to their craft was not soon forgotten.
Prohibition-style cocktails are quite popular today. In fact, Worcester is home to a few great establishments that do a great job honoring this style with refined craftsmanship. Most notably, Still & Stir Cocktail Bar, The Muse, and Nick’s Bar & Restaurant, where the drinks are not the only nod to the era.
Looking to honor history this month? Here are a few classic prohibition cocktails to try this weekend. You’ll notice the mixtures are heavy on citrus and sugar, which were essential, not only for flavor, but for disguising the smell and taste of some of the “bathtub” alcohol commonly supplied at the time.
Sidecar: A classic martini that is comprised of two parts cognac, one part Cointreau, and one part lemon juice. Shaken and strained into a chilled cocktail glass, garnished with a lemon wedge.
Gin Rickey: Simple to make and easy to sip. Gin and lime juice are mixed in a Collins glass, and topped off with club soda.
French 75: Albeit there is much debate around the exact creation of this one, everyone can agree that a little bubbly goes a long way here. Mix gin, lemon juice, and a pinch or two of simple syrup separately before straining into a champagne flute and topping with champagne.
Ward Eight: Rooted in a bit of Boston history, this is another cocktail that has sparked heated discussion about the exact date and location it was created. Regardless, it gained popularity during the era at hand, so here we go. Two parts rye whiskey and the always-scientific “drops” of lemon juice, orange juice, and grenadine come together with a dash of bitters to please the pallet. Most commonly served in a chilled martini glass.
Southside: A nod to Chicago’s South Side gangsters, or a Long Island Country Club? It all tastes the same. Gin, muddled mint, lime juice, and simple syrup create a refreshing and strong cocktail you enjoy all year long. Often club soda is added to make this strong drink a little easier to sip on.
Sazerac: Absinthe, at long last. If you were in a pinch for alcohol, I can only imagine would make the tough times better. Rye whiskey or cognac serves as the base. Mixed with a sugar cube, bitters, and, of course, absinthe and served straight up in a rocks glass, garnished with a lemon peel.
Bee’s Knees: This may shock folks given the name, but this one includes honey. If you’re imagining a thick layer of honey at the bottom of your glass, you are not alone. First honey is stirred into warm water to create a drink-friendly syrup. Mix your preferred gin with equal parts lemon juice and honey simple syrup. It lives up to its name, which, at the time, simply meant “the best”.
Mary Pickford: Named after an American actress who brought this recipe back from her trip to Cuba, where, ironically, it was allegedly concocted by an American bartender. Full circle? Regardless, it’s a delightful rum drink. Two parts white rum and two parts pineapple juice set-up this sweet drink. Shaken with grenadine and Maraschino liqueur, and strained over ice in a cocktail glass. For good measure, garnish with a cherry.
Of course, we cannot overlook a few of Worcester’s oldest bars which opened their doors very soon after the 21st amendment was established. Moynagh’s Tavern, Moynihan’s Pub and The Cosmopolitan Club are among the city’s oldest, despite some debate around exact dates. These bars remain local favorites to this day. Perhaps you can celebrate this historical anniversary at one of these long-standing bars with a drink from this list. Or just a Bud Light. Whatever tickles your fancy.