The drink that thumbed its nose at Prohibition
Everybody knows what a scofflaw is, right? But you may not know that the term was coined during the Prohibition era in the US.
Prohibition (which was in effect from 1920 to 1933) banned the manufacture and sale of alcoholic beverages. It failed spectacularly, however. Many people ignored the law and just kept on drinking—both in the privacy of their homes and in unlicensed saloons called speakeasies.
So widespread was this behavior that in 1924, the Boston Herald newspaper ran a contest asking people to create a moniker for these lawless tipplers. The winning entry was “scofflaw.”
A few days later, a bartender at Harry’s New York Bar in Paris created a tasty new drink—and named it the Scofflaw Cocktail (how could he resist?)
Prohibition finally ended in the US on December 5, 1933. So this Friday marks the anniversary of that happy day. Guess what we’ll be drinking to celebrate?
Recipe: The Scofflaw Cocktail
The Scofflaw Cocktail has a festive look and flavor—which makes it particularly appropriate for the holidays, we think.
This drink calls for rye whiskey. Originally the Scofflaw may have been made with Canadian whiskey, because production of US rye whiskey ceased during Prohibition. Canadian whiskey typically has a bit more rye in it than other whiskies, so it’s a logical choice.
But because Canadian whiskey consists mainly of neutral grain spirits—which are flavorless—its taste is rather light. So we always use rye whiskey when making this drink, to make sure we get our full allotment of flavor.
This recipes takes about 5 minutes to prepare, and serves one. As with any cocktail recipe, it’s easy to scale up.
- 1 ounce rye or Canadian whiskey (we much prefer rye; see headnote)
- 1 ounce dry (white) vermouth
- ½ ounce freshly squeezed lemon juice
- ½ ounce grenadine, preferably homemade (or to taste; see Notes)
- 1 dash orange bitters (see Notes)
- orange slice or twist for garnish (optional)
- Combine all ingredients (except garnish) in a cocktail shaker half-filled with ice. Shake vigorously until the shaker is frosted and the drink is thoroughly chilled (about 20 seconds).
- Strain the contents of the shaker into a cocktail glass, preferably one that’s been chilled. Garnish with a slice or twist of orange, if you wish. Serve and enjoy.
- Which rye to use? Any of them will work in a cocktail, but we’re partial to Rittenhouse Bottled in Bond (100 proof). It’s not our favorite sipping rye, but the flavor is just right in a cocktail. Wild Turkey (particularly the 101 proof) also works well in cocktails.
- BTW, let us reiterate our usual disclaimer here: Our blog is noncommercial, and no one compensates us to mention brands by name. We recommend only what we like and buy with our own money.
- If you want a more pronounced whiskey flavor in this drink, increase the amount of rye to 1½ ounces.
- Prefer to use Canadian whiskey? We don’t have a brand preference to offer in that case. Canadian Club and Seagram’s VO are popular, so you might try one of those. But our experience with Canadian whiskey is limited.
- Don’t want to use rye? You could probably substitute bourbon. We haven’t tried it in this drink, but suspect it would work OK.
- Feel free to vary the amount of grenadine you use in this drink, depending on how sweet you’d like it to be. The ½ ounce we call for makes this cocktail slightly sweet. We generally prefer drinks to be more on the dry side, but sweetness works here.
- We strongly recommend using real (i.e., pomegranate) grenadine, not the ersatz stuff that liquor stores usually stock. Many commercial brands of grenadine are made primarily from artificial flavors.
- If you can’t find the real thing, you’re better off making your own Homemade Grenadine. It’s easy and takes just minutes.
- Most good liquor stores carry orange bitters (any brand of which will work in this drink).
- Angostura bitters (the most commonly available bitters) aren’t a suitable substitute in this cocktail. But Angostura also makes orange bitters, and they would work fine.
- If you can’t find orange bitters, just make the drink without them. But keep in mind that they do add a nice, though subtle, flavor note.
- Prohibition in the US was authorized by the 18th amendment to the US Constitution, which took effect on January 17, 1920. This amendment prohibited the manufacture, sale, or transport of “intoxicating liquors” in the US, though it left many details vague (for example, it didn’t define exactly what constituted an intoxicating liquor). Separate legislation had to be enacted to specify how the 18th amendment would be enforced.
- That enabling legislation was the Volstead Act, which Congress adopted on October 28, 1919 (and named after Andrew Volstead, who was then chairman of the House Judiciary Committee). Much of the legislation’s language was contributed by representatives of the Anti-Saloon League.
- The Volstead Act defined “intoxicating liquor” as any beverage containing more that 0.5% alcohol by volume. This definition was broad enough to take in beer—and it came as an unpleasant surprise to many US citizens, who had assumed that beer and wine would be exempt from Prohibition.
- The Volstead Act proved to be very unpopular, and was nearly impossible to enforce. It also led to a general decline in respect for the law (after all, anyone who enjoyed a drink during Prohibition was technically a lawbreaker). Because many people found Prohibition so unreasonable, being a scofflaw became socially acceptable, particularly in urban areas.
- Many people drank at home, of course. But they also visited speakeasies (illegal saloons) to toss back a few. New York’s famed 21 Club began life as a speakeasy during the 1920s.
- The Jazz Age largely coincided with Prohibition—and the confluence of the two helped change social norms. It was during this time, for example, that it became acceptable for women to drink in public. Prior to Prohibition, saloon patrons were exclusively male.
- This was the era of “flaming youth.” You’ve probably heard of flappers, the iconic women of the 1920s. Their male counterparts were known as “sheiks” (the name derived from a 1921 Rudolph Valentino movie called, well, The Sheik).
- Prohibition led to the rise of organized crime in the US, making gangsters like Al Capone famous. Transporting large quantities of illegal booze around the country required coordination; crime syndicates emerged to meet the growing consumer demand.
- Elbow-bending scofflaws turned back into law-abiding citizens on December 5, 1933. That’s when the US enacted the 21st amendment, which ended Prohibition.
Partners in Crime
“I’m glad we didn’t live during Prohibition,” said Mrs. Kitchen Riffs, taking a sip of her Scofflaw Cocktail. “We wouldn’t have been able to enjoy great drinks like this.”
“Well, we could have traveled to Paris for a drink at Harry’s Bar,” I said. “Or to Cuba for a Daiquiri.”
“Too much trouble,” said Mrs K R.
“Yeah, that’s true,” I said. “Though knowing us, I’m sure we’d have found a way to satisfy our thirst closer to home.”
“We’d probably be publishing recipes for bathtub gin,” said Mrs K R.
“And reviews of speakeasies,” I added.
Scofflaws R Us.
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