The 1920s were a period of reinvention – economic growth, the jazz-age, flappers, and prohibition all contributed to the evolution of cocktails. As America entered the Prohibition era, the manufacture, sale, and transportation of alcohol was banned from the 16th January 1920. Forcing bartenders, mixologists, and the general public to adapt their methods of drinking.
As we spur into the twenties of the twentieth century, we look back at the top 9 cocktails from the 1920s which have lasted a hundred years.
Whether throwing a Great Gatsby themed party or looking to experience 1920s classic cocktails for yourself – try these nine cocktails, which best represent the best of roaring twenties.
The period is iconically represented by F. Scott Fitzgerald’s ‘The Great Gatsby,’ capturing the exuberance of the 1920s through glamorous parties, exorbitant wealth, and illegal alcohol. The main character’s affluence is a result of bootlegging, as the banning of “intoxicating liquors” had led to a new route to wealth. The popularisation of speakeasies and homemade alcohol is reflected in the cocktails which have stood the test of time.
If you are looking to understand a little more about 1920s prohibition, check out this video from Simple History that discusses the whole crazy affair in great detail.
1. The Bees’ Knees
Gin was one of the most popular alcohols used throughout the 1920s as it was quick, simple, and cheap to produce. The production was as easy as filling a bathtub with alcohol spirit, then thinning with water and mixing with sugar syrup and juniper oil. The resulting hooch is reported to have been famously foul in flavor, with the risk of causing blindness and poisoning.
Cocktails were therefore mixed to mask the taste of low-quality ‘bathtub gin’. The Bee’s Knees revitalized the spirit, balancing the strong flavors with sweet honey and tart lemon juice. A name meaning outstanding and referencing the essential ingredient, bee’s honey. Try this variation instead with high-quality gin and honey for a superior version of the bootleg classic.
As America entered Prohibition, many bartenders moved to Europe to further their trade and practice their skills. One of these bartenders, Harry MacElhone, is believed to have invented the Sidecar at Harry’s New York bar in Paris. Influenced by New Orleans Sours, the Sidecar is a variation of the Brandy Crusta cocktail, differing in presentation and proportions.
The sidecar quickly became a classic cocktail, the combination of cognac, orange liqueur, and lemon juice favored by patrons in London and Paris. The dry sour also presented an attractive challenge to bartenders for its difficulty to balance.
3. El Presidente
Throughout the 1920s, it was attractive to travel across the pond to Europe or to South America escaping prohibition restrictions. In Cuba, the availability of rum led to the creation of the rum cocktail El Presidente, a combination of white rum, dry vermouth, orange curacao, and grenadine.
Alike the Sidecar, the creation of the cocktail is credited to an American bartender, Eddie Woelke, who refined and popularized the beverage in Havana, Cuba. The original recipe was first created to honor Mario Garcia Menocal, president of Cuba, and has since become a unique classic. Personal note, this is one of my favorite cocktails from the 1920s.
If you want to hear a little more about this cocktail, I encourage you to check out David Lebovitz’s blog post about the El Presidente cocktail.
4. French 75
A champagne cocktail of gin, grenadine, lemon juice, and of course champagne. Named for having as much kick as a 75mm field artillery gun, the recipe is first published in the American print ‘Here’s How!’ aimed at bootleggers. The champagne adds a touch of glamour to this simple cocktail with variations using either gin or cognac. To check out more wine cocktails like this one, click here for more awesome cocktail hammer content.
5. Monkey Gland
Created at the height of Prohibition, a classic cocktail of gin, orange juice, grenadine, and absinthe. A 1923 newspaper reported the creation of the enticing Monkey Gland cocktail reading, “Frank, the noted concoctor behind the bar of the Ritz, has devised a new series of powerful cocktails, favorite of which is known as the monkey gland.”
The cocktail capitalized on the sensational medical story of the monkey gland – Dr Voronoff in his pursuit of everlasting youth began a string of surgeries in which he grafted animal tissue to humans. The most popular surgery was the grafting of monkey testicles to humans to return youthful energy and prolong life. With the discovery of testosterone in 1935, the French doctor became discredited, yet the cocktail remained as popular.
The Boulvedarier, created in 1927, is a whiskey-based variation of the already famous Negroni. The Boulevardier is made up of equal parts Campari, Italian vermouth, and Bourbon whisky, which forms perfect balance.
The earliest recipe for the beverage is found in ‘Barflies and Cocktails’ and was the signature drink of writer Erskine Gwynne. The lasting popularity of drinks designed by Harry McElhone is perhaps thanks to prohibition, as bartenders spread across the globe, finding inspiration and bringing the best of their creations.
7. The South Side
A prohibition era cousin of the Mojito, which has become a classic American cocktail. Supposedly the preferred beverage of American gangster Al Capone, as the gang dominated Chicago’s south side, the name was born – The South Side. Made with gin, lime juice, and mint – strong flavors which would mask bathtub gin, perfect for flogging at speakeasies. Alternatively, create a southside Fizz with the addition of soda water.
8. The Hanky-Panky
Popularized during Prohibition, the Hanky-Panky combines simple dry gin, sweet vermouth, and Fernet-Branca. A signature cocktail designed by Ada Coleman, the first female bartender of the Savoy Hotel. When a patron requested a cocktail with a real punch, the beverage which he was served caused him to exclaim, “By Jove! That is the real hanky-panky!” and so the Hanky-Panky was named.
9. Marry Pickford
A drink presented to the Hollywood superstar Mary Pickford whilst filming in Cuba. The cocktail was then named after the superstar as she took the opportunity to enjoy a legal cocktail, which really packed a punch. First officially published in 1928 in ‘When It’s Cocktail Time in Cuba by Basil Woon’ the cocktail combines rum, pineapple juice, grenadine, and Maraschino liqueur. The pale-pink beverage is the perfect balance of rum and fresh fruit flavors.
Conclusion: Cocktails from the 1920s
We hope this list took you back to the jazzy, art-deco-ie roaring twenties. Do you have a drink in mind that we forgot? Let us know in the comments. We would love to hear it. If you liked this post, click here to check out our blog. Thanks for reading, and as always, stay safe, stay home, get hammered.