Contemporary Takes on Classic Prohibition-Era Cocktails

You guys, one of my favorite days of the year is upon us. No, not Christmas, nor Festivus (though both important in their own right). I'm talking about Repeal Day. Yes, as in the day that prohibition was repealed in the early 1900s. So it only seemed appropriate to talk prohibition-era cocktails then, by sharing a few contemporary takes on classic prohibition-era cocktail recipes. For those readers from abroad (or those Americans who never attended a U.S. history class), Prohibition was that blot on America's timeline from 1920 to 1933 in which alcohol was prohibited from being produced, sold, transported, and imported. But tell a kid he can't have cookie, and he'll find a way to have cookies. In other words, Prohibition didn't stop people from getting their hands on booze. And with it, came the silver lining of a number of great cocktails, many of which you'll find on cocktail menus around the world. I shared a few of those great classic prohibition cocktails last year for Repeal Day.

However, today I'm taking a number of those classic prohibition cocktail recipes and putting a contemporary spin on them. Below you'll find a few of my favorite prohibition-era cocktails, but with small alterations to switch things up on the traditional cocktail recipes. Find a few of my favorite renditions of classic prohibition-era cocktails below.

Brandy Sidecar

  • 2 oz. brandy
  • .75 oz. lemon juice
  • .75 oz. Grand Marnier
  • Sweet and savory rim (combination of brown sugar, white sugar, vanilla, and nutmeg)
  • Lemon wedge for rim
  • Lemon twist

The Sidecar is easily one of the most popular cocktails to come from Prohibition. And, perhaps, one of the easiest, and delicious. The traditional recipe typically calls for cognac, or in some cases whiskey, but I like the idea of a fruit brandy, such as pear brandy. And while most Sidecar cocktail recipes call for a traditional sugar rim, I like a sweet and savory rim with a mixture of sugars and spices (such as traditional sugar, brown sugar, vanilla powder, and nutmeg). In this case, you can just find some of the spices and sugars in your cabinet, and combine them in equal parts on a saucer plate. Line the rim of your glass with a lemon wedge before rimming the edge of the glass with the sweet and savory concoction. You'll then add the brandy, lemon juice, and Grand Marnier to a cocktail shaker filled with ice and shake. Strain into the rimmed glass and garnish with a lemon twist.


  • 2 oz. rye
  • 1 oz. Bonal
  • .5 oz. small batch (good) grenadine
  • .25 oz. lemon juice
  • 2 dashes fruit bitters
  • Lemon peel for garnish

While the Sidecar may be the most familiar prohibition-era cocktail, the Scofflaw is not so familiar, and one that I rarely see on cocktail menus. But it's undeniably "prohibition-era," since the term "scofflaw" during Prohibition referred to someone who drank illegally. Classic cocktail recipes for the Scofflaw call for dry vermouth, while I prefer Bonal, which is a more bitter French apertif. Additionally, I actually preferred a more unique fruit bitters, like rhubarb, rather than the more traditional orange bitters. To make it, you'll add all of the ingredients to a cocktail shaker filled with ice and shake. Most people strain it into a cocktail glass served up, but if you have a big 'ole ice mold lying around, I like it over an extra large ice cube or sphere.

Rum Sazerac

  • 2 oz. dark rum
  • 1 cube sugar
  • Splash of absinthe
  • 3 dashes Peychaud's bitters
  • Lemon peel

I know, blasphemy. Many cocktail purists are firm in keeping to the traditional Sazerac recipe of rye (or cognac), sugar, absinthe, and Peychaud's bitters. Yet a good aged rum plays well, and has become a nice substitute for me when out at a good cocktail bar and ordering a Sazerac. The recipe and method stays the same otherwise. To make it, you'll first pack a rocks glass with ice. In a second mixing glass place a sugar cube and wet it down with Peychaud’s bitters before crushing the sugar and adding rum and stirring for one to two minutes. Empty the ice from the first glass and coat it with absinthe, discarding any remaining absinthe. Strain the second glass into the first and rub the rim with a lemon peel and drop into the glass for garnish.

Sage Bee's Knees

  • 1.5 oz. gin
  • .5 oz. lemon juice
  • .5 oz honey syrup (equal parts honey and water)
  • Several fresh sage leaves divided

This cocktail recipe actually comes from my friends at Salt & Wind, and is an easy crowd pleaser for how balanced and aromatic it is. The addition of sage really plays well with the gin, but I've also used other herbs, including thyme and mint, and even made a thyme-infused simple syrup. To make it, add gin, lemon juice, syrup, and two sage leaves to a cocktail shaker with ice and shake. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and then smack remaining sage leaf between your hands over the glass and drop it into the drink.

Brandy French 75

  • 1.5 oz. fruit brandy (such as apple brandy)
  • 5 oz. sparkling wine
  • .5 oz. lemon juice
  • .25 oz. simple syrup

Easily one of my favorite cocktails, especially in the summer, is the French 75. Classic cocktail recipes for the French 75 call for gin or cognac, but in this one I'm subbing something a little fruitier, like Applejack. To make it, add everything but the bubbles to a cocktail shaker with ice and shake. Strain into a champagne flute and top with sparkling wine and garnish with a lemon twist. Be warned, however, that these are dangerous.

What are your favorite prohibition-era cocktails?