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It’s been four years since alcohol became illegal, and you’re losing control of your bootlegging empire. Who can you trust? Half the coppers are on the take, and the other half are out to get you. And forget about the brotherhood of thieves; your...um...associates are ready to steal everything you’ve got. One false move and it’s all over.
That’s the situation in which Nucky Thompson, played by the talented Steve Buscemi, finds himself in at the beginning of the new season of HBO’s Emmy Award-winning series Boardwalk Empire. (The premiere is this Sunday night at 9 PM Eastern/Pacific.)
We can’t wait to see what kinds of shenanigans Nucky gets into in Atlantic City—we’ve heard there will be a clash with the mayor, as well as potentially lucrative but precarious “opportunities” in Florida—and what business gangster Al Capone will stir up in Chicago.
And when you watch on Sunday, you’ll, of course, need to be drinking something good. In the interest of keeping things historically accurate, we did a little research to figure out what sorts of cocktails people were actually fixing during Prohibition. The truth is you had pretty limited options, and the emphasis was definitely on imbibing quickly so as not to get caught.
So in honor of Boardwalk Empire’s season premiere, try one of these recipes that were really enjoyed during Prohibition—and be sure to toast its repeal!
(Photo courtesy Macall B. Polay/HBO)
While there was plenty of drinking happening during Prohibition, not that many cocktails were created during the period—and even fewer have survived. The bubbly French 75, which can be made with either gin or cognac, was, according to cocktail historian and Liquor.com advisory board member David Wondrich, actually invented during the dry era. The sparkling combination is the perfect beverage to toast the show’s new season with.
The term “scofflaw” was the winning entry in a 1924 contest to invent a word to describe a law-breaking drinker that would help “to stab awake the conscience.” Ironically, it also inspired a bartender named Jock at Harry’s New York Bar in Paris to whip up this rye whiskey, lemon, vermouth and grenadine concoction. Try master mixologist and Liquor.com advisory board member Gary Regan’s take on the classic.
Ginger Ale Highball
It may not be terribly original, but this two-ingredient drink is pretty tasty. A little (or a lot of) rye whiskey, probably at the time smuggled in from Canada, was topped off with a generous helping of ginger ale. Try it today with some Templeton Rye, made in the Iowa town that supposedly produced notorious Chicago gangster Al Capone’s favorite whiskey.
It may not be as well-known as the Manhattan, but the Bronx, inspired by another of the Big Apple’s boroughs, is a pretty delicious drink. It’s also one of the first recipes featured in Shake ‘Em Up! A Practical Handbook of Polite Drinking, which came out “in the twelfth year of Volstead, 1930.” The recipe combines gin, both sweet and dry vermouth, orange juice and orange bitters.
While Nucky and his associates are often shown making and selling whiskey, there was of course plenty of bathtub gin to go around. (Shake ‘Em Up even listed directions for the homemade hooch, which a US District Attorney forced the publisher to remove from the book.) One way it was consumed was in the Orange Blossom, which is pretty similar to ‘80s favorite the Screwdriver. Our Orange Blossom recipe calls for gin, orange juice and sweet vermouth.
Thanks to another hit cable show, Mad Men, the Old Fashioned has seen a remarkable resurgence in popularity over the last couple of years. And that begs the question: How was this classic first made? The traditional recipe—whiskey, sugar, bitters and water—is literally the original definition of a cocktail, dating back to the early 1800s. It’s believed that muddled fruit, which is common today, was added to the mix during Prohibition. Either way you fix it, the Old Fashioned is pretty tasty.
This simple and delicious mixture of gin, fresh lime juice and soda is still in demand today. It was also a popular drink during the Roaring Twenties and is even one of the few cocktails called out by name in The Great Gatsby. So if you throw a Jazz Age or Boardwalk Empire watching party, try making this citrusy sipper.
During the Great Experiment, Martinis probably didn’t taste as good as they do today. After all, bathtub gin wasn’t known for its complexity and subtle botanicals. Next time you fix yourself one, make sure to thank your lucky stars that getting bottles of gin and vermouth doesn’t require breaking the law.
New York Sour
Sunday’s season-premiere episode of Boardwalk Empire is aptly titled “New York Sour,” which also happens to be a delicious variation on the Whiskey Sour that includes a red-wine float. While you could use whiskey in the standard recipe, Allen Katz, master distiller at the New York Distilling Company and a Liquor.com advisor, also created a version calling for his own gin made in the Empire State. Nucky would no doubt have approved.