The Basics History & Trends

The Myth of Prohibition

Next time you visit your favorite speakeasy-style watering hole, you might want to make the experience more authentic by ordering what most people actually drank during Prohibition. (And remember: Back then, the peephole on the front door served a purpose—to stave off the cops long enough to hide the booze.)

So if you desire a real speakeasy tipple, you can have either a glass of Champagne or a whiskey-and-ginger-ale highball. That’s about it. All that talk of the fabulous cocktails made in the midst of Prohibition in order to mask the flavors of badly made alcohol is wrong. When your drinking experience is an illegal one, you just want to get down to drinking.

While the Scofflaw cocktail was invented during the Noble Experiment, it didn’t rear its head in some subterranean dive in Chicago. It was reportedly a creation of a bartender named Jock at Harry’s New York Bar—in Paris.

The recipe came into being as a result of the word scofflaw coming to prominence on January 15, 1924. It won a contest held by prohibitionist Delcevare King that asked people to coin a term to describe the lawless drinker, “to stab awake the conscience.” The word, I think, is pretty neat, but I’m not sure how many consciences were stabbed awake by it.

According to advisor David Wondrich, as far as he can tell, the only surviving drink that can lay legitimate claim to having been dreamed up in the US while the Great Drought was on is the French 75. At the time, the name was used for a few different potions, but the standard formula ended up being a pretty simple affair incorporating gin (not cognac), lemon juice, sugar and Champagne.

Originally, the Scofflaw called for “1/3 Rye, 1/3 French Vermouth, 1/6 Lemon Juice and 1/6 Grenadine.” That doesn’t do much for me, so I played around with it. Hoist one version or the other when you toast the 78th anniversary of the repeal of Prohibition today, and give thanks that your conscience no longer needs to be stabbed awake.


Contributed by Gary Regan


  • 2 oz Bourbon or rye whiskey
  • 1 oz Dry vermouth
  • .25 oz Fresh lemon juice
  • .5 oz Grenadine
  • 2 dashes Orange bitters
  • Glass: Cocktail


Add all the ingredients to a shaker and fill with ice. Shake, and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

Gary Regan is the author of numerous books about spirits and cocktails, including The Joy of Mixology and The Bartender’s Gin Compendium. He is also co-host of and a advisor.