Cocktails for the Twenties

imagesProhibition changed drinking patterns a lot during the Twenties. Before 1920, most Americans had enjoyed drinking hard cider, beer, or wine; relatively fewer drank gin, whiskey, or other spirits. In fact, many people initially supported the proposed prohibition of alcohol thinking that it was only going to outlaw hard liquor, and that beer and the rest would still be available. Not so. For the hard-core Prohibitionists, it was all or nothing.

After everything was all illegal, there was an uptick in hard liquor sales. Why? Because speakeasies found it was  easier to transport, store (hide), and sell liquor than it was the lower alcoholic-content beverages like wine and beer. One bottle of gin could go a lot farther than the same size bottle of wine. That’s what led to the proliferation of the cocktail during this decade.

images-1In my mysteries, I show a lot of drinking, mostly at private parties and speakeasies. My main character’s beverage of choice is champagne, which she doesn’t get very often, and she drinks beer and cocktails as well. Which ones? She likes gin rickeys, which first appeared around the turn of the twentieth century. A 1903 recipe calls for the juice of one lime, a small ice cube, a wine glass of gin, and the rest seltzer. Many other gin cocktails were developed during these years. Mix a shot of gin with lemon juice, sugar, and seltzer and you have a Gin Fizz. The Bennett used gin with lime juice and bitters; the Bee’s Knees with honey and lemon juice; the Southside with lemon juice, sugar, mint, and seltzer. 

Readers often ask if I modeled Jessie after myself. Some authors do that. I did not. I have Jessie drinking beer because it was more popular than wine in those decades. Personally, I dislike beer and I don’t drink liquor at all. I’m too happy with a glass of wine, red or white, to venture into the cocktail world. One drink we both like–champagne! 

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Published in: on June 23, 2014 at 2:38 pm  Comments (4)  
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4 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. That’s interesting. Imagine how different things might have been if beer and wine had remained legal.

    • In my opinion, if the prohibitionists had been less greedy and been satisfied with prohibiting only hard liquor, the system might have worked out. Most people would have switched to beer or wine or cider. (Historians always see clearly when looking backwards . . .)

  2. My female main character’s favourit cocktail is the Rob Roy, scotch, sweet vermouth, Angostura bitter and a cherry. Her best friend’s favourit is a popular of the Twenties, the Daiquiri, light rum, lime and sugar.
    And my male main characters? Well, they are not drys and aren’t opposed to drinking, but they are teetotalers 🙂

  3. Hmm, that gin rickey sounds absolutely yum for summer. My (so far) favorite 1920s cocktail is the sidecar, heavy on the triplesec, light on cognac. It’s amazing how few bartenders can make a decent one.


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