Speakeasies and Cocktails
One of the most widespread myths in the world of mixology still remains that prohibition was a golden age of cocktail drinking. Since the alcohols served in the speakeasies were of poor quality, it was understood that they should be mixed with juices and sugar to mask their taste. That is completely false. And, in fact, almost all so-called “prohibition” cocktails have been invented either before or outside the United States (in France and the United Kingdom in particular).
So what were they drinking in the underground establishments? In the luxury speakeasies, which were more like the exclusive club, champagne, often smuggled in, sometimes clandestinely produced in the United States, or whiskey soda was the main drink consumed. In the worst speakeasies, gin made in the bathtub, alcohol-free beer extended with a neutral distillate or even industrial alcohol cut with water. Between these two extremes, there is a remarkable variety of spirits of dubious origin or poor quality artisanal beer. Few cocktails, finally: illegal goods sell quickly and risk being seized at any time. The cocktail is time and money that the tenants had no reason to move forward.
Thus, contrary to what is still sometimes read, prohibition was a terrible period: the profession of bartender disappeared from the United States and the knowledge accumulated over more than a century was not transmitted. The art of mixing was hardly more practiced than at home with products that were often old by amateurs who were not always enlightened. In his Official Mixer’s Guide, one of the first cocktail books after prohibition, Patrick Gavin Duffy is categorical: during prohibition, people drank very badly, and invented cocktails are worthless. A small warning star accompanied these strange creations where many alcohols often mixed. None of these cocktails are known today, and that’s fine.
Don’t drink and drive. Enjoy responsibly.