For booze lovers living today, Prohibition may sound like one of the most terrible times in American history. But as Matthew Rowley explains in his new book Lost Recipes of Prohibition, the law — which went into effect in 1920 and lasted nearly 14 years — was anything but watertight. If you knew the right people, or the right place to be, you could certainly get a drink. Said drink would most likely be a variation of a familiar spirit, made by blending smuggled liquor, homemade moonshine, or even industrial alcohol together with herbs, oils, and extracts to imitate the flavor and aroma of the real thing. Many of these illegal recipes were written by hand and secretly shared, but have since been lost over the course of time.
Rowley — a bibliophile, particularly in the genre of food and drink — hit the jackpot when suddenly a few years ago a notebook of these forgotten recipes fell into his lap. He set out to uncover where the book came from, when it was written, and by whom. The answers: New York, the 1920s, and a German-born doctor-turned-whiskey peddler, who smartly hid his collection of illicit recipes in a blank book upon which the name of a disgraced writer was printed. No one would have thought to pick it up off the shelf, much less poke through it. Of course, as a former museum curator and author of a book on moonshine, Rowley couldn’t help but dive into the notebook’s place during Prohibition and share it with other liquor lovers would be just as fascinated by the exploration of the era. Rowley has since taken the doctor’s formulary and translated it into a modern-day recipe collection that both experienced bartenders and at-home cocktail enthusiasts can use.
Featuring more than 70 scanned pages from the original notebook, Lost Recipes of Prohibition gives readers more than 100 secret and forgotten recipes for spirits, cocktails, cordials, and bitters — all gorgeously illustrated and put into captivating historical context. The book offers some recipes exactly as they were written in the notebook, as well as some that have been updated with modern ingredients. Here, three of our favorite cocktails from Lost Recipes of Prohibition.
DUBONNET COCKTAIL: 1 1/2 ounces gin, 1 1/2 ounce Dubonnet, 1-2 dashes Angostura bitters Gin shows up again and again in Prohibition-era cocktails because it was an easy spirit to make for non-chemists. Just add juniper oil to a high-proof spirit, water it down, and bam! — there you have a batch of basic gin. Mixing it with Dubonnet, a mildly bitter aperitif, rounds out its rough edges. Directions In a cocktail shaker with ice, stir together all ingredients until chilled. Strain into a martini glass and garnish with a lemon twist.
TWELVE MILE LIMIT: 1 ounce white rum, 1/2 ounce whiskey, 1/2 ounce brandy, 1/2 ounce grenadine, 1/2 ounce lemon juice As Prohibition was getting its sea legs, the US reckoned its laws held three miles into open water. Just beyond that, out of US jurisdiction, a mix of armadas, smuggler ships, and offshore warehouses freighted with liquor earned the nickname of “rum row.” America later extended its territorial reach to 12 miles, and while the rum row shifted further out, it continued just as before. In a nod to that, Rowley offers a stiff one to keep you afloat. Directions In a cocktail shaker with ice, stir together all ingredients until chilled. Strain into a martini glass and garnish with a lemon twist.
ROCK & RYE (makes about 10 servings): 1 750ml bottle of whiskey, 6 ounces horehound candy*, 3 ounces dried sour cherries, 2 4-inch sticks of cinnamon, zest of 1 orange (preferably blood orange), zest of 1 lemon, 3 whole cloves Even during and after Prohibition, enough temperance advocates made allowances for booze-heavy health remedies that their prevalence in ostensibly dry houses became a running joke. While plain whiskey would most certainly be met with pursed lips, who would argue at the wholesome additions of candy and fruit? That candy comes in the form of horehound, a sore-throat balm that may be just what the doctor ordered. Directions Mix all ingredients in a 1-2 liter lidded glass jar. Let sit at room temperature for 2 to 5 days until the candy is fully dissolved and the cordial is fragrant with citrus and spice. Give the jar a swirl every now and then. When ready, strain into a clean 1-liter bottle.
*While it’s possible to find horehound candy, it may not always be easy. If you can’t find it, swap it for regular or yellow rock candy and add 1 teaspoon of dried horehound. If you can’t find horehound at all, try adding a couple star anise. For more fascinating history and forgotten recipes from one of America’s most boozy eras, pick up a copy of Lost Recipes of Prohibition: Notes from a Bootlegger’s Manual.