Bathtub and Beyond – Prohibition Era Gin Cocktails

The Prohibition-era in America was a dark time but it wasn’t all bad. Since folks continued to drink during Prohibition, but legal alcohol wasn’t an option most people would drink whatever they could get. When it came to “bathtub” gin, the quality was not always a guarantee. The variable and sometimes questionable quality of the liquor at the time caused a mix of necessity and creativity that inspired some of the best and most consistently popular cocktails today.

These cocktails turned what may have been nearly undrinkable liquor into tasty tipples anyone could enjoy! Imagine what they can be if you build them with today’s high-quality spirits and mixers. You’ll notice some consistencies. Most are fairly simple in technique and use just a few ingredients. The drink mixers used, including strong flavored fruits and juices, more sweeteners and syrups, heavy doses of soda, and potent aromatic ingredients all mask less desirable flavors and enhance drinkability. It’s worth noting that the simplicity of these drinks is also the source of their challenge. The skill needed to bring balance to the cocktails is technical and comes only from experience.

French 75

This refreshing and citrusy cocktail was first published in “The Savoy Cocktail Book” in 1930. The drink is named for a powerful piece of military hardware used during World War 1 and packs the punch of it’s namesake. The herbaceous and floral notes of the gin, enhanced by the brightness of lemon and bubbles to tie the flavors together, this cocktail would have allowed bars to stretch the sparkling wine and a bottle of gin further, and appeal to a broader crowd.

As a result of the tie in to France, and the assumption that the recipe was built by military men, some believe that the recipe was originally built with Cognac or Brandy. With gin used in America due to it’s being far more readily available. Try this variation to provide a more complex flavor and feel to the cocktail. 

  • 2 ounces gin
  • 1 teaspoon simple syrup
  • ½ ounce fresh lemon juice
  • 4 ounces Champagne


Known as a Prohibition-era gem, the drink is variant of the mojito and instead of rum this cocktail is typically made with gin (which was much more readily available in some areas during Prohibition), lime, mint and simple syrup. This cocktail was purported to be the favored beverage of mobster Al Capone and his bootlegging crew. The drink’s name comes from Chicago’s South Side, which he and his gang ran.

  • 2 ounces gin
  • 1 ounce lime juice
  • ¾ ounce simple syrup
  • 5 fresh mint leaves

Bee’s Knees

The sweetness of the bee’s knees cocktail certainly added to its appeal. This prohibition favorite is an easy way to fix up even the harshest bathtub gin. Honey, lemon, and orange, are flavors that evoke elegant party vibes but are equally at home in the dark corners of a moody speakeasy. Think Gatsby in a glass.

Today’s gins are available with a wide variety of flavor profiles and can provide a multitude of options. We recommend using a traditional dry gin, like Beefeaters or Tanquerey when building this classic, though using more citrus and floral forward gins like Hendrick’s provide a modern complexity to this classic.

  • 2 ounces gin
  • ¾ ounce honey
  • ½ ounce fresh lemon juice
  • ½ ounce fresh orange juice

Gin Rickey

The rickey is a light and refreshing highball that originates in the early 1900s. The original likely contained bourbon or whiskey, because that was preferred but cocktailers began mixing it up gin during Prohibition. It’s such a classic that it became the official cocktail of Washington D.C.

  • 2 ounces gin
  • 2 tablespoons lime juice (juice of 1 lime)
  • 4 ounces club soda
  • Garnish: 1 lime wedge

White Lady

The white lady was an extremely fashionable choice during Prohibition. The booze of choice for this recipe is Gin, the drier the better to balance with Cointreau and lemon juice. Built to stand up to harsh bathtub gin, it’s a beautiful experience with your favorite modern gin. For a richer flavor try Grand Marnier as a substitute to Cointreau.

  • 2 ounces Gin
  • 1 ounce Cointreau orange liqueur
  • ¾ ounce lemon juice
  • Garnish: lemon twist