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The Origins Of 10 Popular Prohibition Cocktails

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For some added class during happy hours, impress your friends with the history that lies behind what you choose to imbibe. The great heyday for creative cocktails was Prohibition, the 13-year span (1920-1933) where the allure of outlaw liquor inspired waves of colorful concoctions that offered glamour and, above all, good taste.

1. GIN RICKEY

This chill cocktail is made up of gin, lime juice, and seltzer. But in its earliest incarnation, the Rickey favored bourbon over gin. The shift to gin in the 1920s is believed to have occurred because bathtub gin was more readily available, as it required no aging. F. Scott Fitzgerald was a fan of the revised Rickey, and he referenced it in a pivotal scene in The Great Gatsby. Though made popular during Prohibition, this cocktail dates back to the 1880s, when bartender George A. Williamson made it special for one Colonel Joe Rickey.

2. FRENCH 75

Named for the powerful French 75mm field gun, this champagne-based cocktail was the 1915 invention of Harry MacElhone, who mixed gin, champagne, lemon juice, and two dashes of simple syrup for patrons of the New York Bar in Paris. Named for its kick, the French 75 became popular stateside when it was included in The Savoy Cocktail Book of 1930.

3. SIDECAR

Mr. MacElhone also claims credit for this classic cocktail, but only some of the time. In the earliest editions of his 1922 book Harry's ABC of Mixing Cocktails, the recipe includes cognac, triple sec, and lemon juice, and he cited Pat MacGarry, a bartender at London's Buck's Club, as the Sidecar's originator. But in later editions of the book, MacElhone changed his tune and claimed the recipe as his own. However, this revision could be blamed on a revised recipe. The English version called for two parts cognac to one part triple sec (or other orange liqueur) and lemon juice, while the French version (MacElhone's) favors equal parts of this trio of ingredients.

4. THE SOUTH SIDE FIZZ

This cocktail mixes gin, lemon juice, club soda, mint, and simple syrup, making for a light drink that has some dark history. The preferred beverage of bootlegger Al Capone and his crew, the South Side Fizz's name is linked to Chicago's South Side, which his gang ran. The North Side's rival booze runners were bringing in a smoother gin to their speakeasies, which made gin with a splash of ginger ale divine. But the South Side's gin had a much rougher bite, and so more elements were demanded to make it delectable.

5. BEE'S KNEES

Another bathtub gin-based cocktail that came to fame in Prohibition was this sweet treat. Rather than straight up sugar, this cocktail combines gin with honey, lemon juice, and orange juice. Like the South Side Fizz, these sweet ingredients were intended to smooth off the jagged edges of the illegal hooch. Honey was seen by some as a bizarre ingredient (sugar was far more mainstream), and this drink earned some sneers for its floral sweetness. However, with the wide array of honeys now available, this bevvy is buzzing up a comeback.

6. CORPSE REVIVER

Its name is horrific, but that's because this cocktail family's motto is "cheers to the hair of the dog that bit you." The Corpse Reviver, made of cognac, brandy, and sweet vermouth, and its sister Corpse Reviver #2, made of gin, lemon juice, triple sec, Lillet, and absinthe, were meant as hangover cures. (They'd revive your corpse, you see.) They were essentially seen as medicinal in their earliest days, and are believed to reach back as far as the 1860s. However, the Corpse Revivers cemented their place in the Prohibition era by being catalogued in the 1930 Savoy Cocktail Handbook.

7. THE MARY PICKFORD

Shaking up white rum, pineapple juice, and grenadine makes this fruity cocktail, which is named after the 1920s movie star who co-founded United Artists with D.W. Griffith, Charlie Chaplin, and her husband Douglas Fairbanks. Pickford is said to have favored this cocktail created for her on a trip to Cuba, where rum was far easier to come by than it was stateside. But sources conflict on which bartender served her the first Mary Pickford. It's believed to be either Eddie Woelke, who fled to Cuba during Prohibition, or Fred Kaufmann, who may have mixed it for her while she and Fairbanks were on vacation.

8. THE LAST WORD

This pale green concoction is made of equal parts gin, lime juice, green Chartreuse, and maraschino liqueur. Initially developed at the Detroit Athletic Club, this colorful cocktail caught on in New York when vaudevillian Frank Fogarty (A.K.A. The Dublin Minstrel) brought its recipe with him. Its popularity faded following World War II, but The Last Word was rediscovered by the bartenders of the Pacific Northwest in the mid 2000s.

9. WARD 8

This cocktail's name is a nod to its origin, dating back to 1898 Boston. There, politician Martin M. Lomasney celebrated his win of a seat in the General Court of Massachusetts with a newly minted cocktail named for the district that cinched his victory. With its mix of rye whiskey, lemon juice, orange juice, and grenadine, this drink rose in popularity during prohibition because all the fruit flavors helped mask that harsh whiskey's bite.

10. Hanky Panky

Made from equal parts gin and sweet vermouth with two dashes of Fernet Branca, this saucy cocktail was created from mixology master Ada Coleman, a well-regarded bartender at The Hotel Savoy in London. Upon her retirement in 1925, The Daily Express wrote this about the booze-slinging broad: "'Coley’ is known to thousands of men all over the world, Britons who are now roughing it in various parts of the Empire, Americans who think of her every time they remember their own country’s dryness." But the Hanky Panky is her biggest claim to fame, created to appease the thirst of a celebrated but exhausted actor Sir Charles Hawtrey. Coleman says the name came from Hawtrey's exclamation on taking his first sip, "By Jove! That is the real hanky-panky!"

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Big Questions
Why Do People Drink Mint Juleps at the Kentucky Derby?
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Whether you plan to enjoy the race from Churchill Downs or don an elaborate hat in the comfort of your own home, if you're watching the Kentucky Derby, you may find yourself sipping on a refreshing mint julep this weekend. But, why?

The drink—a cocktail traditionally composed of bourbon, sugar, water, and mint—has been a Kentucky favorite since long before Churchill Downs came into play. In fact, in 1816, silver julep cups were given as prizes at Kentucky county fairs (a change from the stuffed animals they offer today). And before that, a “julep” was considered medicinal, “prescribed” for stomach problems and sore throats.

Though mint juleps have likely been enjoyed at the Kentucky Derby since the beginning—legend has it that founder Meriwether Lewis Clark, Jr., planted mint for cocktails when he founded the track in 1875—the cocktail wasn’t declared the “official” Derby drink until 1938.

It was just a few years ago that the Derby switched to a more “authentic” version of the mint julep. For almost two decades, the 120,000 mint juleps served at the races were made with Early Times. Based on the aging process, Early Times isn’t considered bourbon (just “Kentucky whisky”) in the U.S. In 2015, they switched to Old Forester, which is also owned by the Brown-Forman Corporation.

Even with the switch to “real” bourbon, what most revelers actually get is the Old Forester Ready-to-Serve Cocktail mix, not a handcrafted mint julep—unless you’re willing to pony up $1000. For the past 13 years, Brown-Forman has served a special version of the drink made with Woodford Reserve small batch bourbon. It’ll set you back a grand, but hey, you get to keep the pewter cup—and proceeds benefit the Jennifer Lawrence Arts Fund (yes, that Jennifer Lawrence). In 2016, the Oscar-winning actress—and Louisville native—founded the organization "to assist and empower organizations that fulfill children's needs and drives art access to positively impact the lives of young people."

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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Animals
The Surprising Role Bats Play in Making Your Margarita
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The next time you have a margarita, raise your glass to the humble bat. Long-nosed bats are the main pollinators of agave, the plant used to make both tequila and mezcal. (Tequila is specifically made from blue agave, or Agave tequilana, while mezcal can be made from any species of the plant.) These agave plants open their flowers at night, attracting bats with their sugary nectar, and in turn, the bats help spread their pollen.

One of those bats, the lesser long-nosed bat, just got off the endangered species list in April 2018, as The Washington Post reported. It's the first bat species ever to recover its population enough to be taken off the Endangered Species List. Its revival is due, in part, to tequila producers along the bat's migration route between Mexico and the southwestern U.S. making their growing methods a little more bat-friendly.

While the relationship between bats and agave might be mutualistic, the one between bats and booze isn't necessarily so. Typical agave production for tequila and mezcal involves harvesting the plant right before it reaches sexual maturity—the flowering stage—because that's when its sugar content peaks, and because after the plant flowers, it dies. Instead of letting the plants reproduce naturally through pollination, farmers plant the clones that grow at the agave plant's base, known as hijuelos. That means fields of agave get razed before bats get the chance to feed off those plants. This method is bad for bats, but it's not great for agave, either; over time, it leads to inbred plants that have lower genetic diversity than their cross-pollinated cousins, ones that require more and more pesticides to keep them healthy.

Rodrigo Medellín, an ecologist who has been nicknamed the "Bat Man of Mexico," has been leading the crusade for bat-friendly tequila for decades, trying to convince tequila producers to let some of just 5 percent of their plants flower. The Tequila Interchange Project—a nonprofit organization made up of tequila producers, scientists, and tequila enthusiasts—led to the release of three bat-friendly agave liquors in the U.S. in 2016: two tequilas, Siembra Valles Ancestral and Tequila Ocho, and a mezcal, Don Mateo de la Sierra.

In 2017, when Medellín and his team visited the agave fields of Don Mateo de la Sierra to gather data, they discovered that the project was even more bat-friendly than they thought. The Mexican long-nosed bat, another endangered species, was also taking its meals at the field's flowering plants.

This weekend, raise a glass of tequila to all the bats out there—just make sure it's a bat-friendly brand.

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