The Scofflaw Cocktail

Volstead Act enacted

Your cocktail calendar entry for: October
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Today’s Drink of the Day is the Scofflaw cocktail, a popular Prohibition drink, in honor of one of the darkest days in U.S. history.  October 28, 1919 was the day the Volstead Act was enacted to enforce Prohibition.  At least it gave us speakeasies and was eventually overturned.  But not before 13 years of madness.

We mixed up the Bee’s Knees in honor of Repeal Day, but today we’ll thumb our noses at the Volstead Act that put the Dark Ages of drinking in place.

The History

The temperance movement was running strong at the time.  That meant the infamous 18th Amendment creating Prohibition was ratified by the states in a single month.  With that out of the way the forces of evil had one remaining step: the creation of a law to enforce the amendment.  The Volstead Act was the result.  Woodrow Wilson wisely vetoed it, but Congress overrode his veto within two days.  Just goes to show you that now isn’t the only time Congress has been full of nutcases.

Many people, of course, wanted nothing to do with this Prohibition business and took matters into their own hands.  The Volstead Act did contain provisions that if used correctly improved life.  For example, a doctor could prescribe booze for a patient.  This was a good deal for the doctors and the pharmacies that filled the prescriptions.  During the first year of Prohibition, even before they caught on its potential, doctors prescribed roughly eight million gallons of hooch.

The Volstead Act also allowed anyone to make 200 gallons of “non-intoxicating cider and fruit juice each year at home.”  Intoxicating was defined as 0.5% alcohol, but the Internal Revenue Service struck that down and who was looking anyway?  A company called Fruit Industries Ltd. stepped in and produced a useful grape concentrate brick they called Vine-Glo.  The package included a warning: “After dissolving the brick in a gallon of water, do not place the liquid in a jug away in the cupboard for twenty days, because then it would turn into wine.”  The wine was probably pretty nasty.  It conjures images of pruno, also known as prison wine.  Then again, necessity is the mother of invention.

The Scofflaw Cocktail

The Scofflaw Cocktail is today’s Drink of the Day to salute this thinly-disguised civil disobedience.  After all, by the time Prohibition had been in place a couple of years normally law-abiding citizens were tossing down drinks with utter disregard for the law.  So we need a Prohibition-related drink.

The prohibitionists weren’t so happy with the disobedience everyone knew was going on.  In 1926 a Boston banker named Delcevare King sponsored a contest to come up with an epithet to shame drinkers.  The contest got a lot of attention and 25,000 entries were submitted.  The winner was “scofflaw,” a nice compound word combining ‘scoff’ and ‘law.’

Sure enough, bartenders promptly thumbed their noses at the abolitionists and the Scofflaw Cocktail was invented.  Harry’s New York Bar in Paris is usually cited as its birthplace, but there is some evidence it might have been created a few blocks away at Maxim’s.  The version printed in The Savoy Cocktail book calls for equal parts whiskey and dry vermouth along with half measures of Grenadine and lemon juice.  Not bad, but it’s a bit muddled with those proportions.  We present the recipe as currently interpreted by most bartenders.  It’s better balanced this way, vaguely hinting of a cross between a Dry Manhattan and a Whiskey Sour.

Scofflaw cocktail

The Scofflaw Cocktail

Whether invented at Harry's New York Bar or Maxim's, the Scofflaw was a direct Bronx cheer toward the invention of the word "scofflaw" in an attempt to shame Prohibition-era drinkers in the U.S. Bearing a vague resemblance to both a Dry Manhattan and a Whiskey Sour, it's tasty and quick to mix up.
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  • Nick and Nora or coupe glass


  • oz Rye whiskey
  • 1 oz Dry vermouth
  • ¾ oz Fresh lemon juice
  • ½ oz Grenadine
  • 1 dash Orange bitters
  • Garnish: lemon twist


  • Add rye, vermouth, lemon juice and Grenadine to your trusty cocktail shaker.
  • Add ice and shake until frosty cold.
  • Strain into pre-chilled cocktail glass.
  • Express twist over drink and garnish.
  • Drink.
  • Be glad Prohibition didn't last.
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