Today we’ll be mixing the Twelve Mile Limit cocktail for the birthday of William McCoy, a true American hero. McCoy was a rum runner during Prohibition, you see, and we all know about that historical disaster. He also made good use of plying his trade in international waters, at least until the Coast Guard started lobbing shells at him and he was captured. For all this we’ll be mixing the Twelve Mile cocktail today.
We all know about the dire situation in the U.S. after Prohibition was enacted through the Volstead Act in 1919. And the joy that ensued after Repeal Day in 1933. In between, of course, there was still a lot of drinking going on and someone had to bring the booze. William McCoy was one of the best. For the record, he’s considered a “rum runner” because his exploits occurred over the sea. The term “bootlegger” is usually reserved for land-based operations.
Prohibition and William McCoy
William McCoy was born in Syracuse, New York, on August 17, 1877. Around 1900 the family moved to a small Florida town just north of Daytona Beach, where William and his brother Ben operated a motor boat service and boat yard, where he earned a reputation as a skilled yacht builder.
The McCoy brothers fell on hard times during Prohibition. Their boat excursion and freight business would not compete with the new highways and buses being built. Ever enterprising, they decided to smuggle booze. They sold what was left of their business and bought a schooner, the Henry L. Marshall.
They made several successful trips smuggling whiskey from the Bahamas to the east coast, mostly “Rum Row” off New Jersey. That let them buy a larger boat they named Tomaka. Being successful, they became enemies of the U.S. Government as well as organized crime. Two reasons: they anchored their boat in international waters, selling to small boats that ran the booze to shore, and they didn’t pay any protection money.
He also made a reputation for honest dealings, and only selling high quality unadulterated whiskey. The phrase “The Real McCoy” pre-dates his rum running days, but he was happy to embrace the sobriquet.
William McCoy also took particular pride in never paying organized crime, politicians or law enforcement for protection. He considered John Hancock of pre-revolutionary times his role model and called himself an “honest criminal.” But the government didn’t have much of a sense of humor, and in 1923 the Coast Guard was ordered to capture him even if in international waters. They eventually got him, and he spent nine months in jail, only to return to Florida and invest his booze money in real estate.
The Twelve Mile Limit Cocktail
In the midst of Prohibition a variety of cocktails, like the Scofflaw, were invented to figuratively thumb the nose at authority. One such cocktail was the Three Mile Limit, the original width of territorial waters. So while it wasn’t until the mid-20th century that twelve mile territorial waters were fully established, that didn’t stop a Prohibition drinker from developing the Twelve Mile cocktail. Appropriately, the Twelve Mile Limit cocktail is the stronger of the two drinks.
Ted Haigh, in his book Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails, quotes a 1934 newspaper article on Tommy Millard, who is credited with authoring the drink.
Another of the perpetual international gadabouts is Tommy Millard, quondam war correspondent and traveling journalist, who moves swiftly from Shanghai to San Francisco, New York, London, Paris and all world capitals like a leaf on the wind. Born in a Missouri village back of beyond he has been around the world so often he quit counting.
The Twelve Mile Limit cocktail is an oft forgotten Prohibition-era drink that’s worth your attention. Small amounts of Rye whiskey and Brandy add complexity and dryness, while grenadine and lemon juice balance things out.
Twelve Mile Limit
- Nick and Nora or coupe glass
- 1 oz White rum
- ½ oz Brandy or Cognac
- ½ oz Rye whiskey
- ½ oz Grenadine
- ½ oz Fresh lemon juice
- Garnish: Lemon twist
- Add all ingredients to your trusty mixing glass.
- Add ice and shake to chill.
- Strain into pre-chilled cocktail glass.
- Express lemon twist over drink and garnish.