by Dan Crowell | March 1, 2011 3:50 pm
The Scofflaw Cocktail. It sounds so dangerous and subversive! In fact, it isn’t dangerous at all (in moderation), and since the repeal of Prohibition in 1933, its subversive nature has long since dissipated. The Scofflaw is one of the few classic cocktails to come, not from the pre-Prohibition era, but from Prohibition itself.
Having risen largely from the efforts of the Womens’ Christian Temperance Union and the Anti-Saloon League (which at one time counted John D. Rockefeller among its members), this national movement to blame alcohol for the evils of society culminated in the ratification of the 18th Amendment in 1920.
Despite its well-meaning intentions, the ‘Noble Experiment’ wrought havoc on American society, most notably by facilitating the rapid expansion of organized crime in the US during that era. Another regrettable effect of Prohibition was that the true craft of cocktailery, along with its most accomplished practitioners, largely disappeared to Europe, leaving a thirsty country to fend for itself, and illegally at that. This setback radically altered the cocktail landscape in the US for generations, and its effects are still very much present today.
Before we take a closer look at the Scofflaw Cocktail itself, let’s shed some light on the name. The term ‘scofflaw’ itself was also an affectation of Prohibition. Enacting a national ban on beverage alcohol consumption was one thing. Enforcing it was another. After it was initially enacted, most people tried to live by the letter of the 18th Amendment, but by 1923, illegal consumption was an ongoing, widespread problem. In an effort to help combat this trend, Delcevare King, a member of the Anti-Saloon League, proposed a contest to invent a word “which best expresses the idea of a lawless drinker, menace, scoffer, bad citizen, or whatnot, with the biting power of ‘scab’ or ‘slacker.'” The winning word, ‘scofflaw’, was posted in the Boston Herald on January 16th, 1924. Within a week, Harry’s New York Bar in Paris, in an effort to satirize the situation in America, had created the Scofflaw Cocktail.
As for the cocktail itself, the original cocktail calls for rye whiskey, dry vermouth, fresh lemon juice, and grenadine. Common variations include adding a dash of orange bitters and at least one uses Chartreuse in place of the grenadine. The version that appeared in the Savoy Cocktail Book called specifically for Canadian whisky, which itself owes a debt of gratitude to Prohibition. Being the nearest neighbor to a whiskey-deprived nation has its advantages, and Canadian whisky producers took full advantage, fueling bootleggers throughout the era, and having ready supplies of aged whiskies on hand to supply the hefty demand once Prohibition ended. The US Federal Alcohol Administration allocated the importation of over 3 million gallons of Canadian whisky in 1933, the year Prohibition was repealed.
The terms ‘Canadian whisky’ and ‘rye whiskey’ are sometimes seen as interchangeable, but this is not entirely accurate. While rye is a component in Canadian whisky production, it is not the dominant grain, as would be the legal requirement for any American whiskey designated ‘rye whiskey’. These two whiskey types share certain characteristics, but are functionally dissimilar products overall, especially where cocktail applications are concerned. Canadian whiskies produce a lighter flavor profile and palate presence, while true rye whiskies tend to be bolder and spicier. Personally, I detect a pleasing hint of fresh dill in the flavor profile of many rye whiskies that I don’t perceive in Canadian whiskies of comparable quality.
The idea of combining rye whiskey and dry vermouth is not unique to the Scofflaw. Both the Dry Manhattan and Perfect Manhattan utilize both components. It is the interplay of these components with fresh lemon juice and grenadine that set this drink off. As is the case with all cocktails that call for fruit juice, fresh-squeezed juice is always preferred. When choosing a grenadine, one may want to consider making it from scratch. True grenadine is made from pomegranate juice (the French word for pomegranate is ‘grenade’), not from cherry juice or a lab-induced ‘equivalent’. The difference between true grenadine and the generally accepted modern version is astounding, and can elevate cocktails like the Scofflaw to new, very lofty heights. Some commercially available grenadines like Stirrings Authentic Grenadine are entirely pomegranate-based, but if you’re feeling adventurous, why not make your own?
Here’s Alton Brown’s recipe:
4 cups pomegranate juice
1/2 cup sugar
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
Place the pomegranate juice, sugar and lemon juice in a 4-quart saucepan set over medium heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the sugar has completely dissolved. Once the sugar has dissolved, reduce the heat to medium-low and cook until the mixture has reduced to 1 1/2 cups, approximately 50 minutes. It should be the consistency of syrup. Remove from the heat and allow to cool in the saucepan for 30 minutes. Transfer to a glass jar and allow to cool completely before covering and storing in the refrigerator for up to 6 months.
As for the cocktail itself, here’s the original, as listed in Ted Haigh’s excellent Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails:
1 1/2 oz. rye whiskey
1 oz. dry vermouth
3/4 oz. fresh lemon juice
3/4 oz. grenadine
Combine all ingredients with ice and shake. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with a lemon twist.
There is some dissention in the cocktail ranks regarding whether to shake or to stir this cocktail. While Dr. Cocktail (the aforementioned Ted Haigh) prefers the shake method (which would be the typical preparation, given the juice content in the drink), DrinkBoy Robert Hess, who is a proponent of stirred drinks in general, believes that stirring this cocktail improves its visual appeal.
Who is right? You be the judge. Make yourself a Scofflaw Cocktail and celebrate your right to do so without fear of prosecution. Or if you’d like to have one made for you, Binoy Fernandez at IO Speak (lower level of the Indian Oven in the Old Market) would be more than happy to oblige.
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