Old classics, new twist
Picture: Robert Duncan

Bars are stepping back in time with Prohibition cocktails based on old techniques. We're talking about the Tom Collins, Mary Pickford and Sazerac, named after, arguably, the world's first mixed drink.

"Bartenders love the Sazerac," The Classroom's Andrew Bennett said. "It's pure New Orleans, smoky piano jazz bar that's in a league of its own and we've breathed new life into it by serving it out of a traditional absinthe fountain."

Just a few drops of absinthe - often called the green fairy because of its murky past - turns this grand dame of cocktails into one of the best tipples that drinks history has ever known. The Classroom makes it with its own barrel-aged Martel VSOP cognac, Peychard's bitters and sugar. Simple. It's about as foundational as a cocktail gets.

"Barrel aging is definitely avant garde in cocktail bars," Mr Bennett said. "It settles the cocktail and knits the pieces together. You're creating a secondary flavour out of a finished product, which is otherwise difficult to achieve."

At Ezra Pound, in Northbridge, it's the Tom Collins that surged to fame in the US in the 1920s as illicit gin production soared during an era that criminalised the manufacture and sale of alcohol for 13 years.

"It's our most popular drink," co-owner Jan Kulski said. "Even if we don't have it on the board, people still ask for it. We do it in a jam jar, which has novelty appeal, but when we started out in 2009 we bought a load of jam jars for functions because they were cheap and they've stuck."

Ezra Pound's beer is served in a paper bag, which goes back to an old loophole in the law that allowed people to drink alcohol in the street so long as no one saw the label.

Prohibition was a watershed; the ill-fated "noble experiment" which led to bootlegging, Al Capone's gangster squad and a drinking culture more decadent than any other in history.

Laneway Lounge has it down pat with its "black book" collection of cocktails available only on a wink and a nod most days to those in the know. Cocktails like Silver Fizz, Blue Blazer, Apple Blossom and Alaska.

"It wasn't illegal to possess and consume alcohol in your own home during Prohibition, so rich people stocked up their cellars very well and could continue drinking," Bobeche's Joe Sinagra said. "But what most people call Prohibition-era cocktails are actually pre-Prohibition cocktails. The first golden age of bartending ran from the late 1800s to 1920. During this time many of the historically important cocktail books were published and the bartender was seen as a true craftsman. A lot left the US for Europe during Prohibition, so most of the historical bartending manuals from 1920 to the mid-1930s came from the UK."

Bobeche is based on a speakeasy - subterranean, dark and hidden - but it's a far cry from the reality of the run-down 1920s drinking dens which it acknowledges with its group-serve "teapot" cocktails in ornate porcelain with matching cups from a time when guests would huddle together and hide from authorities. "Yes, it's a romanticised version of the speakeasy we see today that provides that escapism with a focus on good-quality spirit cocktails and old-fashioned service," Mr Sinagra said.

Many cocktails on its list are from the 1937 Cafe Royal Cocktail Book. Classics like the Blue Bird with vodka, Cointreau, maraschino, blue curacao and lemon juice, the Matado (reposado tequila, dry vermouth and orange curacao) and the Coronation Silvani (white rum, apricot brandy and lemon juice).

"The recipes sometimes need a little adjustment to match today's palate, which is used to drinks a little sweeter than what they would have been drinking in the early 1900s," Mr Sinagra said. "Their beauty lies in simplicity. Very few have more than four to five ingredients - and they still manage to produce a delicious and well-balanced drink."

The West Australian

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