Cheers to the Volstead Act: 6 Cocktails to Celebrate 100 Years

On October 28, 1919, the Volstead Act overcame a presidential veto by Woodrow Wilson to become law. For those of you who are not up to date on your alcoholic history, the Volstead Act gave the 18th Amendment teeth, providing the federal government with the mechanisms it needed to enforce Prohibition.

But the gears of government turn slowly, so Prohibition did not fully go into effect until January 17, 1920. We here at The Saturday Evening Post choose to mark this dark — though certainly not dry — occasion with a cheers to 100 years. Won’t you join us with one of these six Prohibition-era cocktails? Lock the door, draw the blinds, keep an eye out for Johnny-Law, and always drink responsibly.

The Martini

A full martini glass
A very dirty martini. American flag toothpick optional

A staple in any barfly’s repertoire, H.L. Mencken referred to the martini as “the only American invention as perfect as the sonnet.” The martini has been around since the 19th century, but took hold in America during Prohibition, so it’s the natural start for our recipe list. The martini’s popularity is rooted in its taste, as much as in its simplicity.

Mix the first three ingredients in a shaker with ice, pour into a chilled Martini glass, and garnish with an olive.

I chose to make mine with vodka. On the classic show, M*A*S*H, Trapper John famously ­­requested his martini as “a veritable dust bowl, a drink that is dying of thirst.” I also prefer my martinis “dry,” so I cut back on the vermouth. But I also like my drink to not only be “dirty,” but rather absolutely filthy, so I pour the olive brine with a heavy hand.

Gin Fizz

A shot glass full of gin fizz
Gin fizz

The gin fizz is a Prohibition-era drink that has unfortunately fallen out of fashion. Whether it’s the cholesterol in the egg — or the salmonella — the modern drinker rarely orders this cocktail anymore, but that’s to their detriment.

Mix the first four ingredients in a shaker without ice for about 15 seconds, then add a few cubes of ice, and shake even more.  Pour these into a glass, through a filter, then add the club soda, and enjoy.

This drink is amazingly smooth and delicious. It’s a lemon square with gin it, and can best be enjoyed while watching a sport you can’t afford to bet on. I recommend polo.


A shot glass half-filled with whiskey


Old Fashioned

A shot glass of Old Fashioned
Old fashioned

Yet another bar staple, the old fashioned has endured like the martini for similar reasons, its simplicity. While primarily bourbon, a good old fashioned uses its sweeter elements to mask the more unpleasant tastes. This would have been crucial during Prohibition, as quality alcohol was hard to come by, and drinkers were forced to rely on bootleg spirits that were severely lacking in quality.

Pour the ingredients into a glass, stir with a spoon, add the ice cube and the peel, and enjoy.

An Old fashioned is an incredibly tasty addition to any night on the town, but be careful, the sweet parts of the drink mask how strong they really are, and all that sugar can lead to a rough morning.

French 75

A glass of French 75
French 75

If you were lucky enough to come across champagne during Prohibition, you’d want to do everything in your power to make it last. That certainly contributed to the popularity of this refreshing drink in the 1920s. Named for a French artillery cannon, like its namesake the French 75 carries quite a punch.

Pour the ingredients in a champagne flute and enjoy. No complicated shaking or mixing; it’s as easy as that.

It’s understandable why this drink isn’t as popular as it once was. Champagne is expensive, and if you’re in the mood for it, there’s not much of a reason to add gin. That said, this is a great drink for celebrations, when the 12 percent of alcohol in champagne just won’t cut it. I’d recommend it for a wedding you don’t necessarily approve of. You’re not going to object when they say, “speak now or forever hold your peace,” but you’re certainly not going to stay sober for the occasion.

Tom Collins

Glass of Tim Collins
Tom Collins

Another American creation, the Tom Collins, relies on all the trappings of Prohibition-era cocktails. Using citrus and sugar to mask the taste of the underlying gin, the Tom Collins stands out as an essential drink of the time.

Mix the gin, lemon juice, simple syrup, and ice in a glass. Once the drink is fully mixed and chilled, add the club soda and garnishes.

It would feel silly to order a Tom Collins anywhere outside of a country club these days, but it’s easy to see why the drink was so popular. It’s tasty. The cherry and simple syrup cover the taste of the gin almost entirely, and the club soda gives the drink a light, refreshing kick. While our gin may have improved (it’s nice to not have to worry about going blind from drinking anymore), the practice of masking the impurities led to the creation of a perfect summer drink.

Featured image: Shutterstock. Photos by Tim Durham.