Logan R. Brouse, proprietor and mixologist of Logan’s Punch, has run bars and clubs in Shanghai for over six years. In between hangovers, he puts pen to paper in his column for That's to record his pontifications on the drink industry.
The dark days of Prohibition (1920-1933) were a time when some nerds in the US thought outlawing alcohol would be a totally awesome thing. It wasn’t – but the banning of booze did change the world of drinks forever.
First of all, you had to hide your drinking houses which is where the speakeasies come from – you literally had to ‘speak easy’ to hang out in one. If you’ve been to any of the two billion speakeasy bars in Shanghai, you instantly know what I’m talking about. Think about how much more intense places like Speak Low would be if the cops would actually raid the place and bust everyone for breaking the law, just for drinking. This was the daily routine if you wanted to imbibe back in the day.
Secondly, it changed actual spirits themselves. For example, since it was no longer legal to purchase gin, people started distilling in their own bathtubs.
Thirdly, it made the outlaws into heroes. Even now Al Capone, Lucky Luciano and other notorious, larger-than-life outlaws are often thought of as loveable, if infamous, party enablers. The outlawing of booze was one of the major cultural milestones for the Roaring Twenties, turning friends, neighbors and even brothers against each other.
Al Capone, party animal extraordinaire.
During this time Canada was totally down to fuck with booze, so huge smuggling rings were set up to make booze runs down from the northern neighbor to the thirsty cities of the States. Along with Canada, many other countries who didn’t outlaw spirits saw a spike in import and export activities and the bootlegger was born.
Let’s talk about the bee’s knees, which basically means something like ‘fucking awesome’ or niubi (牛逼）in today’s terms. Keep in mind gin in the 20s was made in bathtubs and they tasted nasty, kind of like that fake booze you’d find in some all-you-can-drink spot in a third-tier city. The way they hid this was by mixing it with honey and lemon juice. What’s remarkable is that the choice of honey elevated the drink into a cocktail while hiding the stank of the poorly distilled spirits.
A collection of confiscated booze circa 1921.
Like many drinks, not much is known about the first bartender to whip up this concoction, but it’s not really that difficult to imagine some guy stuck in the trap house with jazz music in the air and his boss is telling them they need a way to move the gin before it goes bad – boom, you have a cocktail made of desperation and that always leads to innovation.
When I make a Bee’s Knees, I like to get fancy with it. And so the recipe I’ve been trying to perfect is a little out of the ordinary, but tastes really good. Instead of regular honey, we make a honey syrup infused with thyme and rosemary to amp up the flavors and botanicals of gin. For the base, I tend to prefer a dry London gin, but we’ve been mucking about with Peddler’s Gin, which is a local bathtub brew that really plays well with the honey infusion. From there, add fresh lemon juice and shake it like a polaroid picture.
What the failure of prohibition ultimately taught us was that when people want something badly enough, they are willing to go through any means to get it, and this creates a criminal class that the poor, hardworking, honest people look up to for their fast cars and baller lifestyles. Think about it like this, would you rather be sitting around in the 20s drinking milk or chilling out back in the VIP popping bubbles with models in the speakeasy with jazz’s equivalent of Jay Z or Gucci Mane? That’s how it was back then and today, well, it’s just the bee’s knees.
Logan's Bee's Knees
45 ML gin (I prefer Peddlers Gin)
15 ML fresh lemon juice
15-20 ML dank honey syrup (depends on sweetness)
Shake it like a polaroid picture. Serve in a martini or coupe glass.
See more of Logan's columns here.