limit

A Limited Cocktail

When America jumped headfirst into the ocean of folly that was the Volstead Act and Prohibition, the dedicated drinkers of the United States found any number of ways to respond to the madness. Over in Paris, ex-patriots drinking at the epicenter of the modern cocktail scene, Harry’s New York Bar, lifted their glasses in salute to their luckless countrymen who were forced underground and, in some cases, out beyond the three-mile limit that marked the offshore end of the US border. Three miles out, you entered international waters, and the powers of the US government to take your drink away vanished. So enterprising imbibers took to the high seas to enjoy their libations. Over in France, it seemed only appropriate to commemorate this new breed of seafarin’ revelers.

And so Harry’s bartender Chips Brighton paid tribute to Prohibition in the most fitting way he could: by creating a cocktail called The Three-Mile Limit.

Three-Mile Limit

  • 1 tsp Grenadine
  • 1 dash lemon juice
  • 2/3 Brandy
  • 1/3 Bacardi Rum
  • Shake well and strain into cocktail glass.

When the US government got tired of people hopping on boats and sailing three miles off the coast to legally booze it up, they responded by passing a law that extended the border to twelve miles off the coast — which, I guess, means determined nautical drinkers had to invest in slightly more gasoline, or you had to find yourself a slightly more accomplished captain. The cocktail world responded by beefing up the Three-Mile Limit in similar fashion, giving birth to both the Twelve Miles Out, which appeared in the essential Savoy Cocktail Book by legendary bartender Harry Craddock (who himself relocated to London during Prohibition), and the better known (relatively speaking) Twelve-Mile Limit, reportedly created by journalist Tommy Millard. Despite both saluting the limits of the reaches of Prohibition, the two drinks are fairly different:

Twelve Miles Out

  • 1/3 Bacardi Rum
  • 1/3 Swedish Punch
  • 1/3 Calvados
  • Shake well and strain into cocktail glass. Squeeze orange peel on top.

Twelve-Mile Limit

  • 1 oz White Rum
  • 1/2 oz Rye
  • 1/2 oz Brandy
  • 1/2 oz Lemon Juice
  • 1/2 oz Grenadine
  • Shake with ice and strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a lemon twist.

Where the agents of Prohibition pushed the limit by tacking on nine more miles (interestingly, that limit was only a threat — albeit an enforced one — until 1988, when Ronald Reagan made it official law), cocktail creators pushed the limit by adding rye whiskey to the mix. This being a Prohibition era cocktail, the rye would have been Canadian. However, I don’t think anyone will fault you for substituting a superior American rye these days, just as I don’t think anyone will tsk you for choosing a rum other than Bacardi. For your rye, try Sazerac Rye or Bulleit Rye.

In general, the Twelve-Mile Limit is considered the the stronger and better balanced of the cocktails, relatively speaking. I’ve tried the Twelve-Mile Limit as mixed by bartender Vince at Ward III. Prohibition era cocktails are not for everyone, mind you, and what’s one drinker’s pleasure is another’s horror. A friend with exquisite taste in cocktails found the Twelve-Mile Limit to be utterly dreadful. I love it, likely because the lemon juice pushes the flavor toward another personal favorite, the French 75. It is very lemony, though, and very sweet, so if you don’t favor drinking a highly alcoholic Lemonhead, you’re probably going to be chalking this one up to historical experience. I’d say any good Repeal Day celebration (December 5) calls for sampling both the Three- and Twelve-Mile Limits, and you might as well have yourself a Twelve Miles Out as well, just to be safe.