Floating through Repeal Day: the Twelve Mile Limit Cocktail

December 5 is Repeal Day in the United States, the anniversary of the December 5, 1933, end of Prohibition. (Don’t get me started on Prohibition… )

Reason enough to examine a couple Prohibition-themed cocktails.

The Three Mile Limit Cocktail

The lesser of the two is the Three Mile Limit Cocktail, named after the the boundary between US and international waters.

Three Mile Limit Cocktail, photo © 2011 Douglas M. Ford. All rights reserved.
The Three Mile Limit Cocktail

Every coastal city of any size had an armada of casinos, bars and smugglers advertising their well-lighted attractions within sight of its beaches and marinas. The inevitable “Three Mile Limit Cocktail” was invented by Chips Brighton at Harry’s New York Bar in Paris. (It should have been on one of those boats, but no—it was Paris.)

Here is the way Harry McElhone records it in Barflies and Cocktails (1927):

Three Mile Limit Cocktail

  • 1 tsp Grenadine
  • 1 dash lemon juice
  • 2/3 Brandy
  • 1/3 Bacardi Rum

Shake well and strain into cocktail glass.

This is a rotten drink. Don’t make it.

I gave it lots of chances to redeem itself; I adjusted proportions, tried various rums (white rums work best), a cognac, and an armagnac. In the end, it’s brandy with a slug of rum in it, and they just don’t go together very well. The Three Mile Limit just seems odd and boozy. There’s no “there” there.

Instead, do this:

The Twelve Mile Limit Cocktail

Fortunately, the US tried to get a handle on scofflaws by extending its coastal jurisdiction out to twelve miles. On one hand, this move provided a system where only scofflaws with enough money for decent boats could safely go drinking, but it also assured that the “limit cocktail” motif would get a second chance in the form of the Twelve Mile Limit Cocktail.

Twelve Mile Limit Cocktail, photo © 2011 Douglas M. Ford. All rights reserved.
The Twelve Mile Limit Cocktail

The Twelve Mile Limit is a much more sensibly made cocktail. Ted Haigh includes it in his Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails collection (2009), and attributes the drink to journalist Tommy Millard.

Twelve Mile Limit Cocktail

  • 1 oz white rum (Mount Gay Eclipse Silver)
  • ½ oz rye whiskey (Sazerac)
  • ½ oz brandy (Courvoisier VSOP)
  • ½ oz grenadine
  • ½ oz fresh lemon juice
Shake in an iced cocktail shaker and strain into a (well-chilled) cocktail glass. Garnish with a lemon twist.

This one solves the mismatch between rum and brandy by changing the proportions altogether, and adding the much more brandy-friendly rye whiskey. (No good American bourbon during Prohibition; that whiskey would almost certainly have been Canadian.)

The lemon and grenadine also have a stronger presence in the Twelve Mile Limit. I prefer to cut back the grenadine a bit, but that depends on your grenadine, and on your personal preferences.

Here’s to Repeal (and good boats)!

4 thoughts on “Floating through Repeal Day: the Twelve Mile Limit Cocktail

Add yours

  1. There were still whiskey distilleries in the U.S. making medicinal Bourbon. Six or seven (two distilleries merged as a result of this) were allowed to do this. Although much of the whiskey during Prohibition would have been Canadian or Scotch.

    Also, the 12 Mile Limit works best with a rougher white rum. Too smooth, and the drink loses its character.

    1. Yes, that prescription loophole cracks me up. Can you imagine how many prescriptions would have been written to keep half a dozen bourbon distilleries up and running for the duration of Prohibition? Doctors must have had lots of friends in those times…

      Interesting point about the rum. I noticed your observation (in your writeup of the Twelve Mile Limit) that Prohibition cocktails as a class tend to include a fairly sharp flavor. I hadn’t interpreted them that way, but I could be convinced. Since the rum is the dominant spirit in this one, I can see how a bigger rum might be appropriate.

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