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Prohibition-era Booze is the Cat’s Pajamas

Forget bathtub gin, local options put a modern spin on ’20s drinking culture
Sarah Wayt. Todd Cooper.
Sarah Wayt. Todd Cooper.

There are many bars and nightclubs where the ambiance and the pours can send us back a few decades in a woozy, boozy time travel machine — think ’80s night at John Henry’s — but the increased popularity of some cocktails take a century-deep plunge. Distilleries such as 4 Spirits Distillery in Corvallis have put a twist on alcohol and inspired bars to serve drinks from the Prohibition era of the ’20s and ’30s. Perhaps banning booze paves the road to revelation — these cocktails are the rage once more. However, this time you don’t have to sneak in any backdoors or drink the moonshine from your neighbor’s bathtub. 

“From my experience, in the last six months, I have really noticed these bars in the area getting into these Prohibition-era drinks and wanting to highlight the spirit in the drink and simplify it,” says Sarah Wayt, 4 Spirits’ director of sales and marketing. “Before, when I first started, we were still in that era of complex drinks with lots of crazy ingredients.” 

Wayt is as excited as her customers about putting the spirit back in spirits. 4 Spirits specializes in making bourbon, which was integral to creating the era’s most drink-worthy cocktails. The bourbon came out in September, but it’s already being tossed back up and down Highway 99. 

“I think a lot of these bars really make their cocktail menu fun,” she says. “People enjoy going in and learning about drinks they have never tried, about an era that they didn’t live in. They can experience it in a cocktail. I think it’s popular for that reason.” 

4 Spirits has formed relationships with bars in fueling this blast from the past.

“We’re excited about it because we can basically highlight our bourbon,” Wayt says. “And it doesn’t have to be a complicated drink. That’s the main thing I think about when I think about this prohibition trend. It’s pretty cool for us.” 

For the Oak Street Speakeasy in Eugene, it’s the bee’s knees, too. After all, Prohibition was the heyday of the speakeasy, where alcohol was sold and drunk illegally — and let’s face it, we always want what we can’t have.

“All of our drinks on our menu are named after that era,” says owner Mac Goodwin, who hasn’t changed the drink menu since she created it five years ago. Goodwin named her cocktails after the slang of the period. “We have one called The Speakeasy. We have The Real McCoy … We have The Moll, who was the girlfriend of a gangster. We have The Dillinger. We have The Old Fashioned. We have The Sidecar. We have drinks named after all of these things.” 

So swill some bourbon or savor The Sidecar in peace, knowing you don’t have to look over your shoulder while doing so.