The Scofflaw is a magnificent word, a great backstory, and a pretty good drink
The story of the Scofflaw cocktail starts in 1924, with a contest unloosed by a prominent Prohibitionist. He invited the public to coin a word intended to “stab awake the conscience” of people who dared consume alcoholic beverages during America’s Ignoble Experiment. “Scofflaw” was the winner.
Among the 25,000 rejected entries: “sluch-licker”and “alcoloom.”
You were about to guess: The plan backfired spectacularly. “Scofflaw” was quickly appropriated with pride by the very people it was intended to castigate. It remains a great word today, used to describe anybody who willingly, even cheerfully, violates disagreeable laws or rules.
Within days of the announcement that “scofflaw” would become the approved word to shame drinkers, an enterprising drinksman at Harry’s New York Bar in Paris created The Scofflaw cocktail to tweak the noses of Americans wallowing in their feckless idiocy of Prohibition.
Short version: In 1860 the first Japanese diplomatic delegation to visit the U.S. was in New York, lodged not far from Jerry Thomas’ bar on Broadway. Thomas, America’s first celebrity barkeep and author of How to Mix Drinks or The Bon-Vivant’s Companion (1862), may have served this drink to the delegates. Like most ancient cocktail history [Wondrich will be the first to admit], the story is built on rickety inference and hopeful attempts to associate long-disconnected dots.
Anyhow, the Japanese Cocktail is one of a few drinks in that seminal text that’s easy to make from contemporary ingredients.
Any home bartender with a credit card quickly learns that you can look like a genius if you just buy the right stuff. So get yourself a bottle of Suze — rhymes with “booze” — and bask in the admiration.
Though it’s been imported into the U.S. since 2012, Suze is still a kind of secret handshake among cocktaileurs, spotted mostly on the upper shelves of bars that use different sizes of ice cubes. This complex and bitter liqueur has been made in France since 1889, the year the Moulin Rouge opened. Not a bad cultural landmark to share an anniversary with.