Bootlegger’s Day: The History, When It Is, & A Bootlegger Drink to Mix Up in Remembrance
If you’re a history buff, you probably already know a lot about bootleggers and Prohibition: what Bootlegger’s Day is all about! However, for those that might not know all the details, we’re going to go into what National Bootlegger’s Day is all about, when it is, the history behind Bootlegger’s Day, and talk about some bootlegger drinks you can mix up in honor of Prohibition not persisting! Let’s dive right in.
What Is a “Bootlegger”?
Now, “bootlegger” is a broad term that can, nowadays, technically refer to any one person who gets illegal goods out into the world for people to buy or consume. These days, bootlegging can also refer to ripping digital content off of a source and selling it at a profit, despite copyright laws.
The original “bootlegger” term also referred to people who produced illegal contraband, too. This was a popular term that became popular during Prohibition (which we’ll get into) in the late 19th century. This new term arose because bootleggers would hide bottles of booze in their boots. Some sources say that this word was in use before Prohibition, though, as early as the late 1800s in reference to a place to hide a pistol or knife.
What Is Bootlegger’s Day?
National Bootlegger’s Day is simply a day to appreciate and remember the perseverance of Americans to brew, distill, consume, and distribute booze, even under persecution. Most of us look back on Prohibition as an “odd” way to curb or eliminate alcohol abuse. Nowadays, we have a healthier understanding of alcohol’s effects on the body and even addiction.
Prohibition taught us that open bans aren’t necessarily a good solution for every issue, a debate that continues in other forms to this day. On Bootlegger’s Day, we remember the bootleggers who fought for their right to consume and distribute alcohol, regardless of the laws of the time.
When Is Bootlegger’s Day?
National Bootlegger’s Day is the 17th of January, every year. This holiday isn’t linked to other, moving holidays, so it’s on the same day each year. National Bootlegger’s Day shares a day with several other holidays, including Popeye Day, Benjamin Franklin Day, National Kid Inventors’ Day, and our personal favorite, Ditch New Year’s Resolutions Day.
In 2024, Bootlegger’s Day will be on a Wednesday, in 2025 on a Friday, in 2026 on a Saturday, and in 2027 on a Sunday.
What’s The History Behind National Bootlegger’s Day?
As we discussed above, “bootleg” was a term that was used for the space in the leg of a boot that could be used to hide items – really, any item. Prior to Prohibition, this space often concealed knives and pistols, so stuffing alcohol in there was no stretch!
In 1919, the U.S. Constitution’s 18th Amendment was ratified on January 16th. According to the stipulations in the amendment, a national ban on the sale and consumption of alcoholic beverages would follow, one year later. However, what people don’t usually know is that this was a decision in the making since the end of 1918.
In November, there was a ban on selling alcoholic beverages with more than 2.5 ABV (which is pretty much all of them). This “Wartime Prohibition Act” was intended to be temporary in an effort to conserve grain – after all, the US was just at war. July 1st of 1919, the Thirsty First, the Wartime Prohibition Act went into effect.
Fun Fact: In 1830, the average American was consuming 1.7 bottles of just hard liquor each week. That equates to about six ounces per day. In comparison, today’s average American only partakes in about 1.35 drinks per day from all sources.
The Repeal of Prohibition
“By the 1930s, it was clear that Prohibition had become a public policy failure.” – History.com
Honest to goodness, the Great Depression was mostly to thank for the repeal of Prohibition. When the U.S. Government set Prohibition in motion, it lost indeterminable amounts of revenue from beverage taxes and many people lost their jobs. Repealing Prohibition was a choice that was made out of necessity. Prohibition ended 16 years later in 1933, and the 21st Amendment was easily passed, even garnishing votes from Prohibition’s original supporters. Utah sealed the fate of Prohibition by being the final, thirty-sixth state to ratify the 21st Amendment.
Fun Fact: The 18th Amendment was the first (and so far only) Amendment to be repealed. The 21st Amendment repealed the 18th.
Who Started Bootlegger’s Day?
National Bootlegger’s day was proposed by a whiskey company founded around the time of Prohibition, “Templeton Rye.” Nowadays, there’s a distillery that’s taken this name, but it’s not the same original brand. The original Templeton Rye traced its roots back to Al Capone!
Fun Fact: January 17th was also the founder of Templeton Rye’s birthday.
The Bootlegger Drink
Also known as the Bootlegger’s Drink or simply the Bootlegger, the Bootlegger Drink is a special cocktail that’s made with vodka (gin or whiskey work, too), citrus, and mint. You’ll find that some barkeeps will use fresh citrus juices, but it’s not uncommon to see lemonade or limeade used in the mix.
This drink was allegedly created during Prohibition, but no one knows by whom. It’s theorized that this drink was created to mask the flavor of bootlegged alcohol, and it does a pretty good job of it. This drink is incredibly delicious and punchy, making it hard to tell that it’s even alcoholic. Proceed with caution as you sip on these during the summer.
Fun Fact: The Bootlegger Drink is the Minnesota state drink.
The Official Minnesota Bootlegger Drink
To stay true to local Minnesota spirits, we recommend using spirits from local, craft distilleries like Du Nord, Prairie Organic, and more delicious options. You can view our “by state” listings for Minnesota to see which distillery you can order local spirits from (if you live in an area where you can receive alcohol deliveries).
Bootlegger Drink Ingredients
2 oz of vodka, gin, rum, or even whiskey – Minnesota locals usually use vodka
2 oz “bootleg mix”
2.5 cups water
1 cup sugar
½ cup fresh lime juice
10 mint leaves
2 oz club soda
Garnish: mint sprigs and lime wedges
Bootlegger Drink Recipe
- Create your “bootleg mix” by combining 1 cup of water and 1 cup of sugar in a saucepan on the stove. Heat and stir until a simple syrup is created, then remove from the heat source.
- Add simple syrup, 1 ½ cups of water, ½ cup of lime juice, and 10 mint leaves to a blender. Blend until macerated well.
- Gently mix the ingredients above in a glass with ice. Garnish and serve.
Other Drinks to Sip on for Bootlegger’s Day
Now, even though consuming alcoholic beverages was illegal, we know that people still did it anyway – that’s what Bootlegger’s Day is all about. Here at Distillery Nearby, we don’t condone breaking the law, and we’re lucky that we live in a post-Prohibition era! So, raise a glass of your favorite cocktail, or one of the ones below, and celebrate that!
The Old Fashioned
This is a cocktail that dates back to the late 19th century – and it clearly survived Prohibition. However, we can likely blame Prohibition for the many variations of this delicious cocktail.
2 oz rye whiskey or bourbon
2 dashes bitters
1 sugar cube
Muddle sugar, bitters, and whiskey in an Old Fashioned glass, then top with club soda.
The Mary Pickford
This fun cocktail is named after the 1920s silent movie star and features rum – a hot Prohibition commodity. Simply mix up the ingredients with some ice, garnish, and enjoy!
2 oz light rum
2 oz pineapple juice
1 tsp grenadine
Garnish: Maraschino cherries
Distillery Nearby: Your Source for Bootlegger’s Day Spirits
If you’re looking for local, craft spirits to pour into your post-Prohibition cocktails, you should take a look at our “by state” page for local distilleries. Find a distillery near you and visit them in person or order online. Don’t forget to ask about their history and what types of drinks they recommend you make with their unique spirits!