Boating isn’t the only tradition that kicks off on Memorial Day here in the Land of 10,000 Lakes. It’s also the start of Bootleg season. This special sip has long been known as Minnesota’s signature cocktail, and the lore around this beloved libation is as delicious as the drink itself.
Just about every country club in the Twin Cities lays claim to this storied tipple. The stiffest competition is between the Minikahda Club in Minneapolis and Woodhill Country Club in Wayzata, whose members proclaim their ownership staunchly, defiantly, loudly and proudly. It has even become a favorite beverage for weddings and events, making this cocktail part of the hometown experience for many.
So where did the Bootleg come from and why the name? Its origins date back to Prohibition on Lake Minnetonka, where it was said to be sipped by the likes of author F. Scott Fitzgerald, mobster Al Capone and other famous personalities involved in lakeshore debauchery. Criminals came up with inventive ways to supply booze to Americans, with bootleggers smuggling alcohol into the country or distilling their own. Speakeasies popped up in the backrooms of seemingly principled establishments, often with organized crime groups coordinating things behind the scenes. One of the Bootleg’s defining characteristics is its uncanny ability to mask the taste of alcohol entirely — an important Prohibition-era quality. As the name implies, the cocktail was made and consumed illegally during this time using the most rudimentary of ingredients.
But don’t let the Bootleg’s humble beginnings fool you. It’s delicious, with a balance of sweet and tart flavors, making it a great go-to libation for any occasion. The simple recipe consists of only a few components. The foundational flavors of lemon and lime are muddled with mint, and the resulting hue matches the manicured greens of legendary clubs. I like to present this drink in a lowball with a fashionable swizzle stick and a cocktail napkin, not only for sweaty glasses but also for discreetly removing mint bits from teeth. Despite its unpretentious origins, the Bootleg has become legendary in Minnesota and beyond.
The Minnesota Bootleg
Makes 10+ servings
The frozen lemonade and limeade make this recipe easy and timely, though ambitious home chefs can opt to make their own syrups. When preparing, add ingredients one at a time, rather than stirring together. Some prefer to add the Bootleg mix right after the liquor, prior to the club soda. A fresh squeeze of lime juice just before serving adds a citrus surprise and makes for a lovely garnish.
2 to 3 large bunches young mint
1 lemonade frozen concentrate, slightly thawed
1 limeade frozen concentrate, slightly thawed
1 lime, peeled and seeded
vodka, rum or gin
lime slices for garnish
1. To make Bootleg mix, separate mint leaves from stems, setting aside several leaves for garnish.
2. Combine mint, lemonade, limeade and lime in a blender or food processor until fully blended. Set aside.
3. To make cocktail, fill a glass with ice.
4. Add 2 ounces of your preferred liquor. Top with club soda to nearly fill.
5. Add 1 to 2 Tbsp. Bootleg mix to taste.
6. Garnish with a lime slice and a mint leaf, and enjoy the signature sip of summer.