What Is a “Bathtub Gin?”

An advertisement for a bathtub gin

We’ve all heard the term “bathtub gin” at some point. But, many of us also don’t know where the term comes from. So, allow us to take you back to the romanticized years of prohibition, where giggle water was silently served to patrons in back alleys away from the prying eyes of the law.

As you could imagine, with the sales of liquor restricted to a doctor’s prescription, it wasn’t easy to get booze. And, only six distilleries were able to sell to supply a nation worth of these prescriptions.

So, with significantly lower supply of alcohol and a burning thirst, the American people decided that if they couldn’t buy it at a store, they’d just make it themselves.

A picture of prohibition protest to repeal the 19th Amendment

Was “bathtub gin” actually made in bathtubs?

In short, no. People didn’t actually make the gin in the bathtubs.

There’s no conceivable ways to actually distill alcohol in a bathtub. Well, at least not in a practical way. Much of the booze that circulated throughout prohibition was either smuggled in or distilled by organized crime syndicates.

You see, many organized criminal organizations saw an easy way to turn massive profit. They had the financial resources and networks to smuggle liquor from outside the US. That, and they also had the resources to set up illicit distilling operations and transport it to the establishments that would serve thirsty patrons.

The funding surge allowed these organizations to grow their operations quickly and efficiently. These crime rings were hard for police to bust.

So, most of the alcohol came from these operations, not someone’s bathtub.

Though, there was a common practice for people to dump the booze into bathtubs to quickly add water to proof it down. They would also use the bathtubs to hold the liquor while they added other ingredients like fruits, berries, spices, or other ingredients to make the sometimes dubious quality of the alcohol more palatable.

This is where the term bathtub gin came from, the proofing-down and flavoring of gin that commonly took place in peoples’ bathtubs.

Our partners over at Rabbit Hole Distillery have one you can read about in our article here. Our partners at Dark Door Spirits in Tampa, FL also have a great lavender gin you can check out here.


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