A History Lesson With Booze ®

The Great Boston Molasses Disaster and a Sticky Situation

This week back in 1919, one of the most unlikely disasters in U.S. history took place. Learn all the sticky details, then safely sip on a custom cocktail.

By BPL [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The History Lesson

It sounds like a kid’s fantasy: A giant wave of sugar. The reality was not so sweet.

It was a cold January day in Boston, 1919. And, at a distilling company with the deceptively pleasant name of “Purity,” a calamity was brewing… in the form of a giant steel storage vat full of molasses.

Fifty feet tall, 90 feet wide, it had never been an especially great example of engineering. Molasses oozed from leaks all over the thing. But when advised of the problem, the company’s solution was to paint the steel brown, so the leaks wouldn’t show so much.

At around 12:40 p.m., the inevitable happened. The vat burst, with a ground-shaking roar, accompanied by what sounded like machine-gun fire. Those were the rivets popping out. Then, a 25 ft. wave of molasses – 2.3 million gallons of it — gushed outside, leveling buildings in its wake.

See page for author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
This is a photo from under the elevated tracks. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

It was as deadly as it was absurd. Twenty-one people died. Over a 100 more were injured. And it was only this year that scientists figured out why the accident was so deadly: Apparently, the wintry air cooled the molasses, making it four times thicker and stickier. Rescuers couldn’t reach people who slowly drowned, trapped in goo.

Purity’s owners tried to blame the disaster on anarchist terrorists, but they eventually settled out of court for under a million in today’s dollars.

The cleanup, meanwhile, took weeks. And for decades later, locals swore on summer days, you could still smell molasses.

The Booze

A Sticky Situation


Mixed up by Beth Hoselton, bar manager at State Street Provisions located in Boston’s North End, where the molasses flood struck.


  • 1 and 1/2 ounces Privateer Amber Rum
  • 3/4 ounce Molasses Syrup
  • 1/2 ounce Amaro Montenegro
  • 1/2 ounce Fresh Lime Juice
  • 1/4 ounce Dry Orange Curaçao

For garnish:

  • Splash of Hamilton 151
  • Half a scooped out lime
  • Mint sprig
  • Cinnmonstick

Combine the first five ingredients into a cocktail shaker. Shake and strain over crushed ice, then garnish with flaming lime bowl of Hamilton 151, a mint sprig, and a cinnamon stick.