The Twelve Mile Limit

12 Mile Limit

By Sam Bygrave
Photography by Rob Palmer

The story of the 12 Mile Limit is far from clear-cut. But it’s a product of the age of Prohibition, an age which is summed up in the experience of the drink’s creator, a journalist called Thomas Franklin Fairfax Millard.

I say he was a journalist, but he was so much more than that. A bon vivant — a dapper dresser, he had been labelled a dandy in a widely circulated newspaper column in 1934 — he also had the ear of the Chinese nationalist government at a time of great tension with Japan. He was there at the Versailles Peace Conference that carved up the globe in the wake of the Great War, and he was a war correspondent, there on the battlefields (and still immaculately dressed) to witness and report the Boer War, The Russo-Japanese war and the second Sino-Japanese War.

Yet if it weren’t for Ted Haigh’s Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails, we might not know much about this delicious drink.


Not to be confused with the similarly named Twelve Miles Out that appears in the Savoy Cocktail Book (which combines equal parts rum, Swedish Punsch and Calvados), the 12 Mile Limit looks very much like the Three Miller Cocktail (also described in The Savoy), that was depicted in Harry McElhone’s Barflies and Cocktails as a drink called the Three Miles Out.

Named for the three nautical mile limit that demarcated the extent of US jurisdiction, The Three Miles Out combines rum, brandy, lemon juice and grenadine. Faced with the great downer of Prohibition, revellers hopped aboard boats and took their parties three miles offshore — and out of the reach of the Feds.

Well, they did until the government tired of people thumbing their noses at Prohibition, offshore but within sight of (very) dry land. The extraordinary thing here is that because of these revellers, the US pushed other nations to accept a change to maritime borders from three miles to twelve miles. Powers like Britain and France agreed to a change, and the US may have thought the revellers were pulled back within their reach; but it only accomplished pushing the Prohibition party further out to sea.

Now that it was a longer journey to get a drink, you can picture some dandy like Thomas Millard coming up with the grand idea of fortifying the Three Mile Limit with a little rye, to make the trip a little more bearable. Perhaps a toast to the 12 Mile Limit earnt the drink its name.

And what became of Millard? After a most extraordinary life, hedied in 1942 in the most banal of circumstances. Not killed covering a war or on a diplomatic mission, he died of cancer in a hospice in Seattle.

But what a life he had.

No Comments Yet

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.