I simply love grapefruit. For me, the complexity of its bitter-sweet-tart flavors puts it head and shoulders above any of its citrus cousins. Oranges, lemons, and limes: Admit it, you all wish you were grapefruit. Clementines and blood oranges? You have your moments, but they are fleeting. I know star mixologists have fallen in love with the Meyer lemon, the kumquat, the yuzu. But those are just novelty acts.
When it comes to booze, it’s hard to beat the grapefruit for sheer mixability. Gin and aquavit, brandy and bourbon, amari and herbal liqueurs: You name the spirit and there’s a fabulous drink calling for grapefruit juice.
What stands up to smoky mezcal? Grapefruit. In Jalisco, Mexico, where tequila is produced, the favorite local cocktail isn’t a margarita with lime juice. It’s a Paloma, which can be made with grapefruit juice or, via the quickie method, with grapefruit soda.
What was in Ernest Hemingway’s signature drink, the daiquiri variation called the Papa Doble? Well, that would be rhum agricole, maraschino liqueur, lime juice and then a little something else to bring it all together: Grapefruit juice.
I rest my case.
I guess I’ve had grapefruit on the brain since prime grapefruit season is just beginning. I’ve also been thinking about one of my first tipples, consumed regularly during my formative college years. That would be the Greyhound: Grapefruit juice and (gasp) vodka. That was long before I had any inklings of spirits connoisseurship, and surely the grapefruit juice was store-bought and the vodka came from a big plastic jug.
Soon enough, I graduated to the Greyhound’s slightly more urbane cousin, the Salty Dog, an afternoon drink that my parents occasionally made around the house. The difference between the Salty Dog and the Greyhound? It adds a salted rim to the equation. Also, I’ve always understood a Salty Dog to contain gin instead of vodka.
There is some debate over gin vs. vodka, but that’s how my parents made the drink. And the only reference to the Salty Dog I can find is in “On Drink,” a 1973 book by the great comic British novelist (and lush) Kingsley Amis; he calls for gin. Amis’s terse commentary on the Salty Dog: “You either like it or not.”
I like it. The Salty Dog is still one of my absolute go-to drinks. There is such elegance in its simplicity: 2 ounces of gin, 3 ounces of grapefruit juice, ice, salt.
But there are so many more great grapefruit cocktails beyond the Salty Dog. Here are just five of my favorites:
John F. Kennedy’s drink was the daiquiri, and this variation is named for his maternal grandfather, John Francis “Honey Fitz” Fitzgerald. Even though it has honey syrup in the mix, the drink comes across as rich and complex rather than sweet. Why? Because of the grapefruit, which balances everything so nicely.
The original recipe calls for a full-bodied aged rum such as Zacapa Centenario 23, but it also works well with less expensive rums such as Chairman’s Reserve, Appleton VX, or Flor de Caña 7 year old.
1 1/2 ounces aged rum
3/4 ounce honey syrup (see NOTE)
3/4 ounce freshly squeezed grapefruit juice
2 dashes Peychaud’s bitters
Fill a cocktail shaker halfway with ice. Add the rum, honey syrup, juice and bitters. Shake vigorously, then strain into a chilled cocktail glass.
NOTE: To make honey syrup, combine 1 cup water and 2 cups of honey in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil, stirring until the honey has dissolved. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook for 5 minutes. Cool completely before using or storing in the refrigerator in a glass jar, where it will keep for up to 4 weeks.
Makes 1 serving
Adapted from Jackson Cannon, bartender at the Eastern Standard in Boston.
After grapefruit, if you asked me to name two of my favorite ingredients, I might say rye whiskey and raspberry syrup. This 1930s’ classic originally called for grenadine, until an inspired bartender realized that raspberry syrup made a much better match with the rye and grapefruit juice. Shake those three together, and you get this bright, fresh cocktail. It is dangerously delicious, and there’s a lot going on — spicy, tart, bitter and sweet.
2 ounces rye whiskey
1 ounce freshly squeezed grapefruit juice
1 teaspoon raspberry syrup (You can order a good one from SmallHandFoods.com)
Twist of lemon peel, for garnish
Fill a cocktail shaker halfway with ice. Add the rye, grapefruit juice and raspberry syrup. Shake well, then double strain into a chilled cocktail glass.
Garnish with the twist of lemon peel.
Makes 1 serving
Adapted from Paul Clarke who blogs at www.CocktailChronicles.com.
This elegantly balanced cocktail is a variation on both the Greyhound (vodka and grapefruit juice) and the Salty Dog (gin or vodka and grapefruit juice with a salted rim). It calls for Italy’s unique Punt e Mes vermouth, made by Carpano, whose taste falls somewhere between a traditional red vermouth and a bitter.
According to the Carpano museum in Turin, Italy, the name — which translates from the local dialect as “point and a half” — derives from one fateful day in a bar when an absent-minded stock trader shouted out a trading-floor term when ordering a vermouth with an extra half-dose of bitters. The name stuck.
Kosher salt, for rimming the glass
3 or 4 ice cubes
2 ounces Punt e Mes
2 ounces freshly squeezed grapefruit juice (from 1/2 a large grapefruit)
Rim an old-fashioned glass with salt, then fill with the ice cubes. Add the Punt e Mes and grapefruit juice; stir and serve.
Makes 1 serving
Adapted from No. 9 Park in Boston.
Who needs all that Skinnygirl silliness? This fresh and lively drink – a variation on the classic Aviation — clocks in at only 91 calories. It’s a downright diet cocktail!
1 1/2 ounces freshly squeezed grapefruit juice (from 1/2 of a large grapefruit)
1 ounce gin
1 dash maraschino liqueur, preferably Luxardo
1 maraschino cherry, for garnish
Fill a mixing glass two-thirds full with ice, then add the grapefruit juice, gin and dash of maraschino liqueur. Stir vigorously and strain into a martini glass. Garnish with the cherry.
Makes 1 serving
This was one of the first cocktails I recommended in my column, more than five years ago. I declared that it would become a classic … and it has at least with some of my friends. The honeyed, earthy, herbal flavors of the Benedictine mingle beautifully with the grapefruit juice and the of gin’s botanicals.
1 1/2 ounces gin
1/2 ounce Benedictine liqueur
2 ounces freshly squeezed grapefruit juice
Orange wedge, for garnish
Fill two-thirds of a cocktail shaker with ice, add the liquid ingredients and shake vigorously. Strain into an ice-filled old-fashioned glass and garnish with the orange wedge.
Makes 1 serving
From Mittie Hellmich’s “Mini Bar” series of books (Chronicle, 2007).
Photos by Michael Bucher.