A Union of Man and Woman, of Whiskey and Grapefruit

Crafting original cocktails is simultaneously the most exciting and the most daunting part of this mixology hobby I’ve adopted. When you create a successful new drink – or even just a clever variation on an existing one – you can taste the synergy and magic almost right away. But, unfortunately, I’m as often (or probably more often) surprised when a drink which in my head blends together great flavors, on actual execution, simply falls flat.

Practice. Practice. Practice.

Two good friends of mine are engaged to be married and asked me to create an original cocktail for their wedding. They are getting hitched at an outdoor ceremony in May just outside of Chicago, so they were looking for a cocktail that had a lightness and floral flair evocative of spring, but with a distinct Midwestern twist. From a practical point of view, it would also need to have to have wide appeal – it will be the only cocktail on the menu – and be simple enough to be made by a bartender who will have to sling dozens of these all night.

After a month or two to myself, I had worked up over three pages of ideas ranging from rough sketches to tested, complete cocktails and sliding in difficulty from simple highball constructions to Angostura art-topped egg white foam intricacies. Pulling down to a shorter list, we met one evening to mix, drink and adjust. A stand-out emerged with all the components I was looking for and, more importantly, it was quite tasty. But, as is often the case with these new creations, what they tasted was not quite the drink I had in mind when I started.

Checking the Recipes

Three pages of ideas... picking and choosing cocktail fates

My original take was a harder version – a riff on an Old Fashioned – with a new twist: grapefruit. American whiskey and grapefruit is a combination I’ve only seen in practice a few times, but is one of those blessed unions that boggles the mind when you first put them together. On my first attempt I realized I was on to something, but the drink was missing a nice finisher… a taste I could add that would be masked at the start, but emerge in a later wave, a sort of  an “ah-ha” to punctuate the drink. The mellow citrus and dark flavors of the whisky led me to pick up my bottle of crème de cacao and splash a little in as well. “Ah-ha,” indeed!

Of Grapefruit and Grain
-1 1/2 oz rye (I used Rittenhouse 100 proof)
-1 oz grapefruit juice
-1/4 oz simple syrup
-2 dashes orange bitters
-1/2 oz dark crème de cacao
SHAKE and STRAIN into a rocks glass with ice, GARNISH with a grapefruit peel

Of Grapefruit and Grain

The drink is dark in color and flavor due to the rye, but the sweeteners and especially the grapefruit really mask the alcoholic strength of the drink. The crème de cacao plays nicely with the whisky and generated what the groom-to-be called “brown sugar notes”, but ultimately, it just doesn’t have enough wide-ranging appeal for the wedding, at least not as the only offering.

To lighten it up a bit, I swapped the rye for a white, unaged whiskey, specifically Koval’s Chicago Rye. This spirit has wonderful and vibrant notes of fruit and grain and even touches of spice, but is clear and light enough that I often try to put it in where a recipe calls for something like a gin or vodka. It is complex and full so that it can come through even when mixed with several other ingredients, but it presents itself as being delicate and plays well with other delicate ingredients. Looking to work this specific point, I swapped out the boring simple syrup for St. Germain elderflower liqueur and, with a few more slight adjustments, the wedding cocktail was born.

The Wry Pamplemousse
-1 1/2 oz Koval Chicago Rye Whiskey
-3/4 oz grapefruit juice
-1/2 oz St. Germain
-1/3 oz dark crème de cacao
-2 dashes orange bitters
SHAKE and STRAIN into a rocks glass with ice, GARNISH with a grapefruit peel

The Wry Pamplemousse

Again, the crème de cacao comes out on the end as a great finish whereas the body of the drink is much lighter and fresh, very much in line with the spring feeling that I had hoped to capture. The complexity of the Koval Rye comes through here as well, and lends, in a very subtle way, that Midwestern-ness my friends were looking for.

This drink is poised to get a lot of traction. Besides being featured at the reception, the couple plan to have a unity cocktail portion to the ceremony; the groom will mix the stronger alcohol components with the sweeter ingredients lent by the bride and the official will add two dashes of bitters to represent the glue that unites the whole affair.

I’m happy to have created something special for my friends and to have expanded my own cocktail creation repertoire. With practice comes confidence and I’m finding that my own intuition is beginning to guide me more steadily. Original flavors, the harmony of that perfect combination, the light in the eyes when you know you’ve got it… It is deeply rewarding when it works!


1 Comment

Filed under Drinks, Mixology, Personal

One response to “A Union of Man and Woman, of Whiskey and Grapefruit

  1. Pingback: This, My Friends, is What a Cocktail Party Should Look Like (Part 1) | bybe

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