A Tour of America’s Beloved Regional Cocktails

A look at the cocktails that have become regional obsessions—from Maryland’s Orange Crush to West Texas’ Ranch Water.

Only a few states, cities or regions across the country can lay claim to an original cocktail all their own. Washington, D.C. has the Rickey; New Orleans has its very own cottage industry of homegrown classics, from the Ramos Gin Fizz to the Sazerac; and, of course, New York has the Manhattan. But there’s also a canon more esoteric drinks that have grown up over the past several decades to become local obsessions, from Maryland’s Orange Crush to the seemingly misguided dive-bar drink known in the Upper Midwest as the “Beertini.”

Here’s a tour of some of our favorites.

West Texas’ Ranch Water

Anyone who’s spent time in West Texas between May and September has experienced the relentless desert sun, offset ever-so-briefly by a bone-dry, tumbleweed-stirring breeze. This is not the kind of heat quenched by mere H2O. Enter Ranch Water.

Though the exact birthplace of the tequila-based refresher is unknown, this unofficial drink of West Texas dive bars and house parties carries some Texas-sized fables. “There’s a rumor that it was concocted by a wild-haired rancher in Fort Davis in the 1960s,” says Phillip Moellering, Manager and Food & Beverage Director of the Gage Hotel in Marathon, Texas. “Allegedly, the spirit of the drink had him following the West Texas stars all the way from Fort Davis to Marathon by foot, where he was found asleep under a piñon tree.” [Read more]

Orange Crush Cocktail Recipe

Baltimore’s Orange Crush Cocktail

Phil Lewis’ right side is bigger than his left. It’s a common physical trait among the staff at Harborside Bar & Grill in West Ocean City, Maryland, the undisputed birthplace of the Orange Crush.

The key to a Crush is actually its namesake action—the swift yanking of an industrial press juicer that flattens fresh orange halves, sending frothy OJ plummeting into a pint glass filled with ice, vodka and triple sec. Harborsiders repeat this same motion thousands upon thousands of times each season, reps that lead to Popeye-like dominant-arm definition. “We’re all disproportional,” jokes Lewis, who’s tended bar at Harborside for 12 years. A squirt of lemon-lime soda finishes off the Old Line State’s unofficial cocktail, a concoction that’s crept from its laidback beach town beginnings to become a coastal phenomenon. [Read more]

Beertini

The Midwest’s Beertini

At first glance, the “Beertini” is the ultimate dad joke—something that a sitcom father would facetiously claim as his favorite drink after overhearing someone order an Appletini. His flannel-shirt-wearing buddies would all chuckle and eye-roll as they clinked their mugs together, happy with their classic, no-fuss beer selection.

In certain pockets of the Midwest, though, the combination of beer and olives known as the Beertini (also called the Minnesota, North Dakota or Wisconsin Martini, depending on where you’re located) is not only very real, but is deeply engrained in barroom culture. [Read more]

alabama slammer cocktail

Alabama’s Alabama Slammer

For the uninitiated, an Alabama Slammer might sound more like a pro wrestler from Birmingham, or a new dance craze à la The Dougie or The Cupid Shuffle. But no.

Typically comprised of Southern Comfort, sloe gin, amaretto and orange juice, the Alabama Slammer is a sunset-colored rallying cry of a cocktail. It is adolescent liquor cabinet raid turned recipe. “The Alabama Slammer is like a day on the beach in Alabama: sunburnt, hazy… and underwhelming,” said Reeves Jordan, a University of Alabama-Huntsville graduate. [Read more]

Hummer Cocktail Recipe

Michigan’s Hummer

For the past 93 years, Detroit’s Bayview Yacht Club has been the launch pad for the Bayview-Mac, a 200-plus mile freshwater sprint, beginning in Port Huron and ending at teeny Mackinac Island. There, more than 200 boats from the Great Lakes race annually, many of them world-renowned. So it stands to reason that anyone in the racing circuit will know Bayview Yacht Club. But they’ll also know Jerome Adams.

The story goes something like this: Fifty years ago, Adams, originally from Georgia, got a job at the club as a dishwasher, quickly graduating to porter before landing a spot behind the nautical mahogany bar overlooking the freighters in the Detroit River. This is where, on a slow afternoon in February, 1968—an undeniably odd time to break out a blender—Adams served the first Hummer, a whirred-up combination of white rum, Kahlua, vanilla ice cream and a couple of ice cubes. It is now, without contest, Michigan’s state drink. [Read more]

Wisconsin Brandy Old Fashioned

Wisconsin’s Brandy Old-Fashioned

For generations a ritual has governed a not un-casual night out for diners and drinkers across the state of Wisconsin: head out to the local supper club—described as a “a two- or three-hour dining event,” by one local—put in for a table, order a drink at the bar. That drink will probably be an Old-Fashioned, the base spirit will probably be brandy, and unless something’s gone terribly awry, it’ll taste nothing like an Old-Fashioned served in any other part of the country.

Unlike the Old-Fashioned of classic cocktail fame—boozy, bitter and comparatively dry—the Old-Fashioned in Wisconsin is a lighter, sweeter affair. It keeps the standard’s trifecta of brown spirit, sugar and bitters, and adds to it muddled orange and cherry. It’s then finished with soda, typically 7Up if its ordered “sweet,” something like Squirt if it’s ordered “sour” or a combination of 7Up and seltzer if it’s ordered as a “press,” which some claim is short for Presbyterian, a classic cocktail that calls for mixing seltzer and ginger ale. Some drinkers will also ask for an olive to be plopped in as a garnish. [Read more]

Pennsylvania Coal Country’s Boilo

The cashier shot a brief but doting glance at the two bottles of Four Queens whiskey I’d set down in front of him.

“Doing some boilo, are we?”

I nodded a I-am-down nod. He smiled a no-you-ain’t smile.

“Make sure you don’t blow yourself up.”

I’ve learned many truths about boilo, the homespun potion that lubricates the holidays in Pennsylvania’s anthracite coal country, but none more prominent than this: Everyone loves talking about its propensity to explode. Heating up a vat of alcohol over an open flame, after all, is not exactly the safest kitchen project. But here in Schuylkill County, the heart of the Boilo Belt, residents half-jokingly offer their own “you’ll shoot your eye out” to those who might not know better. The counter guy at this wine and spirits shop had correctly identified me as one of them. [Read more]

Taos Tree Martini

Taos’ Tree Martini

New Mexico is held in the popular imagination for its pueblos and green Hatch chiles and scorching deserts, for Georgia O’Keeffe and Breaking Bad. But journey to the Land of Enchantment’s northernmost region and you’ll find the ski world’s most famous cocktail, the Tree Martini.

Ernst Hermann Bloch, a German who worked for U.S. intelligence during World War II interrogating captured Nazi brass, was an avid skier while growing up in St. Moritz. After the war, he moved to New Mexico with new wife, Rhoda, taking the Americanized name “Ernie Blake” (his military code name). In 1953, Blake purchased 80 acres of land in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, 20 miles north of Taos, and started his resort, Ski Valley, setting up shop in a trailer at the base of the mountain and building lifts with a mule named Lightning.

“[He] hand hewed the ski area and its precipitous terrain,” explained the Denver Post, “crafting a premiere ski school and adding flourishes like tucking beakers of martinis behind trees on the mountain.” [Read more]

Daiquiris New Orleans sign

Southern Louisiana’s Frozen Daiquiri

The bright pink building that is Gene’s Curbside Daiquiris appears almost otherworldly situated on Elysian Fields, a street named after the ancient Greek concept of the paradise heroes venture to in the afterlife. Squinting and hazy, I swing open the door to a blow of ear-piercing squeals from stainless-steel Daiquiri machines that foreshadow the ringing, premeditated hangover I know is coming. It’s a little after 10 a.m. on a Saturday and I’m still gaining my composure after last night’s adventures.

Overwhelmed by where to start, Gene’s employee Kelly Gaus guides me through the frozen offerings: “You can taste as many as you like before deciding.” I take this to heart. Soon, an electric rainbow of paper soufflé cups are strewn, crumpled across the counter. Jungle juice, Tropical Passion, Peach 190, Blue Hawaii… these flavors and colors do not exist in nature. I want them all. [Read more]