The verdict on many classic cocktails rests with the method in which they’re made (shaken or stirred); others, by their presentation (on the rocks or up). But at least one lives or dies by its color.
The Top Three
“If I ordered one and it didn’t come green, it could have been mother’s milk, I wouldn’t be happy—I didn’t get a Grasshopper,” declared Frank Caiafa, bar director of The Stayton Room in Manhattan’s Lexington Hotel.
Caiafa joined PUNCH and fellow bartenders Jon Mullen (Grand Army) and Sarah Morrissey (Ernesto’s) on a recent Wednesday afternoon at Brooklyn’s Grand Army for a blind tasting of 10 Grasshoppers, using recipes collected from bartenders from coast to coast. Though the once-common dessert drink—traditionally made of crème de menthe, crème de cacao and cream—hasn’t been a barroom or restaurant favorite for decades, all three judges nonetheless held strong opinions about what constituted a good version.
“The three most important things,” stated Mullen, “are texture, the balance between the mint and chocolate, and the temperature.” Beyond that, most everyone agreed that a drink called the Grasshopper ought to be green, even if that means relying on drops of artificial food coloring.
“It’s very important,” said Caiafa. “That’s the namesake.” Mullen disagreed, saying, in the end, it was more important to him that the drink taste good than be green. But he added that the average Grasshopper drinker is more often than not a traditionalist who is not looking for a challenge, and that attitude likely extends to the color of the cocktail.
With this in mind, the competing drinks that arrived dressed in other colors of the rainbow—from cream to brown to turquoise—were eliminated from the running fairly quickly.
The panel was, however, willing to entertain other alterations to the classic formula. The idea of adding a dose of a stronger spirit, to goose the alcoholic impact of the drink and tone down its inherent sweetness, was generally embraced, and eight out of the 10 recipes took this tack, adding everything from Cognac to vodka, overproof rum to amaro. (Morrissey joked that the classic Grasshopper recipe was “on trend” due to its low-ABV nature.)
“I think fortifying the Grasshopper is a great idea,” added Caiafa. “Especially if you use ice cream. Make the calories count.”
An ice cream version of the drink has long been one of the most common Grasshopper variations. Especially popular in the Midwest, it emphasizes the “dessert” aspect of the “dessert cocktail,” substituting vanilla ice cream for the usual heavy cream. Two of the drinks in this contest were of the ice cream variety.
Surprisingly, for such an old cocktail with such a staid reputation (the generally accepted tale is that it was invented at Tujague’s in New Orleans in the 1910s), the drinks presented to the panel ran the gamut in presentation. Grasshoppers were served in coupes, Champagne glasses, wine glasses, rocks glasses and highballs. Most were served up, but a couple came on the rocks. And garnishes ranged from shaved chocolate (applauded by the judges), mint sprigs (accepted), nutmeg (questioned) and black pepper (just, no).
At the end of the day, the most traditional of Grasshoppers, created by the most classic of cocktail bartenders, prevailed. Dale DeGroff won with his blend of 1 ounce of Marie Brizard Menthe Verte green crème de menthe, 1 ounce Tempus Fugit crème de cacao and 1 ½ ounces of heavy cream, served in a Nick & Nora–style coupe and garnished with shaved chocolate. (Tempus Fugit’s clear crème de menthe and crème de cacao, out of California, were favored by the majority of the contestants.) The panel found it just right in appearance, texture and balance of flavor.
Taking second place was something completely different, but just as delicious. Doug Phillips, of Heavy Feather in Chicago, went the classic Midwestern route, using a 6-ounce scoop of vanilla ice cream, to which he added 1/2 ounce each of Marie Brizard Menthe Verte, Tempus Fugit white crème de menthe, Tempus Fugit crème de cacao and Cognac. These were blended together until smooth, and topped with whipped cream. “Well, it’s just delicious,” stated Morrissey, seeing no need to embellish her appraisal further. (That particular drink did not last long among the judges.)
Coming in third was one of the most famous contemporary takes on the drink, the Grasshopper served by Jeffrey Morgenthaler at Pépé le Moko in Portland, Oregon. Morgenthaler, long interested in the drinking ways of the Midwest, went with an ice cream foundation as well. To this, he added into the blender 1 ½ ounces each of green and white crème de menthe, 1 ounce of half-and-half, a pinch of sea salt, 1 teaspoon of Fernet Branca and 8 ounces of crushed ice. (Adding a bit of Fernet was a popular innovation among the contestants, showing up in three of the 10 drinks.)
Also drawing the attention of the panel was the famous Grasshopper of Paul Gustings, former bartender at Tujague’s. Gustings’ indulgent recipe called for 2 ounces white crème de cacao, 1 ounce dark crème de cacao, 1 ounce green crème de menthe, 1/2 ounce white crème de menthe, 1/4 ounce brandy and an astonishing 4 3/4 ounces of heavy cream. The judges liked the flavor of the drink, but were thrown off by Gustings’ instruction that it be dry-shaken and served at room temperature. While such a presentation might work in hot, humid New Orleans, the drink’s usual chill was missed in New York.
However, it was green.