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Elements: Grapefruit

“Forbidden fruit.” Citrus paradisi. That’s quite the name and reputation for a humble grapefruit to live up to.

But grapefruit’s always been up to the challenge. Mother Nature crafted the ample orbs on a creative whim, forming this natural hybrid between Jamaican sweet oranges and Indonesian pomelos in Barbados in the mid-18th century. Tart and bright, with a signature bitterness, grapefruit is also the most grown-up of citrus fruits, an acquired taste like espresso or imperial IPAs, but with a particular promise all its own.

The punch and the sour were built around the tartness of more standard citrus like lemons and limes, but the grapefruit has left its own indelible imprint on cocktail hour. An ample squeeze of fresh grapefruit lends a bitter-tart complexity to classic cocktails like the bourbon-based Brown Derby and the calvados-rich Diki Diki, and the juice has played starring roles in everything from the tiki-traditional Donga Punch (with rhum agricole, lime, and cinnamon syrup) to the humble Greyhound, a grapefruit-juice highball fortified with vodka.

But grapefruit offers more than just juice, and today’s bartenders are increasingly turning to the many ways the fruit’s flavor can be tapped. The bright fruitiness of grapefruit soda has proven irresistible to drinkers in Mexico—where it’s mixed with tequila, lime and salt for the Paloma, a drink that’s gone viral in American and European bars—and Jamaica, where the indigenous brand Ting marries perfectly with the local overproof rum, a mixture so popular it’s made the soda an essential in Caribbean communities worldwide. This appeal of grapefruit’s flavor and its utility in soda form led acclaimed bartender Jim Meehan to work with New Zealand–based East Imperial to develop a grapefruit soda, which debuted in bars in the U.S. and Asia in 2019. 

Bartenders are finding other ways to pull flavor from the grapefruit. While working as bar manager at Fort Defiance in Brooklyn, Abigail Gullo used grapefruit zest in her “Abby’s Mix,” combining it with sugar and spices, then adding the syrup to a cocktail shaker along with mezcal, aged rum and fresh lime for the First Salute. (Gullo is now the creative director at Loa Bar in New Orleans.)

And bittersweet grapefruit (or pamplemousse) liqueurs from French producers Giffard and Combier are now standard issue in cocktail bars like the Cub Room in Rochester, New York, where it’s mixed with Aperol, lemon, honey and the bar’s own gin, made at nearby Black Button Distilling. Bar manager Anthony Rouhana says that the gin’s floral nature and Aperol’s grapefruit notes match perfectly with the flavor of grapefruit liqueur. “Grapefruit doesn’t just provide that citrus note,” Rouhana says. “It has a mild, bitter complexity that lemon and lime just don’t bring to the table.”

Cub Room Cocktail

Grapefruit liqueur lends a bittersweet layer to this vibrant gin cocktail.

1 oz. gin
1 oz. fresh lemon juice
1/2 oz. grapefruit liqueur
1/2 oz. Aperol
1/2 oz. honey syrup (equal parts honey and water)

Tools: shaker, strainer
Glass: rocks
Garnish: rosemary sprig

Shake all of the ingredients with ice, then strain into an ice-filled glass, and garnish.

Anthony Rouhana, The Cub Room, Rochester, NY

Cel Out

Grapefruit soda brightens this mezcal-based highball originally created for PDT Hong Kong.

3/4 oz. mezcal
3/4 oz. celery juice
4 oz. grapefruit soda (such as East Imperial)
Kosher salt

Glass: Collins
Garnish: lime wedge

Rim the edge of a glass by moistening it with a lime wedge, then dipping it into kosher salt, shaking to discard the excess. Add all of the ingredients to the prepared glass and fill with ice, then garnish.
Celery JuiceWash and coarsely chop several stalks of celery, then process in a juicer (alternately, purée in a blender and strain the juice from the pulp). Use immediately.

Jim Meehan, originally developed for PDT, Hong Kong

First Salute

The fragrance and flavor of grapefruit peel enhance this rum and mezcal cocktail.

1 1/2 oz. dark rum (such as Bounty Dark or Chairman’s Reserve)
1/2 oz. mezcal
3/4 oz. “Abby’s Mix”
3/4 oz. fresh lime juice

Tools: shaker, strainer
Glass: cocktail
Garnish: grapefruit peel
Abby’s MixIn a mixing bowl, combine the zest of 1 grapefruit (removed with a vegetable peeler or paring knife) with 1 cup of sugar. Muddle the mixture and let sit for at least 15 minutes. Add 2 cinnamon sticks and 4-5 whole star anise, along with 1 cup of boiling water, and stir until the sugar dissolves. Let the syrup sit for 1 hour, then strain and bottle for use. Keeps refrigerated for up to 2 months.

Abigail Gullo, originally developed for Fort Defiance, Brooklyn

From the September/October 2019 issue.

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