Mixopedia: Reassessing the Grasshopper's Origin Story - Imbibe Magazine Subscribe + Save

Mixopedia: Reassessing the Grasshopper’s Origin Story

Let’s consider the Grasshopper.

The Grasshopper’s route to relevance is lengthy and shrouded in a frothy fog. Tradition claims it was invented in 1918 by Phillip Guichet Sr., a proprietor of Tujague’s Restaurant in New Orleans. Tradition is here oddly specific: The first Grasshopper took second place in a cocktail competition held in New York City. These details are repeated by tour guides dozens of times daily—the collective voice of authority hammering lore into fact.

Truth is, the Grasshopper origin story has always seemed suspect to me. Tujague’s originated as a working waterfront bar—it’s boastful of the fact that it’s never had bar stools, since nearby market and waterfront workers preferred to knock back a pick-me-up or two, then get back to work. One imagines they thirsted for beer or whiskey.

Yet here was the Grasshopper, a drink the color of a bridesmaid’s dress and which tastes like a Girl Scout cookie. Are we supposed to believe this was a favorite of butchers and stevedores?

What’s more, the lore always claimed that the cocktail’s road to immortality involved that second-place finish in a long- forgotten contest. Ask yourself: How many first-place drinks at obscure competitions have achieved fame, never mind those that placed second?

So where did the Grasshopper really come from? Let’s start with a DNA test, which reveals that the Grasshopper has ancestors that date to at least 1908. That’s when a potion by that name first appeared in The World’s Drinks and How to Mix Them, by William “Cocktail” Boothby. The drink was made with equal parts of crème de menthe and crème de cacao, which were layered atop one another in the manner of a Pousse-Café. (An even earlier “grasshopper cocktail” was cited in a Nebraska newspaper in 1874, which described a young man who “hopped around very lively after partaking” a drink of that name, though no clue was offered as to its ingredients.)

The Grasshopper that Tujague’s owner allegedly created for the New York competition a decade later was more elaborate than the 1908 version—gussied up with brandy and cream and shaken to a cloud-like creaminess. Another problem with the origin story is that no evidence exists that the then 21-year-old Guichet traveled to New York to compete in any such contest. Poppy Tooker, who wrote the Tujague’s Cookbook, says she heard the Grasshopper origin story directly from Phillip Guichet’s grandson but didn’t recall any corroborating information.

True, Prohibition passed the year after the alleged contest. This provides convenient cover, explaining why the Grasshopper may have faded into obscurity. Whatever the reason, it burrowed underground for nearly a half-century.

And then, suddenly, it was everywhere. Midcentury America was the golden era of cream drinks. Restaurants advertised their “sensational after-dinner drinks,” such as the Brandy Alexander, Stinger, and Pink Squirrel. The Old Mr. Boston Bartender’s Guide, which was updated regularly with newly popular drinks, first mentioned the Grasshopper in 1957.

Historic context provides some clues for the rising interest in the Grasshopper and other cream drinks. The home blender was ascendant (the Waring Blender was first introduced in 1937), and home freezers were just reaching the masses (the first dual-compartment refrigerator-freezer was rolled out in 1939). Ice cream was evolving from hand-cranked treat to freezer staple, so it increasingly went into the blender with sweet liquors to produce colorful concoctions that would wow the neighbors after the backyard barbecue.

The Grasshopper eventually wandered into the dire swamps of treacly sweetness. Phillip Guichet died in 1975 and would no doubt have been chagrined by his obituary, which described the Grasshopper as a “hot weather concoction of whipped ice and creme de menthe.”

This Grasshopper’s spurious story is somehow fitting for New Orleans. The city is often cited as the place that invented the cocktail—later research has proven this to be a false claim. But New Orleans is certainly the city that took the idea of a simple cocktail and made it glorious.

The same might be said of the Grasshopper and Tujague’s. The bar might not be the source of the original Grasshopper, but the recipe here—given more backbone with brandy, and using two types of crème de menthe and crème de cacao in every batch— has brought it from a novelty drink to a classic worthy of respect.

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