June is here and green is all around — the grass, the trees, the parks, the grasshoppers … and maybe your cocktail, too. One of the most well-known green tipples (not related to St. Patrick’s Day) is the Grasshopper.
This cocktail was invented in New Orleans, just like the Vieux Carré, the Sazerac, the Hurricane and the Ramos Gin Fizz. The sweet, mint-flavored after-dinner drink originated at Tujague’s bar and restaurant in the French Quarter.
According to Poppy Tooker, author of “Tujague’s Cookbook: Creole Recipes and Lore in the New Orleans Grand Tradition”: “In 1918, on the eve of Prohibition, Tujague’s owner Philip Guichet traveled to New York City to participate in a prestigious cocktail contest. His creation, the Grasshopper, placed second in the competition.”
After its debut, the Grasshopper went into hiding, but Tujague’s continued to operate. Tooker adds: “The restaurant (and bar) stayed open all through Prohibition. There are great photos from those years that show men standing at a bar, bare of everything but a seltzer bottle and near beer with expressions on their faces saying ‘Nothing going on in here ….’ But there are police reports about Guichet being arrested for serving absinthe and other things.”
Once Prohibition was repealed, the Grasshopper leaped back into action. It’s been a staple ever since. Tooker says: “Every day, dozens and dozens of tourists come in for a taste of the grasshopper. Whole tour groups stop by!”
The star of this cocktail is crème de menthe, a mint liqueur. Its origins are attributed to pharmacist Émile Giffard, who developed it in 1887 in Angers, France, while studying the effects of mint on digestion. If you look back in history, you’ll see that liqueurs and digestives were some of the first medicines.
According to BevX.com, “Giffard formulated a liqueur that was the predecessor to the modern Crème de Menthe that was offered to customers of the Grand Hotel in Angers. The elixir was so popular that he converted the pharmacy into a distillery.”
The traditional formula steeped dried peppermint or Corsican mint leaves in grain alcohol for several weeks, followed by filtration and addition of sugar.
D.C.’s District Distilling recently added a newly minted crème de menthe to its line of small-batch spirits. The inspiration came from a trip to executive chef Justin Bittner’s family farm. Bittner collected heaps of mountain mint from his parents’ farm in southern Pennsylvania and chocolate mint from Heathsville, Virginia.
Next, head distiller Matt Strickland distilled the mint for four months, using Corridor vodka as the base spirit, and added wildflower honey from Stoner Apiaries in McConnellsburg, Pennsylvania.
The final version has an egg-white appearance with a slight hue and a flavor of “chocolate mint, reminiscent of Andes chocolate mints, followed by the depth of the woody mountain mint varietal and with the wildflower honey giving the nose a floral, herbaceous scent.” On the palate, it’s sweet, viscous and exceptionally smooth. This artisan spirit has been described as “intense enough for the serious and refined enough for the passionate.”
If you’re looking to celebrate summer’s arrival, head to District Distilling at 1414 U St. NW and the bartenders will mix you an impeccable Grasshopper. Or you can take a spin down to the Big Easy and enjoy one at its birthplace, Tujague’s, the second-oldest restaurant in New Orleans. If you prefer to stay at home, you can mix up the original.
Tooker features the Grasshopper in her cookbook, which you can order on the Tujague’s website, or follow the recipe below.
From “Tujague’s Cookbook”
3/4 oz. green crème de menthe
3/4 oz. crème de cacao
3/4 oz. white crème de menthe
1/2 oz. brandy
1/4 oz. heavy cream
3/4 oz. whole milk
1/2 tsp. brandy for topper
Combine all ingredients except for the brandy in a cocktail shaker filled with ice. Shake vigorously. Strain into a champagne flute and top with brandy.