On this episode of “Cocktail College,” host Tim McKirdy dives into the Grasshopper, a drink known for its signature green color and creamy ingredients. He is joined by NYC bartender Pamela Wiznitzer, whose many iterations of the cocktail have made their way to bar program menus throughout her career. What are the best practices when making a Grasshopper? And why can it be considered a “dessert cocktail?” The two discuss all this and more.
Pamela Wiznitzer’s Grasshopper Recipe
- ¼ ounce absinthe
- ¾ ounce crème de menthe
- 1 ounce crème de cacao
- 1 ½ ounces heavy cream
- 1 ounce gin, Cognac, or Irish whiskey
- ½ pinch salt
- Combine all ingredients in a shaker with three Kold-Draft ice cubes.
- Shake until cold and strain into a cold coupe glass.
- Garnish with a shaving of bitter chocolate.
CHECK OUT THE CONVERSATION HERE
Tim McKirdy: Hey, this is Tim McKirdy. We are in the “Cocktail College” podcast studio here, joined by Pamela Wiznitzer. Pam, thank you for joining us.
Pamela Wiznitzer: Oh, thanks for having me.
T: Of course, we’re here today to chat about the Grasshopper cocktail. We actually first connected about this a couple of months back and decided that this is the drink that we were going to chat about together. Since then, I have seen a story by Robert Simonson in The New York Times saying that the Grasshopper is back. So just wanted to say, those foundations were laid before then. You are ahead of the times. But also, apparently it’s trending.
P: Look, I was never really a trendy kid growing up. I wore awkward corduroy outfits, I had braces. But I can predict certain things. I’ve been loving the Grasshopper, I think, since the first time I ever had one. My history with the Grasshopper goes back to the Columbia Bartending Academy. When I was at school at Barnard, I took this course so I could be a “bartender.” We had this huge book of drinks that we had to learn. They were not great drinks, either, like Long Island Iced Teas and Blue Whales, which for those who don’t know, is a Martini with blue Curaçao in it. Then we got to the cream drinks section and there’s a Creamsicle. I was like, “That sounds good.” There’s the Pink Squirrel. This is a Grasshopper; and everything changed for me from that moment on. I’m a junior in college in New York City, and I learned what a Grasshopper is and that was it, lights out. I just tried to pursue finding it as often as making them. And it became my obsession at any bar program I did, to make sure there was some iteration of a Grasshopper somewhere on the menu.
T: That’s wonderful. So you were at actual cocktail college at the time?
P: Oh possibly. I was getting two bachelor’s degrees at the same time. But I was thinking, “How can I make some money on the side?” I might be their best graduate of the program, to be honest.
T: Wonderful ambassador for the drink, too. We’re going to dive into the history. Before we do, just talking about today and now, you mentioned there about making sure that some iteration is on your menu. For some of these ingredients that we’re going to get into, how common are those these days? Can I rock up at a random bar, ask for this, and they’re going to be like, “Yeah, we got we got crème de cacao?”
P: Yeah, this is not going to be that drink that you can just roll up into your mom and pop corner place and be like, “Give me a Grasshopper.” We’ll get into the ingredients, but it has to do with the crème being fresh or some type of milk source being fresh. Having crème de menthe and crème de cacao, they really are not often utilized in lots of drinks. So it’s very rare you’re going to touch that bottle unless you’re making it, typically, with this drink or something during the Christmastime season.
T: This is the most iconic drink within that ingredients-sphere category.
P: Kind of. There are other cocktails that definitely have crème de menthe, but clear. A Stinger is a great example. But no one really drinks a lot of Stingers anymore these days.
T: All great names, by the way; the Grasshopper, the Stinger.
P: Crème de menthe has its time to shine in this cocktail. It’s like, “I’m not just for your hot cocoa, I’m for a Grasshopper.” That’s right. Also that bright green color, and that is something to come back to, because you can get it with or without the green. But the green is really what makes a grasshopper iconic.
T: I want to say this is the best green cocktail. I’m going out on a limb there.
T: Both drinks that may also be experiencing some form of resurgence.
P: And a Chartreuse Swizzle.
T: There you go, OK.
P: You’re really backing yourself into a corner of the ring here, and everyone’s going to tag team onto you in a bit.
T: OK, I’ll say this. It’s a wonderful shade of green when made properly.
P: McDonald’s Shamrock Shake has nothing on the Grasshopper.
T: It’s the drink it always wanted to be.
P: Yeah, it’s what it aspires to be. The Grasshopper’s like the sexy older cousin of the Shamrock Shake.
The History Behind the Grasshopper
T: Lead us on a path into history here. As with many drinks, I believe that road will lead us to New Orleans.
P: Yes, I think the world was a dark and dismal place until 1918. There really wasn’t much to talk about. And then, the Grasshopper was invented. The Grasshopper came about from a cocktail competition. We even say now, what’s the point of cocktail competitions? Sometimes it’s not being the winner, it’s being the loser. And I can tell you that from being in lots of competitions that I’ve lost. Winning does not mean that you’re going to be the greatest success. So, Philip Guichet is from Tujague’s down in New Orleans. Tujague’s is a fascinating place, because it is the third oldest restaurant in the United States that’s still standing. It is the second oldest in New Orleans. It’s the oldest standing bar in the United States. Meaning that you can only stand at the bar top, you can’t sit there.
T: Before then people were literally sitting down, café-style at bars.
P: Or there were troughs in front. Men could go to the bathroom at the bar, that was a very common thing. There are bars still in this country that have the urinal section underneath. That’s for another podcast. But what is fascinating about Tujague’s is that it always was owned by Tujague’s or the Guichets, and it really stayed very tight within there. So Philip Guichet went to NYC to go to a cocktail competition. Lord knows what the base of it was. Normally, it’s sponsored by this rum company, sponsored by this weird liqueur. And he’s like, “I made a Grasshopper for it.” So he created the Grasshopper. For those who don’t know, it is merely heavy cream — which is intense — crème de menthe, and crème de cacao. So we’re talking about a low-proof drink that is shaken up, served up, and there’s lots of different ways you can garnish it. He came in second place. This is 1918 and he’s like, “Oh, I guess I’ll go back home and just take this drink with me.” Now, New Orleans is ripe for the picking. There are not many cities where you could have something that is so heavy and expect people to be drinking it probably after dinner. This is really served after dinner, which is insane to think after eating a huge meal, that you’re going to sit down and have this creamy delicacy in front of you. But people did, and people really took to it because New Orleans has such a fascinating drinking culture in general. Drinking habits are at all hours of the day and all types of ways, avant garde ways. Think about it, the Ramos Gin Fizz, which was also created there. So they’re so accustomed to cream drinks in the first place. There it lived, and there it started to thrive. It really picked up steam in the 1950s and ‘60s because we’re seeing a lot of the merchants of other things like the Pink Squirrel, and we’re seeing Brandy Alexanders and White Russians, this is becoming all the rage at a lot of parties. The Grasshopper is a cool color, and now the cocktails are really fun. In the 1950s, everyone’s entertaining at home. They want things that have less ingredients. We’re talking about a three-ingredient drink. If you want to make equal parts, there’s lots of ways to make it. You don’t have to think a lot about it. And it’s fun when it comes out on a tray. You see all these green things; it’ll always catch your eye. It’s an entertaining moment. In the 1950s and ’60s, cocktails were really just fun here in the States. That’s why they existed, for home entertaining and for a break from reality. Work was hard, the middle class didn’t have tons of money for vacation or things to do. You could go to bars, spend a little money, have fun. So then it kind of went away. That’s because we’re talking about the emergence of the 1970s and disco era, the 1980s, when we’re drinking highballs on the dance floor; vodka, big, huge. People are also starting to get more health-conscious, it’s another trend that starts happening. So we kind of lose a lot of these big, heavy cream drinks. Nobody wants to have them. And we’re getting more into the ’90s. And in walks Dale DeGroff and the emergence of the golden cocktail resurgence — however we want to label it. We start seeing a comeback of all these classic drinks. In the 2000s, when a lot of bartenders were sticking their noses in books and doing research, we started finding these drinks being like, “Why do we not touch these drinks anymore?” And we brought them back to our bars. I think that’s really where the Grasshopper had a lot of fascination. Because again, in a society that we live in right now, people — and this is America-specific — love tart drinks. They love drinks with less sugar, depending on where we are. Some places like more sugar, spicy, all these things. No one’s really asking for minty or creamy. They’re just not.
T: Heavy cream, off the menu.
P: Especially nowadays, in the past, like, five years, with the intensity of health consciousness of Gen-Z and millennials. However, because we have so many fun techniques and ways that we can make and utilize Grasshoppers, now it’s back. Because it doesn’t have to be made in that typical way. You see a lot of Grasshopper milk punches. We can get into that. We see Grasshopper iterations, stirred Grasshoppers. We see them made with almond milk, with oat milk. We see it be made in lots of different ways with lots of variations, and sometimes people just want fun again, so they’re like, “Give me that weird, fun drink. I want it.” So it’s here, it’s back. Because it is something that no one takes so seriously, it’s why it will always be in existence, because there’s nothing serious about a Grasshopper.
T: That’s amazing.
P: The end.
T: It’s hopping. One or two quick notes there that I had come across during my half-arsed internet research. We’re looking at Tujague’s for a second. Also, there are a lot of claims here. You mentioned it’s the third oldest restaurant, second oldest bar. Apparently it’s also the place that pioneered brunch. I came across that I’m like, “Wow, this person combined breakfast and lunch, and that was it.” Makes sense in a city like that, where they’re also having Ramos Gin Fizz for breakfast. Maybe you want to push that into brunch? I don’t know. And also, sadly, I believe they’ve moved now. They’ve moved one block or two blocks down.
P: Yeah, it’s not in the original location, but that’s OK.
T: No, no, it still exists. The soul of the bar still exists.
P: I believe it used to be in a corner location. Now it’s not. It’s in the middle of a block in New Orleans.
T: They took over a Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. space. So, win-win.
P: I’ll report back this week when I’m there and I get my Grasshopper. I’ll let you all know. It’s OK. To be an existing restaurant, you don’t have to be in the space that you were originally in. If you’re able to sustain being in new spaces, you’re still thriving, you’re still there. I think that’s what we always have to remember. It’s still going
T: And it remains in the family to my understanding as well. Which again, would possibly be the more important thing. I just thought that was fascinating. Another reaction I had to what you were saying there, too, is just thinking about that era you described the ’50s, maybe ’60s, people entertaining at home, people still making cocktails after dinner. I don’t think that’s that common now, even today. Even among enthusiasts, maybe you’re just reaching for a nice whiskey or Cognac or whatever.
P: We changed a lot of our social structure and our social outings. A lot of the times when we want to see friends, instead of saying, “Come over to my place,” we say, “Let’s go out to a restaurant.” Especially with the pandemic the past two years, no one came over to your place, and we stopped home entertainment. That was something that really happened. We stopped having our neighbors over. A lot of people don’t get to know their neighbors as often as they used to, depending on what city you’re in. In more metropolitan cities like New York, even sometimes like L.A. and Miami, you don’t get to know people because it’s a little more transient. In more suburbia-structured neighborhoods, you do. But with that said, at the same time, people don’t always let everybody in. We used to have these glorious evenings of regale and these tales over cocktails and everything else. But also people are “busy these days.” We all have cell phones, there’s something to do, and some kids get dropped off for some dance recital and soccer practice. Oh, I’ve got to wake up early for work. I gotta do that. So we don’t have that same luxury to lounge around like we used to and wake up with a hangover. We can’t afford that.
T: But I do think with the profile of this drink, though, you’re skipping dessert and you’re just going for the Grasshopper as dessert, and it works for that.
P: Well, I tell everybody it is dessert. Just have this for dessert. Because truly, it’s like drinking a thin mint. It’s like a big piece of mint chocolate chip ice cream. So why not drink your dessert instead of eating it?
T: Go for it. I would say another thing, too. I think this could be a good St. Patrick’s Day cocktail, just because of the color.
The Ingredients Used in the Grasshopper
P: What I will say is that if you want to make it for St. Patrick’s Day, you have to bring in the Irish. Let’s get into the structure of the drink. I think this is a good moment when we talk about what’s really in it and where it has a place.
T: Thank you for bringing the structure to this. This is necessary.
P: Sure. A Grasshopper is hysterical because it only has three ingredients. It has cream. It says “cream.” A lot of times they would use heavy cream, so just imagine that viscosity. It has crème de menthe, so it’s a mint liqueur that’s very low proof. It depends who makes it, but we’re talking roughly between 15 to 20 percent on average. So it’s very low. And a crème de cacao at the same percentage. Crème de cacao is a chocolate liqueur. When you make classic ones, you use a green crème de menthe. We’re talking bright green, this is not sexy when you see the bottle. This is food dye at its best.
P: Neon. Then you’re using a clear crème de menthe. There are two different types on the market. This is where we get real nerdy in this podcast.
T: Good. This is what we like.
P: There’s one that’s going to be dark, crème de cacao. And there’s a light crème to cacao. If you use the dark one, then your Grasshopper is going to look like a muddy mess. No one likes that; that’s not a sexy Grasshopper. So you always need to have the clear one. A lot of times. the ratio can vary. Some people do equal parts. Some people do two parts heavy cream to one part of each. I’m never a believer in equal parts because the intensity of the crème de menthe is insane; it overpowers. Technically, when you pull this cocktail together and you shake it up and you strain it out, it is a low-proof drink. Which is nice, it’s why it’s perfect for after dinner. You have had this big dinner and you’re kind of like, “All right, low proof it out at the end.” However, when you see in a bar and you want something to kick it up a notch, whenever I served Grasshoppers, I always felt like something was missing. That’s how I always felt, there’s room in here and this structure. It’s one of those fun drinks that really can absorb almost any spirit, and it tastes great. Because the cream is so heavy, it absorbs everything. However, I don’t think everything plays the same. I will say, from my research over the years — and having it on a bunch of menus — the liquors that play the best into it happen to be specific gins. So gins surprisingly work really well. Cognacs are beautiful with it, and Irish whiskey. Irish whiskey is not so surprising because it has so many fruit notes in it, and the fruit and chocolate go together and certain fruits and mint can also go together so nicely. Same thing with Cognac. The gin is surprising. Now, not all gin plays the same.
T: Not at all.
P: I’m not going to put a Gin Meyer or a Citadelle in there. Those are really my Dirty Martini gins, and they’re gorgeous in that sense. But certain ones with less botanicals work. Ford’s gin has chamomile in it, and it is fire in a Grasshopper.
T: We’re big fans of Ford’s gin on this show.
P: By the way, I’m not paid to say any of this. These are literally my opinions and solely will always be my opinions. But Ford’s is gorgeous. The chamomile in there just pops and it’s so darn good, but you can’t put a ton. I always put the cap of a hard liquor in there at an ounce and a half. I got to put an iteration of a Grasshopper on the Dead Rabbit menu. On our second menu, it was called the Independence Day. If you look it up in any of the old menu books. I was really pissed off and I can say this. Jack McGarry is still the owner and a good friend. I really wanted to put an unaged Cognac in it. Remy used to make this thing called Remy Vie. It was great. It’s got the heat, the intensity of a white spirit, but it’s got the Cognac. He’s like, “No, it’s got to be Irish, so we’re putting Poitín in it. For those who don’t know, Poitín is essentially White Dog for Irish whiskey.
T: It’s still not happened yet. I’ve read the articles that it was coming, but I think we’re still waiting.
P: Listen, for those who make Poitín out there, congrats and good job. But I always say it’s kind of like that “Mean Girls” quote when they’re like, “Stop trying to make fetch happen, Gretchen, it’s never going to happen.” But it turned out to be a great drink. Some of my friends still talk about it to this day. It was fun because I played with a lot of different flavors within there to create a variation on a Grasshopper. That’s what I like the most. What I love is that we’ve taken this original three-ingredient drink, and we’ve literally said, “This is an original foundation. How do we play upon it?” We’ve had the most amazing iterations of it, like Jeffrey Morgenthaler’s PéPé Le Moko Grasshopper, which is an incredible boozy ice cream drink with Fernet Branca. It is iconic in so many ways. I’ve had that a million times over. Then you have people just playing with it. I see a lot of Grasshopper milk punches these days. For those who don’t know what milk punches are and you’re like, “What’s that?” it’s a clarified drink using a process where milk interacts with citrus and then it strains. So it’s clarified and preserved. It feels like a mouthfeel of Grasshopper, but it’s thinner and it’s delicious.
T: Do we want to get rid of the color?
P: It’s still green.
T: Oh, it’s still green. That’s good.
P: That’s the fun part.
T: That’s interesting. You introduced different spirits there, ingredients that are big hitters like gin, Cognac, and even riffs with Fernet.
P: And surprisingly overlooked, and I use it all the time, is absinthe. Absinthe and mint are best friends. And absinthe and chocolate are best friends. If you are not adding a few dashes of absinthe into your Grasshopper, you’re completely missing an amazing flavor opportunity.
T: Sounds wonderful. I think it all goes back to these original three ingredients, like you were saying, being able to take a lot of punches. They can adapt. They will allow a certain amount of modification there.
P: Do you know what the Grasshopper really feels like? It feels like the three losers in high school that are like, “No one likes us. Everyone thinks we’re weird and dorky. You know what we’re going to do? Let’s get together and be really cool later in life.” That’s what I feel like they did. They were like, “We’re going to get together and be really awesome.” And then they started a tech startup, and now they sell it for $1 billion. That is literally what the Grasshopper is. It’s the three loser ingredients that nobody wanted to touch. Someone’s like, “I see a future in all of you, I believe in you.” And then they take the ingredients, put them together, and now, who has the last laugh?
T: Yeah, absolutely. The Grasshopper.
P: Crème de menthe, the green one, is like, “Now I have a place on your shelf. All you fancy cocktail bars, you need me.”
T: It’s worth noting as well that these are not dairy-based liqueurs, like a Baileys or something. The crème de menthe and crème de cacao, that’s the name. The name derives from French.
P: Yeah, it’s French. It’s the term. So these liquors are completely cream-free. Hopefully, they’re vegan. I don’t know, I’m not going to make claims for brands or companies. But it is a liqueur, which means it has sugar in it. So it has the essence of the flavor, the sugar, and in some cases, color. And a grain base, probably a neutral grain base.
T: We established before that no one’s paying you to promote any brand on this podcast. But do you have any preferences when it comes to those two categories? Is it one of those ones where people are like, “I’m just going to see what I can find?” Or would you urge people to maybe spend a little bit more effort and look for some producers in particular?
P: I would say your drink is only as good as the ingredients that you put in it. It’s up to you to decide what you would like to have in your glass. That’ll be what is the end result. So a few things here. Number 1, when it comes to liqueurs, some people have access to things that other people do not. I also recognize that here in New York, we are very fortunate to have access to a lot of ingredients, some that I have always loved to use in my Grasshoppers. Tempest Fugit, their products are just lights out. There’s no comparison. Their stuff is incredible. Their crème de cacao is so stellar. It’s so good. I also say Giffard has some of my favorites to play with. It’s from France and they have every incredible liqueur under the sun. Everything’s such incredible quality. If you’re in a random store and you see that bottle from Bols that’s green, grab it. That’s going to be great. It’s going to make you a phenomenal Grasshopper and you’re going to be really, really happy.
T: Just make sure it is that green one for the crème de menthe and the clear for the crème de cacao.
P: If you can’t find the green stuff, you got green food coloring at home. You don’t always necessarily have to go that route, it’s not totally necessary. The other thing that people don’t talk about is actually the dairy source. Not all dairy is produced the same. And we also have to remember that there are some people who can’t tolerate dairy. There are vegans out there, and we want to make sure that anybody can enjoy this drink. We have every single ability to ensure that a guest can enjoy it at your bar and that someone who’s coming over who has any dietary restrictions can enjoy this drink. What’s great is that, as the technology of non-dairy-based milk alternatives are coming to the market, there are things that have richer, denser bases than your typical nut milk that may not stand up. I think oat milk has a little bit of a creamier texture sometimes, and there are certain brands like Oatly that have a “creamier” one. I say to always go for that. I know some people are like, “Oh no, I don’t want heavy cream.” I get it. If you really don’t want the heavy cream situation, at least do 2 percent milk, maybe 4 percent. Get some fat in there. That’s where this drink thrives.
T: Is it the fat content that we’re really looking for?
P: We’re here for some fattiness. It’s dessert. It’s good for you, hopefully. I am not at liberty to give you medical advice, but this will really definitely help the texture of the drink. That’s something else, because I will say it now and I’ll say it again, a Grasshopper is a drink that’s served up. For those who are listening and need clarification on terms, “up” is when we shake a drink with all of its ice ahead of time, strain it out, and then there’s no ice in the glass afterwards. I’ve seen people put it over ice before, but what happens is that when there’s additional ice in the glass and you’re drinking your Grasshopper and you drink it slowly because you’re having a great conversation with the people around you, you are diluting that drink. Then the texture’s all off. And the flavors are all off then.
T: It’s a low-ABV already to start with.
P: Some drinks are really incredible and need the additional ice melting; a Jungle Bird is a great example. That is a highball drink. You’re not supposed to shake it for too long and it has such intense flavors in there that, while the ice incorporates into the drink while you’re drinking it, it actually adds to the experience as well. But here, we really want the forcefulness of the air to shake up everything. We’re essentially whipping up a milkshake in a tin and whipping this milkshake. So we need to maintain that texture. If you have extra ice in there, it’s going to force those air bubbles out a lot faster that you whipped in with that beautiful shake of yours and then you’re adding extra dilution, and that’s a sin. So this is a drink that is always served up, and I will really stand by that. I really, truly believe in it. If you can, you should do that. The only time where it’s OK to still have ice in it is if you’re blending it.
T: I would like us to get into that a little bit down the line, because I have a question before that with regard to shaking and dairy. First question for that would be: Is the temperature of the dairy improved by coming straight from the fridge? Or is this like an egg white situation, where actually, you’re finding it’s easier to whip up if it’s kind of closer to room temp? And then also, are you employing anything like a dry shake here or a reverse dry shake, or however many far down that line we’ve gone by this point? Just to improve texture.
P: OK, little bits of science that I have. If you’re trying to get an ingredient from one temperature to the next, the further away it is from the end temperature that you want, the longer you have to work at getting it there. That’s basic science. When you have dairy, if it’s colder, it’s already close to the temperature that you want it to be chilled. Also, you don’t want your dairy out at room temperature. That’s dangerous. That’s some stuff they do over in Europe, and I respect that. But that dairy doesn’t go through the pasteurization process that we do here, so it can last. That’s some good dairy, that European dairy, you all do it really well there. I know what you’re feeding your cows, but get it. Here in the States, keep it in the fridge. But there are a few things. Number 1, shake up your milk before you pour it out, because it’s settled. It’s good to give it a fast shake in there and then add it in. I don’t like to add too many ice cubes. I think this is a losing moment for most bartenders, and most people who prepare this at home, is when you overstuffed your shaker with ice. That’s a huge pet peeve of mine. What we’re looking for is the temperature to drop, to be whipping in air — the whipping moment — and we want to be able to get the right amount of dilution. If you have really large ice cubes, for those who work in bars with the one-by-ones, I really would only be adding about three of those in there. For those who have bodega ice, like I got at home, I would really be adding about five to seven ice cubes. The idea is to whip those down as much as possible, sometimes even to the end of it. Certain bodega ice that you have, maybe four or five cubes, and you can whip them down to the ends of it and incorporate it. If you dry shake your drink after you wet shake, you’re heating it back up. We’re not here for that, because you really just want it chilled down. It’s fine. You fluffed it. You’re good. You don’t have to pre-fluff your drink here. This is not like a Ramos. With a Ramos, what you’re trying to do is add the egg white with the heavy cream to get the stiffness of the head. That’s not here. Here, what we’re really trying to do is take the ingredients, whip that air in, and get that chilled down and just get it into your glass. You don’t have to shake it once before. Just get those few ice cubes in there. Put on a show, get it into the glass, and get it into someone’s mouth.
How to Make a Blended Grasshopper
T: Amazing. So now let’s talk about those blended versions because I’ve seen some wonderful-looking creations out there. What’s the route that we’re going down here? What exists? What’s common?
P: It’s nice when it looks good. Does it mean it tastes good?
T: Not always. But I’m thinking you will be able to lead us in the right direction.
P: In terms of a blended Grasshopper?
P: I go back to Morganthaler’s Grasshopper, Pépé Le Moko. I also go to Bryant’s Cocktail Lounge, if anyone’s been there, in Milwaukee. It’s very iconic for their blended ice cream drinks. They will do Grasshoppers, they’ll do Pink Squirrels. There’s no better place in this country to go get a drink than there, if you want that whole ice cream-infused situation. Now I will say this: If you are going to blend a Grasshopper, you can just do it with the base ingredient and ice. But it’s not going to give you that same texture that you want. Because remember how much water you’re now adding to the liquid. It’s going to be really thin. This is why ice cream is your friend in this drink. It’s one of the drinks where you can take out the cream and put in ice cream instead, like vanilla or even mint chocolate chip and really up the mint factor. But because it has the fattiness in there and it can combat the amount of ice that you will need to get it down to the chill factor, it works so much better than if just putting in heavy cream. The only way that I will combat that is if you take your heavy cream, put it into ice molds, put it in your freezer, then pop it out and use that for most of the freezing component with a few regular ice cubes. Then, you’ll have a great-bodied frozen Grasshopper. But that’s a lot more work.
T: That sounds like a lot of work.
P: It’s really not, but you have to plan. And some of us just want to go to our bodega, grab a vanilla ice cream, and make some Grasshoppers at home.
T: But you do need some ice in that, too, because we want some dilution.
P: Yes, always. I don’t care if you’re putting it in the blender or anywhere else and you’re like, “Oh, I’ll just use these juice cubes and berries.” You need dilution. Dilution is our friends in cocktails. I know there was this movement — to all my friends who are listening who did this, I love you — where there’s no dilution. Sometimes people did room-temperature drinks, sometimes people did no-dilution drinks. I think that’s terrible, and I will stand by that. If I get hate for it, it’s OK. But I really think that they’re terrible, because we need water to help open up flavors. It’s a safety mechanism, too. It is also our way to manipulate temperature and to impart better flavors and structure into our drink as well. So get those ice cubes in there, it doesn’t have to be a ton, but remember that you need a good amount if you want the whole thing to be really, truly, like a slushy. As opposed to just blended up and really cold where you’re like, this is not it.
T: Well, you’re also heating it up through the blending process, if you have one of these crazy Vitamix.
P: Yeah, that’s what I got.
T: I just went through the list of all the three that you were using in the kitchen.
P: Sorry, Ninja, I know you’re there, too.
T: Yes, the NutriBullet.
P: You got these other ones that are going to come after you in the ring. You got these green drinks coming after you.
T: The Blend Jet is something I’m seeing a lot of these days.
P: That’s it. I had the NutriBullet for a long time, and I loved that because it was personalized drinks in each class. But yeah, definitely make sure you have the right amount of ice to add in.
T: Also, if you’re only using ice cream plus these two presumably room-temperature ingredients, how cold is that going to be anyway in the end, even if you don’t have the wild blending process?
P: It wouldn’t be so cold. I’ve done a lot of work with ice cream, especially with some groups that I’ve worked with. It’s really not that cold.
T: So sorry, guys.
P: It’s very upsetting. Now I will say, if you want to get a big scoop of vanilla ice cream and then pour crème de menthe and crème de cacao on top of it, it’s a wonderful bite. But that’s dessert. That’s not a Grasshopper.
T: That sounds incredible.
P: We haven’t even talked about what’s garnished on top of it.
How to Make the Grasshopper
T: I was going to dive into that in the section where we’re going to next. Pam, this is a drink that you have studied throughout your career. And at the end of this, we’re going to be presenting Pam’s ultimate Grasshopper recipe. Therefore, can you talk us through that now and your method? Imagine we’re at your bar. Talk us through making that and the ratios that you now adhere to?
P: Oh my God, I’m so excited for you to be at my bar. Welcome. When I make Grasshoppers — oh, I want to have one right now — I’m definitely going to make it higher proof as a personal thing. I think it tastes better. I just think it’s better all around when you do that. I will always start with a few dashes of absinthe. If someone likes a little bit more absinthe, and then I’ll ask them because some people are really averse to it. I will add about a quarter-ounce or half, depending on if they’re really into this. It’s delicious. It’s so good. From there, I’ll start with the less expensive ingredients. So I’ll start with a little crème de menthe. Crème de menthe can be really overwhelming, and people forget that. Also, this depends on how much absinthe I put in, but normally I do about three-fourths of an ounce of that. I like to scale back a bit because it is sweet, and it is really minty. Then I went to crème de cacao. Let’s go for the chocolate because people love that, it’s going to be great in there. We also need that sweetness in there because we’re going to put a higher-proof spirit in, so we’re going to put a full ounce of that in. Next comes the base spirit, and this is the dealer’s choice. You can put other things in there; tequila can work really nicely if it’s super vegetal from the low valley area. The highlands area is a little bit too fruity and caramelly, but the low valley has green vegetal notes that’s really nice in there. But I’m always going to skew towards gin, Cognac, or an Irish whiskey, hands down. So it’s kind of like the dealer’s choice at that point. I don’t know which one you would like in your glass.
T: I’m going to go for Irish whiskey, I think.
T: A blend?
P: A blend. We’re not doing our Red Breast 12. Sorry, we’re not going to that insane copper pot.
T: That’s where I wanted to go first. And then I thought, You know what? That might actually be just a bit too much.
P: It is too much. Because the thing is, this base spirit is not the star of the show. But the flavor profile of it actually adds into the other ingredients so nicely that it works. It blends in, but you’ll never know what it is. But that’s a secret. That’s the fun part, right? It’s like when you make that Jungle Juice when you’re in college and they’re like, “Why am I so drunk?” I don’t know, but it’s fun. That’s like what this drink is. Then comes the cream. I always like to put the cream last because you don’t know if it will curdle or something happens that interacts with something, who knows. So I like to do a full ounce and a half. If I can have a heavy cream there, that’s great, especially if it’s a local heavy cream. That’s very different. It’s so much better. Again, if I’m doing this for vegans or people of sensitivity, there are creamier oat milks on the market and that works the best. Almond milk can actually — it’s a weird term — but pill up. It can actually become like particle-y in a drink. So you have to be really careful of almond milk. But oat milk doesn’t do that, which is cool. Then I like to put a teeny tiny half-pinch of salt in there because the salts are going to balance out all the sweetness. Because there’s really nothing to balance that right now. Then I’m going to put in a few ice cubes in a chilled coupe. I’m going to shake. I’m going to shake it a lot and show off my guns, and I’m going to pour it out and garnish. I’m a true believer in shaved chocolate. Give me shaved chocolate. Why would you not want me doing that? But if I have an After Eight mint or like a Girl Scout Thin Mint cookie, I want to put that on the side. I’m going to serve it to you.
T: Nice. This drink that I’m about to receive here in this bar is sounding wonderful.
P: Oh, of course. Only the best for you.
T: Quick detour here on the shaved chocolate garnish. Are we going for a bitter chocolate there or does it not really matter? Is that living in the fridge to make it easier throughout service? I imagine during service, this thing’s getting a little soft. And finally, do you have a preference on your grater?
P: Oh yeah, we’re going to do a fine grater.
T: Like something that’ll handle nutmeg.
P: Yeah, this is a fine grating. I’m down with a heavy cocoa, at least 70 percent somewhere in there. It doesn’t have to stay in the fridge. It’s nice when it’s colder, but it’s not going to warm up on service unless you put it over the dishwasher and it heats up, which is a strange place to put your garnishes in the first place. So it can last while it’s out. Change up the chocolate. Find something local. Find something that’s really unique. Support a small business. Buy their chocolate.
T: That would be nice.
P: There are tons of ways that you can incorporate a very interesting flavor. Sometimes there are mint chocolates. You can add that little bit on top too; there are so many ways to move.
T: That was my favorite ice cream flavor growing up. Just mint chocolate chip. It’s the Grasshopper green.
P: Yeah, it is. It’s funny because it’s not mine. I’m a chocolate person, but I’m obsessed with the mint chocolate combination. If you ever get a Milano cookie and you bring it to my house and it’s not the mint Milanos, I want to look at you sideways and tell you to go get the mint ones and then come back.
T: If you did have these two ingredients in their pure form, I know chocolate doesn’t actually taste like how it exists in nature, but chocolate and just straight-up mint are not ideal in their purest form. But this is one of these combinations that, for whatever reason, big corporations, chefs, they’ve made it work.
P: I think we’ve seen chocolate and mint together so frequently and in many delicacies and in cooking. Both mostly in pastry. So, it is very classic.
T: It’s classic. But I’m just wondering, who first took a piece of chocolate, wrapped it in a mint leaf and was like, “This is it?”
P: Oh, well, that’s for another podcast. Another day when we do the deep dive into the true history of the origins of flavor combinations. I want to shake that person’s hand.
T: I do, too. There were a lot of fun childhood memories with ice cream, so thank you.
P: Yes, of course.
Variations on the Grasshopper
T: We’ve gone into some of the variations already. I like some of the variations just for their names. I can’t rattle them off the top of my head here, but the Flying Grasshopper, I believe that’s just the addition of vodka. It also makes it turn a strange color. There’s some interesting ones out there, right? Have we left off any notable variations?
P: There are a lot of drinks that have variations on it. The Negroni is the most classic example that we have a million names for. If you change one ingredient, here’s a name for it. I cannot say that the Grasshopper is one that everyone’s like, “Here are the names of all the variations.” No one knows that, and no one kind of cares. So they don’t have the same credibility. I teach a lot of cocktail classes, and I always love to point this out to people that bartenders are not really original. We’re not, and that’s OK. What we like to do is we like to take the structure of something, change up one ingredient, give it a brand new name. And then we look like a rock star. I talk about the difference between a Gimlet and a Daiquiri; it’s merely just the base spirit. When I show that to people and I really talk about it, they’re like, “Oh my God.” It’s kind of like when you go to “The Wizard of Oz” and you peek behind the curtain, you’re like, “Oh, you’re just a small man.” It’s less sexy, and that’s OK. But the Grasshopper, I don’t think, ever will be that drink that we can list the million variations. It’s a once-in-a-while drink. It’s a fun time to drink.
T: The Oaxaca Grasshopper.
P: Yeah, grasshopper tacos in Oaxaca are delicious, but I am not thinking about mint and chocolate drinks.
T: I wonder whether that is a drink that needs to happen, but maybe bears no resemblance.
P: Look, if you’re talking about Oaxaca, then you have to give credibility to chocolate mole, the culture that is down there. But I wouldn’t ever try to make a mockery of the fact that there are flavors so indigenous to the area that just slapping on the name Oaxaca doesn’t do any service for a mezcal or the people from that region.
T: Very good point.
P: While we love making names, we have to always be really careful about why we’re doing it and what it means and what it stands for. Because there’s a lot more that goes into a name than anything else. Why was this called the Grasshopper? Who knows? Maybe because it was just green, and that’s totally fine. Maybe it’s after a cute little insect that hops around. Maybe you have a few of these and you start hopping around as well. Or maybe you hop to the bathroom. I don’t know.
T: Interesting thing to keep in mind, though. Definitely. Something to be thoughtful of.
P: Yeah, I don’t think we’re going to see variations that were like, “This is it. This is the Grasshopper.”
T: Do you have any final thoughts or topics that we haven’t covered relating to the Grasshopper?
P: This is a great story. I went to Japan in 2016. I went on a trip with a shochu company. On our last night they took us back to Tokyo. So we went to a few really big cocktail bars and I remember going to one and they’re like, “What do you want to drink for a cocktail?” I said, “I guess I’ll get a Japanese whiskey Old Fashioned.” I got that, was drinking, and then they’re like, “What do you want for your next drink?” I just blanked and I said a Grasshopper, and the bartender looked at me really weird. My guide looked at me very weird, and the bartender was like, “Great” and started making it. And the guy goes, “Did you know to order that?” I said, “No, what are you talking about?” He goes, “That’s the banker drink in Japan.” I said, “What?” Apparently, and times have changed so maybe it’s not the same anymore, but at the time that I was there, a Grasshopper was a drink that a lot of people who worked in finance and business ordered. People would come to a bar, and that was one of the big drinks that they would have. Which is so wild, all places. It was gorgeous. It absolutely was the greatest thing.
T: I would assume that you benefited from that.
P: Then like 12 other people got them, too. They were like, “What’s that?” That’s the other fun thing about Grasshoppers. There are certain cocktails that you just look at and your head turns, and that is going to be one of them. There’s such a little underground bartender’s club of who loves them. My friend Dominic Wilson, who lives in London, used to work at the American Bar at the Savoy. He is a genius. He loves Grasshoppers. So our joke was, when he used to come to the Dead Rabbit when I worked there, he would have my Independence Day and also Grasshopper variations. When I went to go see him, there was always a Grasshopper already sitting at the bar waiting for me in this gorgeous glassware. It’s not that it’s a bartender’s handshake. It’s not that. It’s not the Fernet Branca. But there is this inner group of us that know that we all love them, and when we go places, we drink them. It is really fun. There’s also something fun when you go to a cocktail bar and you sit down, you’re like, “Can you make a Grasshopper?” Any bartender’s face just lights up and they’re like, “Yeah, I can make a Grasshopper.” I don’t know how many drinks I can literally rattle off and just say, that’s funny. That’s funny, and it’s fun. And I think the Grasshopper’s always going to be at the top of that.
T: You said a few things there that remind me, too, of the Pornstar Martini, which is a drink that we’ve covered. I also think it’s true for that. It’s a head-turner in the bar. Someone orders one, and one brings five. Also, it’s fun and people don’t take them very seriously. But I enjoy it.
P: Yeah, they’re so much fun. Sometimes you just don’t want to be thinking about anything and you want to have a really good, silly time. And the Grasshopper will do that.
T: Wonderful. Final point before we get into our last section of the show, which is our recurring questions where we get to know our guests. How have we gotten this far without mentioning the classic joke?
P: A grasshopper walks in the bar?
P: It’s a slow night and the bartender is just like, “Oh man, this night kind of stinks.” Whatever, it’s raining and the door slams open and a grasshopper walks into a bar. And the grasshopper looks around and he’s like, “I just really want something cold to drink.” And the bartender’s like, “Oh my God, we have a drink named after you.” The grasshopper goes, “You have a drink named Steve?”
T: John Cleese’s favorite joke, everyone. And apparently the folks over at “Family Guy” are fans, too, because I believe Quagmire delivered it in a 1999 episode. A very good joke.
P: They did.
T: It’s such a dad joke that I felt like it would be a crime for us not to include.
P: I thrive on dad jokes. When “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” came out at the beginning of a pandemic. I was like, “Oh, wow, it’s me, a Jewish woman who just stands in front of people and talks.” Maybe she’s funny sometimes. That was me bartending my whole career. I felt very seen, but I wasn’t as funny as she was.
T: Dad jokes are the currency that keeps the lights running on for this podcast.
P: Are they in crypto form yet?
Getting To Know Pamela Wiznitzer
T: Okay Pam, we’re going to get into our five final questions. How are you feeling?
P: Great, let’s do this.
T: That’s a pretty lame question. It’s not No. 1. Question No. 1 would be: What style or category of spirit typically enjoys the most real estate on your back bar?
P: When it comes to beverage programming of the bars that I’ve worked in and put together, whiskey as a category will forever have the most real estate. That’s because it has the most variation and bridle. At my home bar, for those of you who watch my Instagram videos, I am constantly putting my home bar in the back and it’s wild. Whiskey is also the biggest contender there, and it always will be. Whiskeys are made globally. Whiskey has a million different variations and nuances underneath the category, so there it stands.
T: I think whiskey has an unfair advantage when it comes to that question, just because of the points that you raise there.
P: It’s going to be really hard if you have somebody who works at a tequila bar and comes in here and you ask that question. They could be like, “Tequila. Do you not know where I work?”
T: Question No. 2: Which ingredient or tool do you think is the most undervalued in a bartender’s arsenal?
P: Even though it’s used for every single drink, I will always stand by the fact that ice is misunderstood. People don’t understand that not all ices are the same. You really have to take into consideration the temperature of the space that you’re in, plus the type of ice that you have with you, what kind of drink it is, and how long you should be shaking. There are so many factors into why one drink is going to be better than another. I worked with Bobby Hiddleston back at the Dead Rabbit, and he was someone who taught me a lot about shake time, consistency, taking a lot of factors into consideration. Because I could shake something with crushed ice, and you can have regular cubes. And I guarantee you that my drink will probably come out better because I’ve had a lot of training. I can boast, I can say that.
T: That’s why you’re on the show.
P: But it’s something that’s so important to remember that ice is a tool. It’s not just something that you just throw and shake and whatever. There are a lot of factors at play. If you take one second to assess that and see how it’s going to be your friend, you can always make perfectly consistent, wonderful drinks every time.
T: Amazing. Question No. 3: What’s the most important piece of advice you’ve received while working in this industry?
P: I have a very good friend. Her name is Jen Seidman, and she runs Acme Bar out in San Francisco. I think everyone in the industry goes through really great times and really hard times. One time she said to me, “Do you want to be a politician, or do you want to be a leader? And they’re two different things.” There are different ways of caring in both. And some people care a lot about what other people think about them and they want a lot of popularity. A good leader is going to listen to everybody around them and take hits and falls. They’re going to know when to bow out. They’re going to know when to step up. They’re going to try really hard to listen to everybody that they work with. A politician is really there because they want to make change, but also they want everyone to like them. They’re trying to win over your votes and are being really inauthentic. I think in this industry, something that’s really important to remember is that someone can say to you, “Are you trying to be a leader or a politician?” And that’s really important because some people can get really wrapped up in the “celebrity” of it all. Or you’re quoted in an article and you think you’re the sh*t. That’s not necessarily the case. So that was the greatest advice. She is an incredible leader. I have to say that Jen Seidman is amazing. If you don’t know her bar Acme, that’s in Northern California. I think it has one of the best spirits collections in the country, and she’s always led this way. Everyone should be humble. Remember that like, are you trying to be a leader or are you trying to be a politician?
T: Wise words and it’s important to understand the distinction between the two. Question No. 4: If you could only visit one last bar in your life, past or present, what would it be?
P: I’m not going to go back to my college bar. Big shout-out to everybody who went to the West End a lot. If I can only go to one bar past or present, what would it be? Well, that’s a crazy question to think about. There are definitely bars, especially in the pandemic, that are no longer here that I mourn. Daddy-O being gone was one that hit the hardest of anything to me. If I had one more visit to any bar, any space, anywhere, it would probably be Clover Club in Brooklyn. Pretty easy. Julie Reiner is not only my extremely close great friend; she’s like family to me. She’s also been a mentor in my life, and a lot of people who have and still work there are friends of mine or people I look to, people I have mentored. And they have some of my favorite drinks. I would get the Port of Call, it’s not even a question. It is the greatest drink ever. It’s in the fall time and has port in it. And I would get those truffle potato chips and just sit at that bar in the first corner. It’s a special place. I’ve seen friends get married there. I’ve seen friends launch their brands there. There’s so much more tied up in that bar than probably anywhere else. If anyone ever comes to New York and is trying to do the best of the bar tour and doesn’t go to Clover Club, you’ve totally missed the boat. I love everyone else’s bars out there. All of my friends, I love your bars.
T: That’s the hard part of that question. I don’t ever want it to feel like the person in your seat there is — we’re looking at it from a positive point of view. We’re shining a light in a positive way.
P: But how could you not love a place that is helmed by women like Christine Williams and Sue and Julie? It is just a great spot.
T: Yeah, it’s such an amazing spot, and you’ve got to also have the drink there after which it is named. It’s a great cocktail and we haven’t covered that yet.
P: One time, a group of us were all at Leyenda across the street and said, “Wouldn’t it be funny if we went over one by one, got a Clover Club, pounded it, and went back out?” And we did that. We each got $20 bills, went in, Tom Macy was working. He didn’t know anyone ’till I walked in, and everyone went in, pounded it, slammed down the $20 and ran out. When I finally came and he’s like, “Oh, you are all terrible.”
T: That’s so good. I might do that at some point. Might have to do that.
P: Yes, you could still play fun pranks on places when there’s no harm in the end.
T: Final question for today: If you knew that the next cocktail you drank might happen to be your last, what would you order or make?
P: The Grasshopper. There are five drinks that are my favorite. No guilty pleasure in no particular order. I love Grasshoppers, 50-50 gin Martinis with olives. I love Cognac Old Fashioned. I love a Jungle Bird, and a frozen Mudslide. We can also just play roulette with those. I’d be really happy with any of those as my last drink. Honestly, I would be really happy if it was a Grasshopper by the way, because I love that drink.
T: I think for the purposes of today’s show, we will say that the ball landed on that.
P: Do people always say the drink that they cover?
T: Not always.
P: Wow, savage. Come in and rep the things you like, people!
T: Pam, thank you so much for bringing the energy to the studio today. That kind of matches the vibrancy of the color of the Grasshopper. It’s been fun.
P: Thank you so much, thanks for having me. I hope everyone goes out and makes a Grasshopper.
T: That’s what I’m going to do right now.
P: Yes! Enjoy it.
If you enjoy listening to the show anywhere near as much as we enjoy making it, go ahead and hit subscribe, and please leave a rating or review wherever you get your podcasts — whether that’s Apple, Spotify, or Stitcher. And please tell your friends.
Now, for the credits. “Cocktail College” is recorded and produced in New York City by myself and Keith Beavers, VinePair’s tastings director and all-around podcast guru. Of course, I want to give a huge shout-out to everyone on the VinePair team. Too many awesome people to mention. They know who they are. I want to give some credit here to Danielle Grinberg, art director at VinePair, for designing the awesome show logo. And listen to that music. That’s a Darbi Cicci original. Finally, thank you, listener, for making it this far and for giving this whole thing a purpose. Until next time.
Ed. note: This episode has been edited for length and clarity.