I've been known to poke fun at my father's drinking stories. Especially his tales of over-consuming blended ice cream Brandy Alexanders back in the 1980s. The classically trained bartender in me thought such a concoction should go the way of jorts and REO Speedwagon.
But I reconsidered when I was doing research for our new bar project here in Portland. Wanting to step away from the brown, bitter and stirred drinks so prevalent on today's cocktail menus, my team and I started looking into drinks that you might consider—wait for it—fun. Drinks like the Grasshopper. And no, not the one in a martini glass. I'm talking about a blended ice cream Grasshopper.
A true Grasshopper—i.e., the one served in a martini glass—is a close cousin to a classic Brandy Alexander. They're both made with equals parts crème de cacao, cream and one other ingredient. In the case of the Brandy Alexander, it's brandy. With the Grasshopper, it's green crème de menthe.
Admittedly, green crème de menthe is the Danny Bonaduce of liqueurs: It's artificially colored, full of chemicals and nobody has said anything nice about it since the 1970s. As such, you don't find many cocktail bars reaching for it—or even stocking it. But it's absolutely essential to the Grasshopper. So I set about trying to find a way to make it work.
I started with run-of-the-mill crème de menthe and white crème de cacao, available at pretty much any liquor store in the world. To that, I added a heavy scoop of plain vanilla ice cream and started to experiment.
But I found that these sweet, one-dimensional ingredients needed a layer of added depth, or nobody was going to take the drink seriously. Instinctively, I reached for a teaspoon of Fernet-Branca, an earthy, bitter, Italian digestif. Later, I threw in a pinch of sea salt to tame the bitterness. It worked out well enough that I had no problem putting it on our menu.
To complete the theme, we serve it in an old-timey soda-fountain glass with a fresh mint garnish and a striped paper straw. It's the classiest Shamrock Shake that'll ever pass your lips.
1½ oz. green crème de menthe
1½ oz. white crème de cacao
1 oz. half and half
1 tsp. Fernet-Branca
Pinch of sea salt
8 oz. crushed ice
4 oz. vanilla ice cream
Combine ingredients in a blender and blend on high speed until smooth. Or place all ingredients in a plastic container and mix up with an immersion blender. Serve in a tall frozen glass and garnish with a mint sprig.
Photo by David L. Reamer