Winter in Arizona means more than people wearing heavy down parkas in 50 degree weather, it also means citrus season. In yards all over town and in groves outside the city limits, grapefruit are nearing their peak size and weighing down branches. Lots of people have their own thing that they do with these tart giants--bake it with brown sugar and a maraschino cherry!-- but three Valley bars have cocktails on their menus that truly celebrate the imminent arrival of the grapefruit.
Windsor, No. 4. ($9.50) This drink is served in a short glass with one large ice cube in the middle. It's interesting that a grapefruit cocktail in it's color and size and shape could look so strikingly like the fruit of which it is primarily composed. New Amsterdam gin is always a great gin base for citrus cocktails, as it's not too floral or spicy like other gins and works well with bold flavors like bitter citrus. Cardamom syrup balances out the fresh, tart juice but doesn't negate the texture and aroma of Bitterman's Hopped Grapefruit Bitters, which are generously added to the cocktail. Rather than overpowering the whole cocktail, these bitters just add a hint more citrus rind flavor--and of course hops--and a truly lovely scent. Perhaps the cutest thing is that in the center of the large ice cube is a little slice of grapefruit, just as a garnish and to give the drink a little extra color.
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The Henry, Texas Paloma. ($9.50) The Texas Paloma is simple enough but really refreshingly divine and just screams grapefruit. The base is Deep Eddy "Ruby Red" Vodka from Austin (hence the Texas), which is infused with all natural grapefruit and sweetened with real cane sugar which makes for a sweet and flavorful vodka with almost no bite. Then, beautiful pink grapefruit juice that has been squeezed in-house every morning is topped off with Mexican Squirt, just to keep it on the sweet side. The pulp of the juice combined with the bubbles makes for a fun texture that matches the adorable pink of the drink. It's refreshing, light and simple.
Crudo, Milano Gimlet. ($12) This drink is not for the cautious. Gin, grapefruit, lime, grapefruit-cardamom syrup, basil and -- Fernet Branca? Many people find the legendary digestif Fernet to be too powerful, too herbal to use in cocktails and to be totally honest it rarely ever works. But bartender Andrew had a great explanation when asked why they chose to use basil instead of mint, which is a prominent flavor in Fernet: "We wanted to bring out the earthy, vegetal quality of the Fernet Branca." So the goal here is to play to the strengths of the drink overall, not enhance what the Fernet already brings, just as the grapefruit juice interacts with the strength of the bitter but still maintains sweetness from natural sugars and the homemade grapefruit-cardamom syrup. Making the syrup is a neat process: take the rind of the grapefruit and leave it in dry sugar overnight to extract the aromatic oils, and then boil down a simple syrup with that. The flavor has a beginning, middle and end just like a story. It's tart and refreshing at first, then earthy and herbal but not overwhelmingly bitter. The oils linger on the tongue at the end of every sip, and every sip is complex and interesting but very clearly grapefruit.
(Bonus: During happy hour, Crudo also has a Paloma available for $7 if the Milano Gimlet is too daunting. This is basically just a margarita with grapefruit juice instead of lime, but Andrew disagrees.)