How does the Grasshopper keep finding its way back to the bar? By most standards, the creamy, glow-green cocktail ought to have fallen out of favor decades ago. Yet it keeps hopping on back—each resurrection different from the last.
The classic Grasshopper, a mix of crème de menthe, crème de cacao and cream, has long been beloved as a guilty-pleasure drink, thanks to its familiar chocolate chip–mint flavor profile and eye-catching color. According to most accounts, the drink was created at New Orleans bar Tujague’s, and the version perfected there by bartender Paul Gustings deserves its acclaim. In fact, it’s become a rite of passage during Tales of the Cocktail to suck back a tulip glass or two, a ritual that has helped keep the drink in the collective bar consciousness. Dale DeGroff’s take on the drink, which won Punch’s blind tasting of Grasshoppers, simplifies the recipe but hews closely to the classic.
The drink caught a second wind a few years back as bartenders experimented with retooling “disco drinks” of decades past. Portland bartender Jeffrey Morgenthaler’s milkshake-like take on the Grasshopper at now-closed Pépé le Moko—blended with vanilla ice cream, Fernet-Branca and just a pinch of sea salt—quickly became a standard.
“I just added a teaspoon of Fernet because I found the drink to be a little one-note—kinda like a less-interesting version of a York Peppermint Patty,” Morgenthaler recalls about creating the drink in 2013. “Fernet brings earthy chocolate flavor to the party.”
Fast-forward a few years and bartenders have rediscovered the Grasshopper yet again. You can draw a straight line back to Morgenthaler’s version, as almost every modern riff now employs either Fernet-Branca or its gentler sister, Branca Menta. The latter has a pronounced spearmint note that some bartenders use to supplement, or even replace, crème de menthe.
While the latest wave pays homage to the original—and Morgenthaler’s variation along with it—many of the drinks take a far leap and land in a place that’s barely recognizable. Consider the Branca Menta–based Praying Mantis, from Pittsburgh’s Spork, and the Meletti Fernet–based Grasshopper from Leopold’s in Madison, Wisconsin, which transform the drink from dessert replacement to amaro-forward digestivo. David Kinsey, of San Diego’s Kindred, takes it another step forward, reimagining the drink as a cross between the ice cream classic and a Brandy Alexander, while New York’s Garret Richard looks to tiki for inspiration, combining Branca-Menta, fragrant pandan extract and five-spice bitters over crushed ice for his Grasshopper Swizzle.
And then there’s the Grasshopper Milk Punch from London’s Stillwater, arguably one of the more boundary-pushing versions out there, clarified to a transparent spring green. It grew out of a spirited post-shift debate over the milk punch trend, recalls Dan Priseman, then-managing partner at now-closed Stillwater. “I said that the only milky drink I would be willing to clarify would be the Grasshopper, because I have always thought it is one of the best cocktails of all time.”