Grapefruit has a shorter history than most of the cocktail fruits. In fact, the earliest documented reference to an existing grapefruit (1750, Rev. Griffith Hughes) comes well after some of the earliest documented punches. Grapefruit was mentioned as a replacement for orange in some 18th-century punches, but for the most part grapefruit sat on the sidelines for the early parts of cocktail history. In the 20th century, the grapefruit would begin to find traction with popular drinks such as the Hemingway daiquiri, Blinker, and Brown Derby. Today, it is wildly popular with moden mixologists due to its complex flavor and low price per-pound.
With a PH balance and sugar content roughly equivalent to an orange, the grapefruit differentiates itself through a complex, earthy flavor and infectious bittersweetness. Because grapefruit is very similar to orange in its acidity and sweetness, it can serve as a fun and interesting stand in for many orange drinks. Don’t expect the same drink, but the results might be equally satisfying.
It is important to note that grapefruit comes in several varieties, some of which will alter the color of your drink. Ruby red and star ruby varieties will yield a juice much higher in red coloring. If the color of your drink is delicate and important to the presentation, be mindful of what you select at the market.
Grapefruits yield a fruity, earthy, and bitter smelling peel that works wonderfully in drinks like the Americano, Negroni, and scorched earth. Because grapefruits are generally quite large, you will have the opportunity to make very long, flamboyant peel that can wrap around the glass in a spiral effect. The best way to make a grapefruit peel is with a citrus peeler, though a paring knife can be used in a pinch.
Like its chemically similar cousin orange juice, grapefruit juice can be difficult to work with due to its relatively high sweetness-to-acidity ratio. This low acidity can leave drinks built on grapefruit juice tasting a bit flat. Classics like the brown derby and hemingway daiquiri get around this by combining grapefruit with lemon or lime. The blinker uses proportions similar to an old fashioned, and allows the grapefruit to operate almost like a sweetener. At it’s best, grapefruit juice can yield a delectably round, smooth drink perfect for afternoon drinking and summer parties.
Although it is typically less used than orange wedge, grapefruit offers a similarly fun and showy wedge that is worth a consideration when working with grapefruit cocktails. We use it as a substitute for a grapefruit twist in the excellent soul clench cocktail from Death & Co.