I don’t know about you, but when August rolls into view, there’s nothing I want more than sphenopalatine ganglioneuralgia. Delicious, delicious sphenopalatine ganglioneuralgia!
I make a joke. Few among us would actually desire sphenopalatine ganglioneuralgia. But it tends to accompany something we do want during summer: frozen drinks, the kind you pour into your face in hopes they’ll provide some protection against the Jabba-the-Hutt-armpit that is a D.C. summer.
“Sphenopalatine ganglioneuralgia” is the sciencey term for brain freeze, that searing bolt to the temples that waits in every Popsicle and crouches beneath every scoop of ice cream, like the troll under the billy-goat bridge. A pox upon it, spoiler of delicious frozen things, deliverer of karmic vengeance upon those of us who would purge the summer sweats by sucking down chilly ribbons of sweetness!
It’s no coincidence this brief but agonizing affliction — caused by dilation and contraction of arteries near the brain in response to the sudden freezing temperature at the back of the throat — is also known as an ice cream headache. Sweetness, I think, lures us into the trap. A 2005 study pointed out how temperature affects flavor perceptions: Ice cream, researchers noted, doesn’t taste sweet when frozen, but only once we melt it in our mouths. The same thing happens with frozen drinks. There we are, frozen margarita shooting up our straws and arriving at our warm palates, which bring it to the temperature where it tastes perfect, and so we keep slurping until — BOOM — flavor perception collides with cranial-circulatory reality and reminds us, with brutal efficiency, to slurp slower.
Just as ice cream makers add a ton of sugar to compensate for the taste-dulling effect of the treat’s frozen state, frozen drinks need intense flavors to make up not only for our numbed tongues but for all that blended ice, which melts much more quickly than bigger cubes. If the drink isn’t a flavor punch on delivery, it’s going to be a vague, watery mess by the time you’re done drinking it.
Time spent strolling party streets in New Orleans and Key West can show what happens when this principle is taken to its extreme: aggressively sweet, chemically fruity concoctions whirled in what look like daiquiri washing machines, shades of Kool-Aid red and Dimetapp purple that melt down into equally cloying syrups.
But intense flavor doesn’t have to mean all sweetness. “You can do frozen bitter drinks,” says John Lermayer, bartender and proprietor of Sweet Liberty Drinks & Supply Company in Miami Beach. “Frozen drinks don’t have to be in the piña colada or the strawberry margarita family. You can do Negronis and other kinds of drink too.”
I talked to Lermayer and two other top bartenders — Julie Reiner, owner of the Clover Club in New York City and author of “The Craft Cocktail Party,” and Jeffrey Morgenthaler, owner of Clyde Common in Portland and author of “The Bar Book” — to get their take on how to make balanced blended drinks and beg a few recipes. Specifically, I narrowed in on three frozen drinks that are indulgent and delicious enough to be enjoyed mindlessly on a beach if you’re so inclined, but also complex and interesting (so feel free to ruminate geekily upon them if your beach book turns out to be a dud).
But first, some basic tips: When making blended drinks, the most common errors are not including enough flavorsome components (juice, sweeteners, booze) by volume, and adding too much ice. “Frozen drinks are tough,” Reiner says, “because the makeup of a cocktail when you’re shaking it with ice is totally different than when you’re blending it with ice. You have to up the citrus and up the sugar, or it doesn’t taste balanced.”
Morgenthaler says that’s one reason to used crushed ice: It’s easier to add to the blender in smaller amounts, so you don’t add too much. The second reason: “At home you probably don’t have a blender that’s capable of chewing through large chunks of ice,” he says. “Even people with professional blenders use crushed ice. Home blenders just don’t have the horsepower.”
Reiner’s Frogroni is a mischievous optical illusion. “It’s a red frozen drink, so visually, you’re going to look at it and go, ‘Ooh, that looks so sweet and delicious!’ And then you take a sip and are like, ‘Oh my gosh, it’s so bitter,’ ” Reiner says. Yet not too bitter; the drink is more approachable than a classic Negroni, brought to a summery state with lemon and strawberries. “I wanted it to be well-balanced and surprising, but not so shockingly Campari,” Reiner says. (A broader tip: Strawberries and red Italian bitters are generally fantastic together; Reiner’s book contains a recipe for strawberry-infused Aperol that makes killer spritzes.)
The indulgent Grasshopper Shake that Morgenthaler developed grew out of (but swerved from) the Grasshopper cocktail, a sweet monstrosity of a drink made from crème de menthe, crème de cacao and cream. When it’s made as a cocktail, I find it repellent, but I loved Morgenthaler’s variation when I had it at Pepé le Moko a few years ago. Essentially, he has taken a drink that always wanted to be dessert and let it do its thing, adding ice cream and blending it into a shake, then complicating the picture with some surprises.
When he first made it, “it tasted too much like fake chocolate and fake mint,” Morgenthaler says. “It needed something with a little more depth.” It got that with a teaspoon of bitter, minty Fernet Branca, and Morgenthaler threw in a pinch of salt to tame the bitterness. He exults in using green Bols crème de menthe, eschewing fancy brands that he finds overly minty and that don’t have the color. “A grasshopper is green. The drink and the insect,” he points out. “If it doesn’t contain any artificial coloring, well, you’re not going to use it for this [bleeping] drink.” I’ll confess to betraying his approach here: I did use fancy craft crème de menthe. Tempus Fugit’s is powerfully minty, but I thought it was nicely muted by the ice cream. And as for the missing color, I used a drop of [bleeping] food coloring.
You would have to expect a decent piña colada from Sweet Liberty, which sits about a block from South Beach and was recently named best American High Volume Cocktail Bar at the Tales of the Cocktail conference in New Orleans. But there’s no reason it had to be this good. The secret is not only the blend of rums, but the unexpected components: a float of Pedro Ximenez sherry, which Lermayer points out “has that maple and deep chocolate which goes great with coconut cream,” but also coffee, added for flavor and a visual speckle effect. “By putting whole coffee beans into the blender, you get that smell when you grind fresh coffee beans,” Lermayer says. “So you have this roasted, deep, creamy coffee scent and flavor added to the drink.”
What these drinks have in common (beyond being frozen and delicious) is balance, and that little something-something that startles the palate. They’re a slap to the system, but — unlike sphenopalatine ganglioneuralgia, our least-welcome summer guest — one that you’ll want to repeat. Unless you drink them too fast.
Allan is a Hyattsville, Md., writer and editor. Follow her on Twitter: @Carrie_the_Red.
Bartender Julie Reiner’s summery deep-freeze adjusts the classic Negroni recipe and adds strawberries — which go beautifully with the Campari — and the brightness of lemon.
Adapted from a recipe by Reiner, co-owner of the Clover Club and other New York bars.
1 cup crushed ice
¾ ounce Campari
2 ounces gin
¾ ounce sweet vermouth
¼ cup fresh lemon juice (from 1 or 2 lemons)
1¼ ounces simple syrup (see NOTE)
Twist of orange peel, for garnish
Chill a tall glass.
Wash and hull two of the strawberries. Place in a blender, along with the ice, Campari, gin, vermouth, lemon juice and simple syrup; puree until smooth. Pour into the chilled glass; garnish with the remaining strawberry and the twist of orange peel.
NOTE: To make simple syrup, combine 1 cup of sugar and 1 cup of water in a small saucepan over medium heat, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Bring to a low boil, then cool. Transfer to a heatproof container. Once it has cooled to room temperature, cover tightly and refrigerate until chilled through; store indefinitely.
Nutrition | Per serving: 330 calories, 0 g protein, 36 g carbohydrates, 0 g fat, 0 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 0 mg sodium, 0 g dietary fiber, 24 g sugar
This frozen version of the Grasshopper adds complexity to what, in its original form, is a sticky-sweet drink.
Bar manager Jeffrey Morgenthaler recommends green Bols creme de menthe (for flavor and the proper grasshopper color), but if you don’t have any, we found that the clear version of Tempus Fugit (and a drop of green food coloring) will suffice.
Adapted from a recipe by Morgenthaler, of Pepe le Moko and Clyde Common in Portland, Ore.
1 cup crushed ice
1½ ounces green creme de menthe (see headnote)
1½ ounces white creme de cacao
1 ounce half-and-half
1 teaspoon Fernet Branca
Pinch sea salt
4 ounces (½ cup) vanilla ice cream
Mint sprig, for garnish
Place a tall glass in the freezer.
Combine the ice, creme de menthe, creme de cacao, half-and-half, Fernet Branca, salt and ice cream in a blender; puree on high speed until smooth and thick.
Pour into the tall, frosty glass; garnish with the mint sprig.
Nutrition | Per serving: 680 calories, 20 g protein, 73 g carbohydrates, 21 g fat, 13 g saturated fat, 135 mg cholesterol, 240 mg sodium, 0 g dietary fiber, 60 g sugar
This frozen cocktail contains two delightful surprises: a float of sweet sherry, and coffee beans that go surprisingly well with the classic flavors.
At Sweet Liberty Drinks & Supply Company, a house blend of spiced, coconut and aged rums is used; you can do the same or keep it simple with an aged rum. The bar makes its own coconut cream; Coco Lopez cream of coconut works well here.
Adapted from a recipe by John Lermayer, bartender and proprietor of Sweet Liberty Drinks & Supply Company in Miami.
1½ cups crushed ice
1½ ounces aged rum (may substitute rum blend of your choice; see headnote)
Two 1-inch fresh pineapple chunks
1½ ounces pineapple juice
3 ounces cream of coconut (see headnote)
5 coffee beans
1 ounce Pedro Ximénez sherry
Mint sprig, for garnish (optional)
Fresh cherry, for garnish (optional)
Chill a tall glass.
Combine the ice, rum, pineapple chunks and juice, cream of coconut and coffee beans in a blender; puree until smooth.
Pour into the chilled glass; pour the sherry on top. Garnish with the mint sprig and/or cherry, if using.
Nutrition | Per serving: 550 calories, 0 g protein, 72 g carbohydrates, 15 g fat, 14 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 50 mg sodium, 0 g dietary fiber, 73 g sugar
Recipes tested by M. Carrie Allan; email questions to firstname.lastname@example.org
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