Combat hot weather with carbonated grape juice


Every October, I make Concord grape juice and seal it away in jars. I hoard these sweet vessels until the following summer, when I mix a chilled beverage called spicy grape juice.

I don’t remember my first taste of chocolate, bacon or even mayonnaise, but I’ll never forget my first sip of spicy grape juice. I was an 8-year-old city boy visiting friends deep in the Massachusetts countryside. One hot day, we came into the house thirsty. My friends’ mom, Joan, emptied a jar of grape juice and a few cans of carbonated water into a pitcher of ice and poured the mixture into glasses. In that hot, dehydrated moment, the cold combination of spicy, sour and sweet flavors was like being plugged into an electrical socket of thirst-quenching power.

Carbonated water, aka seltzer or bubbly, contains carbonic acid, which triggers receptors in the taste buds that detect flavors like mustard and horseradish. This produces the beverage’s distinctly spicy taste. For some reason, a little pain in the water makes it more drinkable, similar to how a dash of spicy hot sauce can make a taco more delicious.

It was unusual to consume something so satisfying out of Joan’s kitchen. Her style of cooking was my first exposure to the unprocessed, “natural” far-left wing of food. She lived on whole grains, carob, nuts and beans. Her archenemy was sugar.

I wondered if this diet had something to do with the fact that Joan’s kids were as tough as superheroes. They would jump off the roof for fun and could cover long distances through the woods, sometimes popping out near a gas station that sold candy.

Years later, I found myself with a Concord grape plant of my own and, as luck had it, a home seltzer maker. Suddenly, I had all the spicy grape juice I cared to drink, which was a uniquely satisfying feeling. Nowadays, I use Joan’s mix as a base for exploring more complex combinations of sweet, sour and spicy.

My current spicy grape juice recipe includes lemon and grapefruit juice as well, which add extra shades of tartness. Grapefruit is also bitter, a flavor that, like sourness and spiciness, softens with a little sweetness. I like to add spearmint, which has a sweet flavor, and rose petals when available. The petals provide a beautiful scent while you drink, a reminder to smell those roses while you can because summer won’t wait. And this is one of the best ways to enjoy it. Whether you take your spicy grape juice mixed, spiked or straight, the bubbles and acid will help you squeeze every drop of summer onto the melting ice cubes of life.

Bubbles and roses

Rose petals aren’t essential to the architecture of this drink, so don’t sweat it if you can’t find any. But if you know of a rose bush that hasn’t been sprayed, go ahead and pick a few — with permission if necessary. Just be sure to use a straw so the petals don’t end up in your mouth.

If you can’t find spearmint, use the sweetest mint available. If you wish to add booze, I suggest limoncello or another citrus liqueur.

Serves six

Two lemons, one juiced and one sliced
One grapefruit, half juiced and half sliced
Six sprigs spearmint
Petals of a rose (optional)
1 quart grape juice
1 quart seltzer

Divide the lemon and grapefruit juice among six glasses. Add a sprig of mint to each glass. Layer the ice cubes, rose petals and thin slices of fruit in each glass, then add the grape juice. Finally, add the bubbly to each glass slowly so it stays on top and doesn’t mix until you want it to. Serve during a hot summer afternoon.




No comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here

Connect with us