Every October I make Concord grape juice, and then 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, or bacon, or even mayonnaise, but I’ll never forget my first sip of spicy grape juice.
The Power TrioCarbonated water, aka seltzer or bubbly, contains carbonic acid, which triggers receptors on the taste buds that detect mustard and horseradish. This produces the distinct spicy taste of bubbly.
For some reason, a little pain in the water makes it more drinkable—for some people, anyway. The action is similar to how a dash of spicy hot sauce can make a taco more delicious. LaCroix, the beverage company, has leveraged the resulting endorphin rush into drinks that feel like soda pop, even when completely unsweetened.
It was unusual to consume something so completely satisfying out of Joan’s kitchen. Her style of cooking was my first exposure to the unprocessed, “natural,” far-left wing of food. Of whole grains, carob, nuts, and beans. Her arch-enemy 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 cover long distances through the woods (sometimes popping out near a gas station that sold candy).
Summer ExperimentsYears 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 is a uniquely satisfying feeling. Nowadays, I use Joan’s mix as a base for exploring more complex combinations of sweet, sour, and pain.
My current spicy grape juice recipe includes both lemon and grapefruit juices as well, which add extra shades of tartness to complement the grape juice and carbonic acid. Grapefruit is also bitter, a flavor that, like sour and like bubbles, softens with a little sweetness.
I like to add spearmint, which has a sweet flavor, and I add rose petals, when available, preferably yellow, which goes best with purple. The petals float there and smell beautiful 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.
Bubbles and RosesRose petals are not essential to the architecture of this drink, so don’t sweat it if you can’t find any. But if you know a rose bush that has not been sprayed, then by all means pick a few—with permission, if necessary. Rinse off any bugs or dust that might be on the petals, and prepare to add them to the drink. Just make sure to use a straw so you don’t get petals in your mouth.
If you can’t get spearmint, find the sweetest mint you can. If you wish to add booze, I suggest limoncello or something like it, such as the licor de limón I brought home from Spain.
- 2 lemons, 1 juiced and one sliced
- 1 grapefruit, one half juiced and the other half sliced
- 6 sprigs spearmint
- Petals of a rose, preferably yellow (optional)
- 1 quart grape juice
- 1 quart seltzer