Summer superhero spritzer

Summer superhero spritzer
Ari LeVaux - 07/16/2020

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 of 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 our pack of kids came into the house thirsty. Joan, their mom, emptied jars of grape juice and bubbly into a pitcher of ice, and poured the mixture into glasses on the big dark dining room table. It hit the spot like a jump in the lake.

Carbonated 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 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).

Although I didn’t realize it at the time, Joan’s simple drink harnessed multiple forces into that unusually satisfying drink. It contained plenty of those elusive sugar molecules, thanks to that sweet grape juice. Because of the carbonic acid, bubbly has a sour taste which harmonizes with the sour component of the grape. In that hot, dehydrated moment around the dark wooden table, the cold combination of spicy, sour and sweet was like being plugged into an electrical socket of thirst-quenching power.

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 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 and carbonic acid. Grapefruit is also bitter, a flavor that, like sour or 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 the 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 sweet bubbles and acids will help you squeeze every drop of summer onto the melting ice cubes of life.

Rose 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 before you add them to the drink. 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 Limon I brought home from Spain.

Bubbles and Roses

Serves 6

2 lemons, 1 juiced and one sliced

1 grapefruit, half juiced and the other half sliced

6 sprigs spearmint

Rose petals, preferably yellow (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 in the ice cubes with rose petals and thin slices of fruit in each glass, and 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.

Top Shelf

Remembering two singing cowboys
Remembering two singing cowboys
By Chris Aaland
07/09/2020

More than a century ago, Ada Habershon and Charles Gabriel wrote what would become one of the most popular Christian hymns of all-time, “Will the Circle Be Unbroken.”

A secret mission
A secret mission
By Chris Aaland
06/25/2020

Gather the backyard 'quaranteam' for reimagined community concerts

Bluegrass through the years
Bluegrass through the years
By Chris Aaland
06/18/2020

For 23 straight years, I packed my car and coolers for Telluride Bluegrass.

Lucinda unplugged
Lucinda unplugged
By Chris Aaland
06/04/2020

Don’t question the compassion of Lucinda Williams. Ever since her mid-teens, she has spoken truth to power.

Read All in Top Shelf

Day in the Life

A day at the beach
A day at the beach
By Stephen Eginoire
06/18/2020

What does one do when their favorite summer swimming hole is teeming with reptilian and amphibian aquatic life?

Soaking it up
Soaking it up
05/21/2020
Local color: Telegraph coloring page winners
Local color: Telegraph coloring page winners
04/30/2020

A look at some (OK, all) of the Telegraph's coloring page submissions

Sole man
Sole man
03/12/2020

At the age of 19, Durango’s Mervin “Merv” Stilson started making shoes and never looked back (except for the time he made a Western-style jacket for Neil Young).

Read All in Day on the Life