The history of this minty green cocktail found its beginnings in New Orleans over a century ago. By Holly Graham.
In 2016, Tujague’s in New Orleans celebrated its 160th birthday. The stalwart claims it is New Orleans’ second oldest dining institution, the birthplace of brunch and before a move in 2020, was home to the oldest stand-up bar in America. Legend has it that Tujague’s is the birthplace of the Grasshopper cocktail, which celebrated its 100th birthday in 2018.
Mean, green and made with cream, the guilty pleasure of the Grasshopper’s original recipe calls for equal parts crème de menthe, crème de cacao and cream, and supposedly takes its name from its verdant hue.
Like most cocktail lore, the Grasshopper’s history is as dubious as any cocktail origin story, and has possibly been diluted over the years. But to begin the history lesson, we must go back to 1852, when newlyweds Guillaume and Marie Abadie Tujague left Bordeaux in France for a new life in America.
Guillaume’s first job was as a butcher in the French Market before the couple opened Tujague’s Restaurant in 1856 at 811 Decatur Street. This placed the restaurant three doors down from Begue’s Exchange which was famed for its long and indulgent breakfast gatherings. To compete, Tujague’s laid on a “Butcher’s Breakfast”, which is supposedly when the tradition of brunch was born.
When Guillaume died in 1912, his sister Alice Tujague Anouilh and her husband, Etienne, took over Tujague’s, and two years later they moved the restaurant into the old Begue’s Exchange space. Sadly, Etienne passed away not long after the move, so Alice sold the restaurant to Philip Guichet, Sr., and his business partner, Jean-Dominic (John) Castet.
While Philip was born in the state of Louisiana, New Orleans was a new home for him, and John – who had previously worked at Begue’s Exchange – arrived in New Orleans in 1908 from France. John’s wife Clemence helmed the kitchen, and post Prohibition and World War II, Tujague’s bar was packed bright and early every morning, serving French Market butchers while John and Philip tended bar.
It’s said that Philip invented the Grasshopper at some point in 1919 – some accounts even claim it was invented on the eve of prohibition – winning second place at a cocktail competition in New York and proudly serving it back home at Tujague’s where it gained popularity.
John passed away in 1958, followed by Clemence in 1965, and owing to the fact they had no children, Philip was left with full ownership, and his sons Philip Jr. and Otis joined him in the business. The bar had shifted clientele from its butcher’s days, becoming a clubhouse for politicians and the prosperous.
The Guichets sold Tujague’s to brothers Steven and Stanford Latter in 1982, and when Steven suddenly passed away in 2013, his son Mark took over with his wife Candace.
In late 2020, Tujague’s moved to 429 Decatur Street, but sadly the original stand-up bar was too aged and delicate to make the journey, but a replica was created to pay homage to the original. Original pieces that made the journey include a mirror that was behind the bar – said to be older than America own to the fact it was brought over from France in 1856 from Paris, already at an estimated ninety years old on its arrival – the bar’s original foot rail, light fixtures and a portrait of Otis Guichet.
That’s a little back story on Tujague’s up to the current day, but back to the Grasshopper and its questionable origins. The exact date of the drink’s invention is debated, but New Orleans food historian and author of the Tujague’s Cookbook Poppy Tooker says she has found newspaper articles from 1919 that refer to the cocktail, backing up the fact the Grasshopper was likely being served then. Unfortunately Prohibition meant there wouldn’t have been a written record of Philip’s win at the cocktail competition – no one seems to remember who came first, either – and the restaurant didn’t print menus until 1982. However, according to Eater, Mark has photos of Philip and his prize ribbons to back up the claim.
With cocktails ultimately being a twist on this or a riff on that, a recipe in William Boothby’s reveals The World’s Drinks and How to Mix Them, published in 1908, lists a drink called the Grasshopper which layers equal parts of creme de menthe and creme de cacao, and is credited to Harry O’Brian of The Palace Hotel, San Francisco. Imbibe also mentions that a grasshopper cocktail was mentioned in a Nebraska newspaper in 1874, detailing a young man who “hopped around very lively after partaking a Grasshopper”. The ingredients weren’t mentioned in that instance, but it’s also worth noting that in July of that same year, Nebraska experienced a “great grasshopper raid” in which swarms of the insects descended on Nebraska and decimated crops. “Grasshopper” would’ve arguably been a big part of Nebraska’s vernacular in 1874 due to this plague.
Fast forward to the 1950s, when Wisconsin supper clubs re-popularised the Grasshopper in a boozy dessert form, swapping out the heavy cream for ice cream. It’s suspected that due to the combination of Wisconsin’s dairy industry, its claim to being the birthplace of the ice cream sundae and the place where the blender was invented played a big role in the state’s ice cream cocktail boom.
The 1970s and 80s saw another resurgence for the Grasshopper in the disco era, when sweet, garish cocktails were all the rage. Think Pina Coladas and Blue Hawaiis and a variety of other drinks that either stood the test of time or faded in obscurity. The Grasshopper continues to make appearances on menus, and bartenders – as much as many will be pained to admit they enjoy them – are elevating this creamy classic in various ways. In 2020, the Artesian in London paid homage to the disco era, designing a Disco Drinks menu featuring elevated versions of these typically tacky drinks. Their Grasshopper was served Martini style and added whiskey and salt to the recipe to add depth and salinity.
Here in Asia, there is less desire for creamy drinks – owing in part to the hot climate a majority of the region experiences – but it is lurking on some menus and dare I say on the cusp of making a comeback. I myself have created a version using creme de cacao, Branca Menta in place of creme de menthe and malted soy milk instead of cream, adding some soy sauce to elevate the savoury notes. It went down a treat.
Over in Australia at Sammy Jr, Martin Hudak dials back the mint and boosts the cacao and cream, adding liquor Acqua Bianca by Salvatore ‘The Maestro’ Calabrese and topping with grated chocolate.
Kuala Lumpur’s Three X Co features a cocktail called Grasshopper Pie with vodka, sweetcorn, mint and matcha green tea powder, macadamia and egg yolk. It’s inspired by a traditional Hokkien snack called apam balik, meaning flip pancake, commonly sold in Malaysian food markets. The core ingredients of apam balik are sweetcorn and egg yolk, hence their addition to this cocktail, with matcha powder to balance the sweetness of the cocktail.