Bartenders mastered the alchemy of "gin and juice" long before Snoop Dog rapped about its appeal. The gin-and-lemon-based "Aviation," for instance, thrived before Prohibition. The effervescent "Gin Fizz" -- which calls for simple syrup, lemon juice and carbonated water -- first appeared in Jerry Thomas's 1887 Bartender's Guide.
And cocktail pioneers have also learned to combine gin with an unlikely partner: grapefruit juice. In fact, in the last year, several Pittsburgh bars have begun offering new twists on the gin-grapefruit combo, which dates at least as far back as the 1940s.
At Casbah in Shadyside, you can try a "Ruby Red Salty Dog" -- a marriage of 2 oz. Bluecoat gin and 4 oz. pink-grapefruit juice, freshly squeezed. The "Dog" costs only $6 during happy hour (it's $10 regularly), and is served in a martini glass laced with homemade grapefruit-salt (grapefruit rinds are desiccated in salt, and then crumbled together).
Eleven, in the Strip District, features the $11 "Pink Lady" -- a mixture of Philadelphia-made Bluecoat Gin, sloe gin, grapefruit juice and homemade grenadine (crafted by executive chef Derek Stevens). It's a great precursor to more serious beverages, and the true grenadine, made from pomegranates instead of cherries or other berries, rounds out all the flavors.
Lee Schmitt, who bartends at Eleven, says grapefruit's tartness and sweetness accentuate the botanicals inherent in gin. And the juice often draws out subtle flavors while dampening the "pine tree" taste that many people scorn.
"The grapefruit opens up the gin to more aspects than the gin already has," Schmitt explains. Considering the numerous flavors in gin, he adds, grapefruit juice is "a nice, easy complement."
Ask Schmitt to shake up a "Blue Basil" (1¼ oz. Bluecoat Gin; ¾ oz. St. Germain Elderflower Liqueur; 2 oz. freshly squeezed grapefruit juice; and ripped basil leaves). He created the concoction with a fellow bartender only a few weeks ago. It's not on the menu currently, but the tingle of basil complements the gin-grapefruit, and showcases the range of the unlikely, but classic pairing.