- Arianna Auber American-Statesman Staff
When “Sex and the City” turned Cosmopolitans into the drink of choice for many women in the early 2000s, one crucial ingredient in them also became a big trend: vodka, often flavored with hints of lemon and orange.
Nowadays, you’ll find everything from pineapples to marshmallows added to vodka, but none have experienced more success in Austin than one made right here in town. Deep Eddy Ruby Red has flown off liquor store shelves since debuting late spring last year, and that’s in part because grapefruit is a perfectly natural addition to cocktails — Palomas, Greyhounds and Sea Breezes are among drinks that feature the citrus fruit — and in part because Deep Eddy Ruby Red is, quite frankly, incredibly tasty, able to be sipped by itself with only some ice and club soda.
It was a no-brainer to have a grapefruit infusion, Deep Eddy co-founder Chad Auler said; with vodka, it has always been a classic cocktail combination. Texas is also home to sweet red grapefruits (currently in season), and their citrusy but not acidic, sweet but not cloying characteristics make them an easy choice for infusing with vodka.
Deep Eddy, founded in 2010, had experimented with flavored vodka once before with its Deep Eddy Sweet Tea, and its founders didn’t know what to expect when they released Ruby Red a month or two behind schedule. They’d spent that extra time getting the recipe just right, an attention to detail that quickly paid off.
“We surpassed our goals by 700 percent over our forecast,” Auler said. “That’s a great problem to have. We had to turn to our distillery guys and say, ‘Time to work double shifts.’”
That’s testament to Deep Eddy’s well-made spirit — and to Austinites’ support for anything made locally — but it says a lot about grapefruit, too.
The ruby-colored fruit that Texas farmers grow in the southern region of the state is a relatively new type of citrus, the result of a mutation that produced a red grapefruit on a pink grapefruit tree in 1929. Farmers found that the redder the fruit, the sweeter the taste, and that taste is key to why so many people prefer red grapefruits over pink or white (which can be very sour). In fact, Texas grapefruit growers wanted to protect this sweet accidental find so much that the Texas Ruby Red was the first-ever grapefruit to be patented. More recent, even redder varieties are now called Texas Rio Star.
Twin Liquors’ Sandra Spalding has long found grapefruit to be a refreshing substitute for lemon, limes and other citrus fruits in cocktails that typically don’t feature the juice of a grapefruit.
“What I tell people about subbing things is to find a drink you like, understand the base components, pull one ingredient out and put another in its place,” she said. “For example, a Paloma versus a margarita — swap out the lime for the grapefruit.”
And, of course, always juice your own grapefruits fresh rather than buying a jug of concentrate, which often has far too much added sugar. At the store, look for grapefruits that seem heavy for their size and have a smooth skin; both characteristics are signs of lots of juice. Spalding recommends keeping them in the fridge until you’re ready to use them; at that point, let them get down to room temperature because it’s difficult to extract juice when they’re cold.
She also said it’s important to juice them no more than 24 hours before you’re going to drink the grapefruit beverage, or the juice starts breaking down and losing the acid and other qualities that help to make a cocktail balanced.
One cocktail ingredient she finds especially compatible with grapefruit juice — but isn’t as obvious a pairing as vodka or tequila — is Campari, a bright red liqueur that she likes to serve on the rocks with club soda, a dash of orange and a couple ounces of grapefruit juice. The grapefruit, she said, “mellows the bitterness” of the Campari.
If you’re not wanting to juice grapefruits, though, Deep Eddy Ruby Red is a worthy alternative for any vodka drinks you might crave. Spalding noted that when Twin Liquors first started carrying bottles of it last year, no one anticipated how fast they’d be bought. Early on, a handful of stores even ran out of them for a couple of weeks.
“In some ways, flavored vodkas have gotten out of hand with all these wacky flavors, but Deep Eddy Ruby Red right out of the gate was a gangbuster,” Spalding said. “When you start out with such a wonderful base and add to that something meaningful, the home-grown grapefruits … we weren’t even having to sell it. People were coming in and asking for it. It’s just so easy to drink.”