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Posted on Sun, Feb 13, 2011 : 5 p.m.

Winter survival cocktails: The Salty Dog

By Clive Watson


The Salty Dog

Clive Watson | Contributor

Grapefruit season is here, and just in time. Nothing banishes winter blues better than a bracing round of Salty Dogs. The peak of citrus season arrives almost like an apology for winter — or a coping mechanism, at the very least. Sure, you might rather be sipping Mojitos out on the pontoon, but the bitter cold and the long days indoors make an infusion of fresh, bright citrus all the more urgent. So, without delay, to the refrigerator!

The Salty Dog

  • 2 ounces gin
  • 5 ounces fresh ruby red grapefruit juice

Combine ingredients in a cocktail shaker, shake and pour over new ice in a salt-rimmed glass.

Sure, it’s a pretty simple cocktail. None of the ingredients require three day long herbal infusion. You don’t need to suspend hibiscus blossoms in aspic, muddle cilantro or vivisect kumquats. Nothing need be marinated, stuffed or strained through cheesecloth. And no known version of this recipe requires that anything be set on fire. (Note to self: come up with a version of this recipe that requires setting things on fire.) But there’s a real beauty to simplicity, and that’s a beauty this drink has in spades.

Here’s how it works: it’s a simple contrast of intense flavors. The rich sweetness and bracing tartness of grapefruit juice collides with the lacerating intensity of the salt rim, and the result is some real pyrotechnics of the palate. Give your taste buds a moment to adjust — they may be a bit shell-shocked at first. Eventually, as you savor your cup, the subtle floral notes and aromatics of the gin will work their way through, rounding out the raw power of this concoction with a welcome note of finesse.

A few notes: First of all, and I may be stating the obvious here, but it’s absolutely essential that the grapefruit juice be fresh. No matter how carefully it’s processed, citrus juice dies tragically when preserved, losing all of its light accents and fresh notes. What remains is a brash metallic acidity that will make you think you’ve been sucking on a penny. In short, if you let Dole or Tropicana do the sweaty work for you, your Salty Dog will turn up lifeless and lackluster. You’ll find yourself morosely choking down a glassful of disappointment, a botched travesty of what could have been.

Having a hard time choosing a gin? Let me recommend Beefeater, a perfectly solid, no-frills, modestly priced London dry which, incidentally happens to be my own personal house brand. If you’ve been saving a bottle of Gin 209, Hendricks or Plymouth (aka, the best gin in the world), you should keep right on saving it. The explosive interplay of salt and sour in this cocktail will railroad right over the subtle nuances that distinguish these boutique selections from more modestly priced brands. I wouldn’t feel bad using Tanqueray or Bombay Classic, for that matter, but save the top shelf stuff for martinis and other short drinks — unless of course you’re dining out, in which case paradoxical bar economics may apply.

Can’t stand gin? Well, my sympathies are with you, but you’re certainly not alone on this one. The good news is that vodka works well in its place, and though the mix becomes a bit less nuanced, it remains a delightful and refreshing concoction.

Clive Watson stirs, shakes, strains, savors and waxes incoherent at



Wed, Feb 23, 2011 : 9:27 p.m.

I've done the blind test with Vodkas straight up. Most people end up choosing the Smirnoff over the Grey Gooses', has to do with the charcoal filtering or something like that. I like Tanqueray Sterling vodka myself. Good quality at a good price.

Clive Watson

Fri, Feb 25, 2011 : 7:41 p.m.

It's always interesting to see what people actually prefer. For me, I think it mostly comes down to application. For many contexts, Goose is just too smooth, and disappears entirely in a concoction, where other vodkas show some trace of their basic ingredients, potato, rye, etc., or the charcoal you've mentioned. Picking the "best" vodka in a blind tasting of neat pours is problematic, because (practically) no one actually drinks them that way. It's quite useful for understanding the small distinctions in style, which will then suggest proper application. Thanks for recommending Sterling, by the way. I've often wondered if the stuff was any good, and now I'll have to try it.


Mon, Feb 14, 2011 : 11:06 p.m.

Larry Sanders' least favorite drink!

Clive Watson

Tue, Feb 15, 2011 : 7:17 p.m.

Is that so? I wonder why. Perhaps he's already sour, salty, and soused enough as it is?


Mon, Feb 14, 2011 : 6:51 p.m.

Years ago in the Twin Cities, I remember reading in the local paper about a blind gin taste testing in which a number of local celebrities known for being martini drinkers were rounded up. All had their own favorite gin and were confident that they drank the best and could identify it from the others. After tasting the various brands including Bombay, Tanqueray, Beefeater, and the rest, the one they selected as the best was the cheap gin slipped into the tasting just for fun...Fleischmanns.

Clive Watson

Mon, Feb 14, 2011 : 8:24 p.m.

Nothing like blind tasting to show up our biases and misconceptions. Still, at the risk of becoming a walking punchline, I have pretty good confidence that I could taste out a Hendricks, Gin 209, or Tanqueray 10 from any of the classic London drys you've listed. While Bombay (Classic), Tanqueray and Beefeater all have basically the same flavor profile, this recent vanguard of boutique gins are a different animal altogether. They infuse with innovative materials, and these elements are featured prominently in the mix. In short, I'd be happy to take the Bombay challenge. Cheers!

David Briegel

Mon, Feb 14, 2011 : 4:14 a.m.

Can't wait to try this one. I agree. Beefeaters is my house gin!