Sweet n Spicy Salty Dog

I used to have to make these long before I was of legal age to drink…or even serve them. When I was seventeen, I briefly worked as a hostess in a restaurant whose days of grandeur were long gone. What remained was only remnants, faded and tarnished bits of extravagance by the sea. It was my first real job, in a gorgeous location, right on the water, but even then I saw it was in a state of decay. The food was ok but over-priced–diners becoming more and more aware that they were paying for locale alone. The early rays of daylight illuminated the carpets, faded and stained. The leather booths were cracking, the decor was dated, and there was an overall restless sense of the past struggling to shine through. The place was haunting itself.

I worked fairly early in the mornings–we opened at six to serve breakfast to the fishermen docked in the harbor just beyond the large bay windows. They were an interesting bunch–quiet, matter-of-fact, sometimes a bit surly, and always a little vacant, my guess being that their minds were eternally at sea. I thought they were great and it was my job to take care of them. A decision fueled by laziness and indifference no doubt. My boss pretty much had me doing whatever was necessary while he chatted with the servers. They’d all encourage me to take orders, serve food, and eventually make drinks for the early morning crowd. But I didn’t mind.

The mornings were slow for the first hour. It was just me and the fishermen. I quickly learned they were creatures of habit. I memorized their “usuals” and eventually their drink orders. I remember being shocked at the combination of bacon and eggs and bourbon so early in the morning. I remember being even more shocked when my boss ushered me behind the bar one day and informed meI would be in charge of their drinks…as long as it was slow. “But…I…see I haven’t really…I don’t know,” I stammered as I was practically pushed behind the bar. He laughed and told me to just ask them how to do it. They’d tell me.

I can’t imagine the look on my face that first morning as I stood, riddled with uncertainty, eyes rapidly blinking, and mumbled, “uh..um…what can I get for you?”. John, a regular, laughed and asked for whiskey, on the rocks. I stared uncertainly for a moment before he guided me through the process. I pretty sure I filled half the glass with Jack Daniels before thinking gee that looks like a lot, oh well! It’s no wonder these guys loved me–I poured away half the bar in those first few days…

HDC Grapefruit Vodka Salty Dog

From that point on the men would order, I would ask how to go about it, and I began breaking the law to make drinks! I got to know these men pretty well playing bartender. Whiskey was the drink of choice–most of them ordered bourbon, some opted instead for scotch. But there was one man, a bit standoffish and older than the rest but still pleasant, who always ordered a Salty Dog with his eggs, sausage, sourdough toast, and half of grapefruit.

The first time he ordered it I just stared back at him blankly. He smiled and quietly instructed me to grab a bottle of Bombay Saphire. He explained that you could also make this drink with vodka but that gin was traditional. He showed me how to measure out–by sight–the right amount of juice and how to measure out the gin so I didn’t overdo it. Then he gave me a lesson on how to use a cocktail shaker, rim the glass, pour, and serve.

A few days every month I’d make this for him. I’d never ask, just get started when he walked in with a smile and a nod. He’d always politely interject and critique me if necessary. I got such a kick out of it. I loved pouring drinks for that group, as they politely flirted with me and talked to the waiters about their best catch or latest brush with death, but Mr. Salty Dog was my favorite. I never became some prodigy bartender. Eventually new management was hired and my bartending days came to a close.

When I got this Ruby Red Grapefruit Vodka from Heritage Distilling, I knew right away what I would make first. To pay some sort of homage to my nameless fisherman friend I’d recreate his drink of choice but with my own personal interpretation of course. The vodka smells exactly like it’s namesake and tastes even better. Tart and mildly sweet and full of flavor. The black lava salt I used to rim the glass is as salty as seawater. So I thought a simple syrup might be a nice touch. Then I thought well I have all these jalapeños lying around…why not get creative?

Sweet n Spicy Salty Dog

I invited my mom over to sample my concoction. We topped off our drinks with a bit of sparkling water and both drew the conclusion that this was, in fact, awesome! While the traditional drink will always hold a special place in my heart, I’m pretty sure that this version is my new favorite!


Sweet n Spicy Salty Dog
Serves 2
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  1. 1/2 cup sugar
  2. 1-2 Jalapeños, sliced
  3. 1 cup fresh grapefruit juice (1-2 grapefruits)
  4. 4 oz. Heritage Ruby Red Grapefruit Vodka
  5. Perrier Grapefruit Sparkling Water, Optional
  6. Ice, for serving
  7. Salt for rimming the glass
  1. Make the Simple Syrup
  2. I made a very, very spicy syrup by not removing the seeds or white vein from inside the peppers. If you don't like spice only use one or a half of one jalapeño and remove the seeds and vein. Or you can omit the jalapeño altogether. This makes more than enough for two drinks, so if that all you're making cut the recipe in half.
  3. Heat sugar, ½ cup water, and jalapeno slices in a small saucepan.
  4. Simmer on low for 6-8 minutes, tasting occasionally to test the spiciness. The longer it simmers the more of the jalapeno flavor with be infused.
  5. Strain simple syrup into a bowl to remove the seeds but reserve some jalapeno slices for garnish.
  6. You can store the extra in the fridge for a few days.
  7. Make the Drinks
  8. Combine grapefruit juice with vodka and jalapeño simple syrup (I used a tablespoon or so, but taste-test for desired sweetness) in a tall glass or a pitcher and stir to combine. (You can also put ice in a cocktail mixer, shake and strain into a glass, I served mine on the rocks).
  9. Using water or grapefruit juice, rim the glasses with salt
  10. Fill the glasses halfway with ice.
  11. Pour grapefruit mixture over ice and top off with sparkling water if using.
  12. Stir, garnish with jalapeños, and enjoy!
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