Advertisement

The Fascinating History Behind The Hand Grenade Drink

bright green cocktail in glass
bright green cocktail in glass - Addictive Stock/Getty Images

First came the hurricane, then came the hand grenade. No, we're not talking about Armageddon. In this case, the Hurricane and the Hand Grenade (capital letters intended) are about as far from being harbingers of the end of days as you can get. In fact, you're more likely to encounter them during a ruckus night in New Orleans' French Quarter than at the place of judgment. But be careful. If you go overboard, you'll likely face your own moment of reckoning when the new day dawns.

That's because both are high-octane cocktails, popular among revelers letting the good times roll on Bourbon Street, smack dab in the middle of one of the greatest party capitals in the world. While the Hurricane came first — a point the creators of the Hand Grenade readily acknowledge — the Hand Grenade has been wowing fans since shortly after the 1984 World's Fair in New Orleans set a record for having the lowest attendance in the history of World's Fairs. The fair's loss was Earl Bernhardt's gain.

In the early 1980s, the Mississippi native was a morning DJ at a Hattiesburg, Mississippi radio station when a friend suggested that they team up and invest in a concession stand at the upcoming World's Fair. The fair was a bust, but the beverage-focused refreshment station serving frozen fruit daiquiris was a hit. It must have seemed like easy money because Bernhardt took his hard-earned cash and invested in a new business: opening a laid-back tiki-style bar — Tropical Isle — on Toulouse Street in New Orleans' French Quarter.

Read more: 13 Liquors Your Home Bar Should Have

Necessity Is The Mother Of Invention

Close-up of many Hand Grenade cocktails
Close-up of many Hand Grenade cocktails - Tropical Isle/Facebook

Earl Bernhardt and his by-then business partner, Pam Fortner (who was a bartender at the concession stand), expected to be rolling in dough in no time flat. But that's not quite what transpired. As it turned out, they needed a hook to draw French Quarter revelers to turn the corner from the bars on Bourbon Street onto Toulouse Street. What happened next is subject to debate. According to his 2019 New Orleans Times-Picayune obituary, Bernhardt and Fortner hit on plastic green squirt guns shaped like hand grenades during a search for parade trinkets.

They filled with them an enticing elixir, and the rest, as they say, is history. Or maybe not. In 2017, Bernhardt told a reporter for VinePair, "We were losing money, and one Saturday night we were looking at Bourbon Street and everyone was walking away with a Hurricane." Three weeks and probably loads of taste tests later, the Hand Grenade made its official debut. The 13-ingredient elixir (still a trademarked secret after all these years) was a hit in the French Quarter.

By most accounts, its notoriety is due more to its presentation than its drinkability. "Cloying," "sweet," and "melony" are words commonly used to describe the cocktail's flavor, but imbibers don't seem to be deterred by its taste. Its appeal seems to stem mostly from the vessel it's served in — a kind of creepy slime-green-colored plastic hand grenade with an elongated spout. Whatever its genesis, the Hand Grenade — in all its secret-recipe mysteriousness — successfully holds a place of honor among the most popular cocktails in the French Quarter.

Read the original article on Tasting Table.