The Hunt for Red October

How does one invent a cocktail? Where do you start? As home bartenders, answering those questions is one of the main objectives of this blog.

I often end up creating a recipe simply because I’ve neglected my bar and find myself short on ingredients. Generally, when I’m trying to put together something original, it starts with a single ingredient, ideally something new. Maybe a new spirit I just purchased or something I’ve recently eaten – or even a recipe from another cocktail blog.

Photos by ADV Photography

In this case it all started with a fruit: the prickly pear. Never heard of it? It’s also known as the cactus pear. I’ve been enjoying them for as long as can I remember, but only recently decided to try and work with it in a cocktail. Beneath a thick skin of needles and whiskers is a sweet flesh full of tropical flavour.

They come in different varieties and colours, with the most typical being the red fleshed cactus pear. Lucky for you (and me), they’re currently in season. You should be able to find them at most produce shops.

So, we have our starting point – where do we go from here? Usually, I try to pair a spirit. In this case, I wanted to and stay away from gin and whiskey as those are always my go-to’s. I thought the fruit might pair well with some tequila and since I had recently been gifted a very nice bottle (it’s generally very easy to buy us gifts), the decision was easy.

A this point, we have the base of our drink – the only major decision I needed to make before moving on to the balancing stage is how we want to serve it. Since I wanted to make something to share with my wife, I decided this would be a tall drink – less spirit-forward than my usual fare. The cactus pear is sweet, so we’re going to need some bitterness to round it off. In this case, lime juice makes perfect sense.

We could be boring and top the drink with soda to lengthen it but I just happened to have some ginger beer on hand… so let’s get crazy! Now that we have the theoretical framework, we move on the best part – putting theory into practice. After two or three (or six) iterations, I finally settled on the following:


1 ½ oz tequila blanco
½  oz Lillet Blanc (or dry vermouth if you must)
1 ½ oz prickly pear juice (strain the seeds)
½ oz lime juice
Ginger beer

In an ice-filled shaker, add the tequila, Lillet Blanc, pear juice, and lime juice. Shake well and strain into an ice-filled Collins glass. Top with ginger beer.

You’ll notice I added an additional ingredient: Lillet Blanc. Crazy things can happen during tastings! I decided the cocktail was still a little sweet, but was not wanting for more acid, so I reached for some Lillet. You can use dry vermouth if you don’t have any Lillet, but it will be a notably different flavour. Try it both ways and decide for yourself.

Everyone will end up with a different take and that’s the whole point. Start with a single ingredient, find an audience, and round it out. Half the fun is just experimenting, so create your own prickly path and see where it takes you!

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