Concord grapes have forged a long road to the spotlight.
The juicy orbs made their debut in the Massachusetts village of Concord in 1854, based on a wild species native to New England. From there, they rolled into a bottle of the world’s first processed fresh fruit juice and were then turned into “Grapelade,” the shelf-stable modern jam created by Welch’s during WWI.
The rest of the story? It spread across the quintessential American sandwich: the peanut butter and jelly. That sandwich’s sweet, familiar purple goo can thank Concord grapes for its famous flavor. Each grape yields a concentrated, slightly tart taste with a distinct muskiness. Though that flavor is a timeless foil for rich peanut butter, there’s plenty of room left on the Concord grape dance card for other partners.
These days, most Concord grapes are turned into grape juice or jelly that will be used year-round. But the grapes have only one harvest each year, and it’s a teasingly short season from late August to early November. That means that every fall, bartenders have a few fleeting weeks to rediscover fresh Concord grapes’ liquid potential. It’s a race against nature, but bars around the country are stepping up and squashing the grapes into cocktails. And with recent science suggesting that Concord grape juice may provide many of the same heart health benefits as red wine, there’s no better time to get your grape on.
It’s no shocker that white spirits are a great canvas for Concord grapes’ deep flavor. At New York’s Park Avenue Autumn, head barman Bryan Schneider showcases the grapes in his Transfusion cocktail, made with vodka, ginger syrup, lime juice, club soda and Concord grape juice ice cubes. The Transfusion is a golf-club standard similar to the Arnold Palmer, but boozy. Schneider tweaks the normal recipe of vodka, ginger ale and grape juice with his Concord grape cubes that slowly infuse the drink as they melt.
Next up? Gin hits the scene with Maegan Delgrande’s Concord Grape Negroni at Manhattan’s Tipsy Parson. Built with gin, Concord grape–infused Dolin Blanc Vermouth, Bittermens Amére Nouvelle and a dash of lavender bitters, this new-age Negroni highlights the brightness of the grapes with an herbal, bitter edge.
Counter those East coast glasses with The Purple One from Party Downtown in Eugene, Oregon. There, bartender Thor Slaughter experiments with a naturally fermented Concord grape soda paired with gin, bianco vermouth and lime juice for a refined take on the classic childhood soda.
Speaking of pisco, the grape-based brandy takes another spin with Concords in the flashy Bacchus from Andiron Steak & Sea in Las Vegas. Mixologist Francesco Lafranconi muddles the grapes with equally dark-hued blackberries, then sets them in motion along with the pisco, Crème Yvette, lemon juice and egg white for a frothy finish. And just in time for cooler weather, the First Frost at José Andrés’ Barmini pairs muddled Concords with brandy and the warming flavors of spice-infused blanc vermouth, Vermont maple syrup and cardamom bitters.
New Yorkers in particular will appreciate Porchlight’s new cocktail ode to their commute. The Train’s A Comin’ from head bartender Nick Bennett celebrates the recent expansion of the 7 train, which bears the same purple hue as the 7 train’s emblem. Inspired by a marriage of the Sazerac and Aviation, the cognac-based cocktail links blanc vermouth with Crème Yvette, Concord grape syrup, lemon juice and an absinthe rinse.
Looking for a fall spin on Sangria? Maneet Chauhan’s Monsoon Sangria from Nashville’s Chauhan Ale & Masala House will satisfy. Since Concords closely resemble grapes found in the chef’s native India, utilizing them in a cocktail was an easy homage to home. Chai provides the autumnal flavor base for the Sangria, which is bolstered with fresh blueberries and Concords, sliced plums, white wine and blue curaçao.
Tequila fiends, take heart. Concord grapes tangle blissfully with the agave spirit at Tribeca’s Locanda Verde. There, Jess Goldfarb serves his tequila-based Luminosocomplete with Cocchi Americano and dry vermouth which balance out the sweetness of a Concord grape and rosemary syrup. Not to be left out, mezcal joins the Concord parade with the Mezcal, Concord Grape, Citrus and Market Mint cocktail from Restaurant Marc Forgione. Bartender Cary Goldberg’s understated approach balances smoky mezcal with Cocchi Rosa, lime juice and a Concord grape mint syrup.
All you patiently waiting whiskey aficionados, there’s a Concord cocktail for you too. Enter the Harvest Moon from Manhattan’s RedFarm. Beverage director Shawn Chen looked to the fall harvest season for motivation when developing this fireside glass made with whiskey, housemade Concord grape shrub, Fernet Branca, Cherry Heering and Madeira. Even the garnish conjures the coziness of warm flannel with Concord grapes soaked in pomegranate molasses brandy and toasted almonds.
Little known (or little publicized ) fact: Chautauqua County, NY (South of Buffalo) is the Largest Concord Grape Growing Region in the World! Part of the reason why Welch's had World Headquarters here in Westfield, NY (and still has a processing plant here). Our Lake Erie Wine Country Trail is quickly becoming known for our Concords, Rieslings and more! Love these recipes and looking forward to trying them this weekend!
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