Did you know the creator of the Jasmine — that grapefruity craft cocktail with gin and Campari — used to live in Bellevue?
At most, Paul Harrington reckoned he took 30 seconds to come up with the gin drink that eventually immortalized him in the cocktail community.
The drink is called the Jasmine. If you frequent bars for craft cocktails, you’ve likely had it, even if you didn’t know the drink by its name.
Gin, Campari, Cointreau and lemon juice, the Jasmine appears virtually in every cocktail recipe book published in the past two years. New York Times cocktail writer Robert Simonson anointed the Jasmine a “modern classic” in his recent book “A Proper Drink.”
It’s one of those drinks that’s in the repertoire of every career bartender these days.
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But few locals know the drink’s backstory — that the Jasmine creator was a former Bellevue resident or that he was bartending in the Bay Area when he came up with that drink on the fly on a slow night.
Harrington never entered the Jasmine in a contest. Instead, he thinks it caught on through word-of-mouth during the cocktail renaissance. “It has a taste that anyone could relate to. When made properly, it tastes like fresh-squeezed grapefruit,” he said.
A Yakima native, Harrington grew up in the Lake Hills neighborhood in Bellevue and graduated from Eastside Catholic School. In 1985, he moved to the Bay Area to attend UC Berkeley and later worked at Townhouse Bar & Grill to pay for college. Most college kids work in bars for beer money and punch out. Harrington, as is his curious nature, needed to know the science and the history behind every ingredient in front of him. Not satisfied with just the restaurant drink menu, Harrington looked up old cocktail books and taught himself forgotten drinks and learned the backstories of classic drinks.
In spring of 1992, around 10 p.m., a classmate, just off work, sidled up to his bar and said “make me something new.”
Harrington had made a Pegu Club cocktail for another patron and decided to riff on that classic for his friend. He remained faithful to the two main ingredients, gin and orange liqueur, but subbed out lime for lemon and Campari liqueur instead of Angostura bitters.
He named the drink “Jasmine” after that college friend (not knowing until years later that his classmate’s name was spelled “Jasmin”).
In 1998, when the Bellagio casino in Las Vegas opened its swanky Chinese restaurant Jasmine, the bartenders made Harrington’s cocktail the bar’s signature drink.
It’s a pretty pink drink, but it’s not candy-sweet like a Cosmo. Instead, it’s crisp and citrusy with a grapefruit-bitter finish.
I discovered how popular it was 10 years ago. At a speak-easy bar in the East Village, I requested a gin drink, something along the line of a negroni. The barman nodded and replied, “I got something for you,” and whipped me up that pink concoction.
Five months later, at a cocktail den in San Francisco, I requested a gin drink again. Again, I was served the Jasmine.
From then on, I realized it didn’t matter what part of the country I was in. If it was a respectable cocktail bar, the bartenders knew how to make the Jasmine without Googling the recipe.
The Jasmine also started popping up on cocktail menus around Seattle five years ago.
As for Harrington, he followed his dream and became an architect, living in Spokane with his wife, Marta, and their two kids. He’s also one of the owners of a Spokane bar restaurant called Clover. Despite his staff’s urging, he doesn’t get behind the bar anymore.
1½ ounces gin
¾ ounce fresh lemon juice
¼ ounce Campari
¼ ounce Cointreau
Combine ingredients in shaker with ice and shake until chill. Strain into glass.