Louisiana's Hand Grenade Cocktail Is The Definition Of Strong

Known around the world as the birthplace of jazz and a site for general debauchery, New Orleans is a city that takes drinking and having fun very, very seriously. And with the local Cajun catch phrase of "laissez les bon temps rouler" (let the good times roll) how could it be any other way? New Orleanians are responsible for the invention of some of the beverage industry's most enduring classic cocktails –- like the Sazerac, French 75, Vieux Carre, Ramos Gin Fizz, and the Hurricane. Yet, few have achieved the cult status that has been awarded to the Hand Grenade.

Radioactive green and sickly sweet, the Hand Grenade cocktail that is served at the Tropical Isle bar on Bourbon Street has been coined New Orleans' "Most Powerful Drink", thanks to its absurdly high alcohol content that hovers around 24%. 

Although the name, color, and reputation of the drink may suggest otherwise, a Hand Grenade from Tropical Isle is actually quite palatable. With melon and pineapple as the dominant flavors, the fruity drink that's often served frozen or poured over nugget ice, could be perceived as unassuming — if it didn't already have such a naughty reputation.

What's in a Hand Grenade cocktail?

A fairly basic cocktail that's typically made from low-quality liquor, the Hand Grenade may not have the luxurious texture of the Ramos Gin Fizz or the perfect balance of the Brandy Crusta — but it does have a whopping four shots of booze. While the recipe for a Hand Grenade is strictly guarded by Tropical Isle employees, who sign a non-disclosure agreement upon being hired, copycat recipes suggest that the drink contains 1.5 ounces each of gin, vodka, and rum, 2 ounces of a melon-flavored liqueur like Midori, and 1.5 ounces of pineapple juice. 

While the five-ingredient copycat recipe may be pretty similar to the Hand Grenade you can order from Tropical Isle today, the drink's co-creator, Earl Bernhardt, said that the cocktail was originally crafted with 13 ingredients. But when the demand for handcrafted Hand Grenades grew unmanageable for the small Bourbon Street bar, the owners of Tropical Isle decided to start batch-making the beverage. It's now made with a liquid concentrate (developed specifically for Tropical Isle by National Fruit Flavor Co.) and a reportedly powerful unnamed liquor.

How the Hand Grenade cocktail is prepared

Preparing the Hand Grenade grew much simpler after the bar partnered with National Fruit Flavor Co. and a distillery that brews up a booze just for the bar's use. Now, instead of carefully measuring and mixing over a dozen ingredients, Tropical Isle bartenders need only combine the trademarked liquid concentrate and liquor in 65-gallon tubs.

Using a tap on the bar, that mixture is typically poured over nugget ice and served in a neon green plastic cup shaped like a hand grenade with an extended neck. The same mixture is also poured into a slush machine, giving you the option to enjoy the drink in frozen form. 

Alternatively, a Hand Grenade can be ordered "skinny" (with reduced sugar) or as a Hand Grenade martini, complete with an added shot and booze-soaked cherry garnish. Local tip: If you want to look less like a tourist, opt out of the conspicuous signature vessel and order your Hand Grenade in a styrofoam cup instead.

The history of the Hand Grenade cocktail

Back in 1984, Earl Bernhardt and Pam Fortner opened a drink stand called Tropical Paradise at the Louisiana World Exposition. It was a hit, so Bernhardt and Fortner decided to go into business together and opened the first Tropical Isle on Toulouse Street just a month after the fair ended. But after slinging drinks for a while, the pair realized they needed a shtick if they ever hoped to compete with the sales of the famous Hurricane cocktail. So, the Hand Grenade was born, with the visually striking cups making their debut in 1992. Soon the sweet, potent drink catapulted the pair's modest tiki bar into the stratosphere.

With five Tropical Isle bars now peppered up and down New Orleans' most infamous party street — each reportedly pumping out thousands of Hand Grenades every week — the drink has become the stuff of legend amongst tourists looking to party. Measuring close to a foot tall, the lime green plastic cup has become a fixture of the Bourbon Street experience, with more than a million sold each year.

Where you can order a Hand Grenade cocktail

If sipping on a Hand Grenade sounds like the perfect way to unwind after a long work week, you may be wondering where you can go to get your hands on one. Unless you live in New Orleans, however, none of your neighborhood bars will have Hand Grenades on the menu.

That's because Tropical Isle trademarked the Hand Grenade name and recipe beginning in 1993. So, the only places you can order one of these famous cocktails are at one of the bar's five locations, all of which are located on Bourbon Street.

While a Hand Grenade just isn't the same if you aren't drinking it in the French Quarter, Tropical Isle has also made the pre-made Hand Grenade mix available for purchase on its website, allowing you to wow guests at your next Mardi Gras-themed bash with your New Orleans know-how.