Max Stein
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The pride of Pittsburgh

Get a taste of the latest cocktail craze sweeping through my home town of Pittsburgh.

Corn-Popper Every once in awhile, a sensation can sweep maddeningly through a city like a mighty wind, grabbing the attention of the masses and shaking the very bedrock of local pop culture. In the case of our own Steel City, this recent phenomenon comes in the form of a mysteriously quirky and forgotten cocktail, rescued thankfully from the garbage bin of obscurity. This oddball of a drink is none other than The Corn Popper: patriotic, “interestingly delicious”, and faintly reflecting the colour of the river waters that grace our fair city.

What is this strange drink you may ask? Salvaged from the tattered pages and wooden binding of Judge Jr.’s cocktail book “Here’s How”, this 1920′s cocktail recipe comes with the jaunty admonition “Don’t get near a fire after one of these.” What is initially strange about the recipe for this drink comes in the list of ingredients:

Corn-Popper-2One Pint Corn (Georgia or Maryland).

1/2 Pint Cream.

The Whites of two Eggs.

One Tablespoonful Grenadine.

So, you’ve got your modifying agents like the heavy cream and egg whites, but where’s the base spirit? Could it be the “Corn”, which is apparently interchangeable between varieties from Georgia and Maryland? How does one incorporate “Corn” itself into a cocktail, where’s the hooch? Well, after some digging around in the annals of Prohibition-era code speak, Corn turns out to be none other than, well, moonshine. As long as it’s a colourless, strong liquid of ‘unknown’ origin, it can don the appellation of Corn.

Now, a whole pint of corn is a little much, so the recipe has been slimmed down to accommodate a single serving and comes out as such:

One egg white

1 oz. of heavy cream

1 1/2 oz. Corn (Wigle unaged Wheat Whiskey has been the popular, local choice)

1/2 oz. grenadine

Put all the ingredients into a cocktail shaker and dry shake it without ice, then add ice and give it another vigorous round of shaking.

Strain out the sludgy, off-white concoction into a highball glass, then top it up with seltzer to produce a cloud-like, billowing head of foam. Now it’s time to garnish.

Corn-Popper-3The garnish is one of the most magnificent things about The Corn Popper, apart from its unrivalled and almost indescribable taste. As more and more people have stepped up to the plate to try this funky tipple, now officially a Pittsburgh staple, the garnish has been masterfully evolving every step of the way. From fairground-style banners joyfully announcing “That’s right, it’s Corn Popper Time.” inserted carefully into the drink and propped up with straws, to a half a banana sandwiched between two pineapple leaves and skewered across the top, the garnishing keeps getting wilder and more and more creative.

This brings us to the taste, and even texture, of this creamy and fizzy libation. It is now a tradition, a right of passage if you will, to have each inaugural taster of The Corn Popper give his or her own description of how it reacts on their palate.

Corn-Popper-4The results have been downright hysterical, and have included:

“It tastes like a polenta milkshake.”

“It’s like a wheatgrass smoothie without the grass.”

“It’s like movie night, but not in a popcorn way.”

“It tastes like Pittsburgh.”

“It’s like you tried to make a root beer float, but instead of using root beer you used flat tonic water.”

So, as The Corn Popper has officially become “the drink of the people” as one taster suggested, and after even getting some attention in the local press, this weird yet magnetic cocktail has finally gotten its moment in the spotlight. If you see an ear of corn cast across the face of a downtown building by an unknown spotlight, have no fear. All that means is – It’s Corn Popper Time.

Written by Max Stein with RhoMania, “Helping people enjoy life more, one beverage at a time.”

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