This story is featured in the May/June issue of ESSENCE, available on newsstands now.
Drinking red beverages on Juneteenth is a legacy that goes back centuries. The tradition is rooted in evocative myths— from the red liquid symbolizing the blood shed by those in bondage to red soda being a coveted drink during slavery. But red drinks have been a staple for Black people since long before the holiday.
“Our people carried traditions with them out of Africa,” says Toni Tipton-Martin, a James Beard Award–winning author. “Drinking a red beverage was familiar to them, and they continued that when they arrived here.” Also, she says, “they had various names for a red blooming flower” — referring to hibiscus, an essential ingredient in juices like the sobolo in Ghana, zobo in Nigeria, Bissap in certain areas of West Africa and sorrel in the Caribbean.
Tipton-Martin’s upcoming drink guidebook, Juke Joints, Jazz Clubs, and Juice: A Cocktail Recipe Book, is a curated collection of infusions and beverages compiled from 200 years of Black cookbooks. Her expertise, gained through extensive research, allows her to shed light on the origins of Black folks drinking red libations on Juneteenth.
“Once they got here, they looked for ways to imitate that red look with raspberries and strawberries,” Tipton-Martin explains. “Red drinks appear in early references to the celebrations that were held to honor freedom — and formerly enslaved people talked about drinking the colorful drink on Juneteenth.”
Since Juneteenth became a national holiday in 2021, celebrations that commemorate the date are anticipated nationwide. We tapped a few Black chefs and mixologists from around the country to share their picks for ruby-colored cocktails and drinks — most of them incorporating the beloved hibiscus flower — to help you mark the occasion. It’s Tipton-Martin’s hope that this is just the beginning of Black people learning about, and embracing, Black food practices rooted in our history. “My wish is that we fully integrate and embrace African-American food traditions,” she says, “even beyond special days and times of the year.”
By: Rashad Joy, Bar Manager and Mixologist of Alta West Adams in Los Angeles
Ingredients: 1.5 oz bourbon; .75 oz lemon juice; 2 sugar cubes; 8 gs dried hibiscus flowers; mint sprig to garnish; spritz of ginger essence. Directions: Combine ingredients in mixing glass; muddle for 2 mins. Pour into rocks glass or copper cup. Garnish with mint and ginger spritz.
By: LP O’Brien, Mixologist and Netflix’s Drink Masters Winner in Washington, D.C.
Ingredients: 1.5 oz sorrel liqueur; 5 oz cold brew; vanilla ice cream. Directions: Stir in a yarai mixing glass and strain into a chilled, clear coffee glass with a stem. Top with vanilla ice cream.
Uncle Jim’s Strawberry Daiquiri
By: Antonia Poland, Mixologist and Co-owner of Davis Wayne’s in Chattanooga
Ingredients: 500 ml freshly frozen strawberries; 2 oz lemon juice; 2 oz cranberry juice; 1 oz pomegranate juice; 2 oz simple syrup. Directions: Blend ingredients; top with whipped cream; garnish with a fresh strawberry. To make this mocktail a cocktail, add 2 oz of Bumbu rum.
By: Kursten Berry, Beverage Director of Twisted Soul Cookhouse & Pours in Atlanta
Ingredients: 1.5 oz gin; 1 oz sorrel liqueur; .75 oz simple syrup; .5 oz lemon juice; .25 oz rose water. Directions: Combine ingredients, shake hard with ice and strain into coupe or martini glass.