Salty Dog: Not a Surfer or a Pirate

Riff on a Salty Dog

Riff on a Salty Dog. That’s either an entirely perfect name for this cocktail or merely a lazy moniker. After all, half the fun of a terrific cocktail is a terrific name. Fuzzy Navel, Monkey Gland, Goats Delight. You get the idea.

So when I post an original cocktail here on this blog I struggle between giving it a SEO friendly name, or being clever enough that you’d wish you were me (just so you could crack yourself up)! I mean I could have called this drink a Grapefruit Guzzler, or something as esoteric as Imperfect God. But I didn’t.

What’s in a cocktail name? There are straightforward drinks that tell you exactly what you’ll be sipping– Gin & Tonic, Rum & Coke and even 7 & 7  leave little to the imagination. There are also classic cocktails whose names might seem strange to the uninitiated, but once you’ve sat on a few bar stools then classics like Manhattan, Margarita, and Martini will be as familiar as an old barbershop. Even their “new school” variations, like Cucumber Martini, Raspberry Margarita or a Muddled Manhattan have names that pretty much sum up what’s inside the glass. But I’d argue that the listing of ingredients followed by familiar moniker is a mangling of cocktail hierarchy. You’ll know what I’m talking about if you ever had to stare down at a menu and see the words, Chocolate Vodka Mojito brazenly printed across the page.

I didn’t want to be guilty of that crime when I developed this drink. So, while it would have been easy to call it Grapefruit-Infused Gin, with Cocchi Americano and Elderflower (which is very SEO friendly and exactly what this drink is). I thought it would be best to simply call it Riff on a Salty Dog. It sounds both sophisticated and whimsical. Plus I think it adequately prepares you for what’s in the glass. That is if you understand what a riff is and are familiar with a Salty Dog.

So here’s a little history.

In the lexicon of Southern California dudes, a Salty Dog is an old surfer. If you’re a 10 year-old boy, a Salty Dog is one who plunders the open sea and screams “aye matey” whenever possible. Neither of these salty dogs are the dog to which I refer.

Riff on a Salty Dog

To me a Salty Dog is a classic cocktail of gin and grapefruit juice served in a salt-rimmed glass. I believe it’s well enough known to the drinkers among us to need very little explanation.

When I say riff, I want you to know I have never been to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, where I’m sure they consider the riff to be a short, repetitive pattern of notes (sometimes called a lick).

However, the riffs I lick are served up in a glass. In the cocktail world riffs, like this Riff on a Salty Dog are modern cocktails that are inspired by classics.

In that case, I guess I really should call this cocktail Riff on a Riff on a Salty Dog because I first encountered something similar served up by Gabriella Mlynarczyk, at Chef Michael Voltaggio’s Ink restaurant here in Los Angeles. Gabriella was a contributor to my Savory Cocktails book, so I follow everything she does closely. GREG

Riff on a Salty Dog 

Print This Recipe Total time Yield 1Source Adapted from Mixologist Gabriella Mlynarczyk of Ink- Los AngelesPublished

Use a vegetable peeler to remove the peels (without any white pith) of 2 Oro Blanco grapefruit . Place the peels into a large jar with a lid. Pour in 2 cups gin and infuse in a cool dark place for at least 2 days, turning and rolling the jar occasionally. This makes more infused gin than you need for 1 cocktail.

Riff on a Salty Dog


  • 1 lemon wedge
  • lightly crushed Maldon smoked sea salt (as needed)
  • 2 ounce Oro Blanco grapefruit infused gin (see note)
  • 1 ounce freshly squeezed Oro Blanco grapefruit
  • ½ ounce Cocchi Americano
  • ½ ounce St. Germain elderflower liqueur
  • ½ ounce simple syrup
  • 1 dash Miracle Mile yuzu bitters


Use the lemon wedge to lightly moisten the rim of a chilled coupe glass. Pour the salt onto a small saucer, spreading it out in a thin but consistent layer. Press the rim into the salt, cookie cutter style, twisting it back and forth the get a nice evenly coated rim; set aside.

Add the gin, grapefruit juice, Cocchi Americano, St. Germain, simple syrup, and bitters to a cocktail shaker ⅔ filled with ice. Cover and shake. Strain into the prepared glass.

Serve immediately.