In the 1930s, New Jersey drink-seller Natale Olivieri wanted to find a way to package his chocolate drink without spoilage. According to Evan Morris’s From Altoids to Zima, Olivieri noticed his wife canning tomato sauce by boiling the jars prior to sealing them, and thus the “hot fill” method, to use bottling industry parlance, was born. This allowed Olivieri to convert an easily spoilable product into a mass-produced brand that could sit on shelves indefinitely.
By all accounts Yoo-hoo was a hit and enjoyed decades of success. In the ’50s and ’60s, baseball player Yogi Bera became such a staunch spokesperson for the brand that he also became a vice president for the company. And in the ’90s Yoo-hoo enjoyed a heyday of cultural relevance thanks to an unsubstantiated (and officially denied) rumor that Pope John Paul II wanted to bring cases of that “American chocolate drink” back with him to the Vatican after a visit to Colorado, plus a bizarre and boozy cameo in the 1999 Adam Sandler comedy Big Daddy.
The ’90s were also eventful for Yoo-hoo on a more corporate level: It spent the best part of that decade owned by Pernod Ricard, the French spirits conglomerate behind Pernod Absinthe among many other spirits. The company acquired the brand in the late ’80s and sold it in 2001 to Cadbury Schweppes.
I can’t exactly remember the first time I drank Yoo-Hoo, but it’s a safe bet that I took my first sip sometime during the ’90s, the decade of my young adulthood. My mother implemented strict interdictions against sugary foods and drinks, so for me any joyful gulps of this chocolate and milk-whey drink were furtively obtained outside the house.
As an homage to this pivotal decade that featured the unlikely pairing of a New Jersey–based chocolate drink and a French absinthe house, I created the Absinthe-Crag for my latest cocktail book, Saved by the Bellini & Other 90s-Inspired Cocktails. The anise-fennel-and-licorice flavors of absinthe might not seem like the most natural match for Yoo-hoo, but despite the odds, it works.
The drink’s name is a nod to the iconic Nickelodeon show, GUTS, which had young people pitted against one another in a festival of absurd obstacle courses, culminating in the scaling of the harrowingly-named and garishly lit Aggro Crag mountain. You can use any absinthe here to suit your preference, but if you really want to go all ’90s with it, Pernod is the only choice.
Combine 4½ oz. Yoo-hoo and 1½ oz. absinthe (preferably Pernod) in a shaker, and shake with ice for 20 seconds. Strain the drink into a chilled cocktail coupe.
Saved by the Bellini: & Other 90s-Inspired Cocktails