We sat down with Russell Davis on the anniversary of Prince’s untimely passing to get the story behind A Whiter Shade of Purple, Russell’s cocktail tribute to Prince. The recipe appears below!
S&S: What was the inspiration behind this cocktail?
RD: Well, everybody loves Prince, you know, so that’s just kind of a given. And, quite frankly, he is (as far as I’m concerned) one of the greatest artists—not just of our generation, but just one of the greatest artists that ever existed. I’ll never forget watching this concert—if I remember correctly, he was doing the halftime show of one of the Superbowls. (I don’t watch sports, so I can’t remember which Superbowl it was.) And he was in the middle of “Purple Rain” and it started pouring, but he kept on playing, and it was the most amazing thing to watch—you can’t predict something like that, but to me, that was God showing the world that this is the man. It was really amazing.
But, I had always loved him. I remember, Purple Rain was one of my favorite movies growing up, even though I was way too young to know about it or love it as much as I did. I knew every song and I’d watch the dances and I’d always remember these scenes of Prince and his father having these issues, these problems, and the only way that Prince expressed himself was through this artistic way of creating music, you know. And I didn’t have the best relationship with my father either, and Prince was very much an artist. And I’ve had different art forms in my life, you know, I played guitar and I used to act. But, you know, I really do consider myself an artist now when I do my cocktails.
S&S: Of course.
RD: And so some months ago, I was with my business partner in Oakland and Prince was playing a concert. And I had the opportunity to get a couple of tickets and go, but unfortunately I had a meeting of some sort, I can’t remember at the moment exactly why I couldn’t go. But I didn’t go and then just a few weeks later he passed away. And it’s one of the biggest regrets of my life that I never saw the man who I’ve always considered an artistic hero play that last time. But then, at the same time, I’m also kind of glad I didn’t see it because I’ll always remember him one way.
S&S: There’s the silver lining.
RD: Right. You’ve gotta take the sour with the sweet in life. Although, you know, I heard it was one of the best concerts he ever did. Anyway, when I was thinking about the cocktail—what Prince would drink?—I was thinking about what he would drink out of, and how he would hold the glass. And how he had this elegant charm to him that, you know, if you saw Prince walking down the street, he’s not gonna trip, you know? He’s the type of guy that could hold a coupe martini glass and run a marathon and not spill a drop. There’s something about him that I just thought was amazing.
And so I found this really cool glass and I did a port cocktail because port has this beautiful, beautiful color to it when mixed with a whole egg. And I added a little bit of pure sugar cane simple syrup and rum to it. And it’s a drink that you’re not gonna wanna drink fifteen or sixteen of—which I don’t think Prince would ever drink fifteen or sixteen of them. I think Prince would have a couple of drinks and that’s about it, you know? And to me, this is the drink that I felt like was my tribute to him.
The name, “A Lighter Shade of Purple,” it’s actually a tribute to his song “A Lighter Shade of Pale,” which was about losing a friend to drug addiction. And that was the thought process for it. And my favorite song of his was from Purple Rain, and I’ll never forget him standing up and saying, “Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to get through this thing called life.” What he created along the way was one of the best, coolest legacies that ever was.
S&S: What a great story behind the cocktail! Might you also have some recommendations for a food pairing?
RD: A food pairing with the cocktail . . . Do you want me to be honest?
S&S: Of course.
RD: Dead serious. Pancakes. And people that love Prince, they’ll understand. The other thing that I can say is don’t miss another great concert. If you have the chance to go see someone amazing in concert, don’t pass it up.
S&S: True. You never know when it may be the last chance.
A Whiter Shade of Purple (Tribute)
Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to get through this thing called life.
1 1/2 oz reserve port (Sandeman or Six Grapes)
1/2 oz spiced rum (Sailor Jerry)
1/2 oz pure sugar cane simple syrup (recipe below)
1 pinch freshly ground allspice
1 whole raw egg
freshly grated nutmeg
chilled coupe or stemmed dessert glass
1. Combine all of the ingredients (including allspice) in a cocktail shaker, adding the egg last.
2. Dry shake (without ice) vigorously for 3–5 seconds.
3. Add ice and shake vigorously to the proper temperature and dilution, until the shaker feels ice cold (5–10 seconds, depending on ice size).
4. Double strain the shaker’s contents into a coupe glass using a fine mesh strainer in addition to your Hawthorne strainer.
5. Dust nutmeg over the center of the drink.