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The Orange Crush: A Beach Classic

Alex is a marine biologist, aquarist, lover of animals, and an experienced veterinary assistant. She loves to write about cooking.

The Orange Crush Recipe

If you've ever been to the beaches of Virginia or Maryland, chances are pretty high that you have seen, or maybe even tried, the famous orange crush. Just what exactly is an orange crush? In simplest terms, it is a fancy screwdriver—that is, orange juice and vodka. In more detail, it is a delightfully refreshing drink that has become synonymous with summer, the beach, and relaxation.

The Origins of the Crush

The orange crush originated in a seafood restaurant in Ocean City, Maryland, in the mid-1990s. Since then, it has spread down the Eastern seaboard and has become a mainstay in Virginia Beach. You cannot go to a restaurant on the water in the Hampton Roads area without seeing at least one crush variation on the menu. This drink is such an embedded part of the culture in this area that when Wegmans opened, they announced they would have an orange crush on the menu at their Burger Bar restaurant.

Shortcomings of Store-Bought

That's right. I can have an orange crush at my grocery store. Though, I feel it is important to note that it just doesn't taste the same as the crushes at the oceanfront. Why? They don't fresh-squeeze the oranges.

Enjoying the fresh air on my deck with a homemade orange crush

Enjoying the fresh air on my deck with a homemade orange crush

The Birth of a Hobby

As it was in most places around the world, March 2020 was an interesting time in Virginia Beach. The weather had just started to get warm; it was that special period of time just before the start of the busy tourist season at the beach. It was the time when we, as locals, would have normally spent our weekends on the shore, enjoying the beautiful beaches and marshes and savoring drinks at many of the outdoor dining establishments in the area.

All winter, we had been looking forward to outdoor dining opening back up and enjoying an orange crush with the sun on our faces and the sea breeze in our hair. And then COVID-19 happened.

There would be no time spent at the beaches. There would be no fresh, locally caught seafood. There would be no time spent with friends. There would be no orange crushes. The world came to a halt. As an essential worker, I still needed to go to work every day. My veterinary hospital was busier than ever, the hours were long, and many of my coworkers ended up having to quarantine at home for various reasons. I was working 50-hour weeks and couldn't leave the house outside of going to and from my job. Meanwhile, horrible reports of the havoc the virus was spreading on the world were all over the news and social media. It all made for some incredibly dark times.

How the Orange Crush Saved Us

In an effort to spend time outside safely, we expanded the garden on our deck. I remembered that I had a citrus juicer from when I made key lime pies, so I decided to stop by the liquor store (because they were deemed essential for some reason in my state). That day we made our own orange crushes. It took forever with the tiny juicer, and it was a messy process.

Sitting on our deck, in the sunshine with the new plants all around, enjoying that orange crush was an escape. It was just like the one we had enjoyed at our favorite seafood restaurants at the beach. It was a little bit of normalcy in a world where nothing was normal. That was when the hobby started.

We purchased an orange press, just like the ones you'll see used at every restaurant on the oceanfront, and stocked up on a wide array of flavored rums and vodkas. At first, we mixed flavors that were on the menu at our two favorite places, Watermen's and Chicks Oyster Bar, but then we started experimenting. Turns out my boyfriend has a hidden talent for making cocktails. Score!

Now, I don't want it to sound like we spent the entire time drinking, but on the weekends, we'd enjoy a couple of crushes while taking in the fresh air on our deck. It was a chance to relax, to feel like to world wasn't full of uncertainty, and to have a moment of peace. Not to mention there was no way we could contract COVID-19 if we were drinking so much orange juice and liquor. Right? If only that was true.

Ingredients

  • 2 naval oranges, juiced
  • 1/4 cup Sprite
  • 1/4 cup crushed ice
  • 1 ounce tripple sec
  • 2 ounces orange vodka

Instructions

  1. Cut the oranges in half and juice them.
  2. If you don't already have access to crushed ice, you will need to crush the ice at this point.
  3. Add the crushed ice, Sprite, triple sec, and orange vodka. Stir and enjoy!

Crushing Ice

Customization

That's it! It is just that easy. If you are looking to branch out, the crush lends itself to creativity very well. I've enjoyed swapping the orange vodka for peach vodka.

Other Flavors That Work Well

  • Passionfruit vodka or rum
  • Coconut rum
  • Mango vodka or rum
  • Pineapple rum
  • Blueberry lemonade rum
  • Chocolate liquor

Honestly, the sky is the limit! It's fun mixing different flavors together. For example, we'll mix coconut rum with passionfruit rum for a very tropical drink. We even tried triple sec with chocolate liquor for a chocolate-dipped orange kind of feel; it wasn't my favorite, but it was pretty good.

How Long Does It Take?

So, how long exactly does it take to make a crush? Well, when I was using the small citrus juicer, it took several minutes. Between crushing the ice and juicing the oranges, it took about 10 minutes. Now, with the orange press, it takes about two minutes. I will say that we have to crush the ice ourselves since we live in an apartment and don't have an ice maker, let alone a crushed ice option, on the fridge.

For two crushes, we typically use an entire tray of ice. We have a bag that is designed for crushing ice; it even came with a little wooden mallet. It's kind of fun to beat the snot out of the ice. It only takes a few seconds to break up the ice into little pieces. Typically one of us will juice the oranges, and the other will beat the ice. Teamwork makes the dream work, after all.

The Press

The Savings: Happy Hour at Home

A crush at a restaurant in Virginia Beach will set you back about $6-$8 per drink. Not too bad, but I can bring that cost down at home. I can get an eight-pound bag of oranges for about $6, which will typically make about six to eight crushes depending on the size of the oranges. Yes, the liquor is a bit of an investment, but I haven't had to buy any for about two months, and we've been making about four to six crushes a week, per person, since the beginning of April.

I won't even pretend that the cost of the Sprite is a factor since a two-liter Sprite costs around $1.50 most of the time. The price of each flavor of liquor varies, but it typically comes out to about $1 per drink for each flavor. I can make a crush for around $3-$4 per drink, depending on how many flavors of rum or vodka I add. That's not too bad.

In a way, it's like happy hour at my house each time we make crushes.

This is Nic's favorite drink. Keep the standard orange juice, ice, and Sprite, and just add one ounce of coconut rum and two ounces of the blueberry lemonade rum.

This is Nic's favorite drink. Keep the standard orange juice, ice, and Sprite, and just add one ounce of coconut rum and two ounces of the blueberry lemonade rum.

Perfecting the Craft

We've found that the best flavor comes from using two medium oranges or one very large orange per drink. We've also found that keeping the amount of liquor to three ounces per drink is a good balance. Any more, and they creep up on you. And let me tell you, this drink is so smooth you won't notice that buzz coming on.

We got a small cocktail strainer to cover the cup we juice the oranges in. We found that it drastically cuts down the amount of pulp that gets into the drink. It makes the drink much more enjoyable to drink without having chunks of orange pulp.

We've tried the drink with fresh Sprite, flat Sprite, and no Sprite, and honestly, the fresh Sprite is best. Though, to be frank, the drink is still good without it. Adding half of a freshly squeezed lemon to the drink also brings brightness to the flavor.

Happy Crushing!

This is a drink that can stand on its own or pairs fantastically with any seafood dish. It is tropical and light. It is refreshing. To me, it is summer in a glass. You can easily make a kid-safe version by just omitting the liquor, and it will still taste amazing!

I'd love to hear of any custom creations that you create. Cheers!

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