The Orange Crush Is DC’s Unofficial Summer Cocktail — Here’s How to Make It at Home

And where to drink it with a view of the Atlantic (or the Anacostia River)

June 9, 2023 7:00 am
Screwdriver cocktail in a glass on a mat.
It looks just like a screwdriver, but it also has triple sec and sprite.
Getty Images/500px Plus

Why is the Orange Crush a popular drink? According to DC Brau CEO Brandon Skall, the logic is clear: “It’s a cocktail associated with a good time.” 

Those good times originate a few hours away: Ocean City, Maryland. When you visit you’re reminded, in a large, bold font, that they are the “Home of the Original Fresh Squeezed Orange Crush!” When you visit the IRL Harborside Bar & Grill in Ocean City, you’re reminded — per server Lauren Rolleston — that the Ocean City establishment sells well over 1000 Orange Crushes every day

How is a simple, four-ingredient drink so popular in one resort town in Maryland? “There’s nothing better than a fresh squeezed Orange Crush on a hot day,” says Rolleston.

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The Orange Crush might seem like a drink that has always existed: a no-brainer of a summer cocktail. But its origins are actually fairly recent. Legend has it that Harborside staff came up with the drink on a slow winter night in 1995 (which means the R.E.M. song came first). For the last 28 years, the drink has been the unofficial summer beverage of vacationers and locals alike in Ocean City. 

Rolleston gave us the recipe without hesitation. What makes the drink successful isn’t a mystery. (It’s all the alcohol.) It’s good that the drink is easy to make, especially if you’re selling more than 1000 a day. “We have people from all over coming in — from 10 to 500 miles away — to get their Orange Crush fix,” Rolleston says. 

If you prefer your summer-y, citrus-based drink a bit more bitter, Harborside also offers a Grapefruit Crush. 

And if you prefer to stay in DC rather than make a three-hour drive to enjoy a drink you could prepare yourself in under a minute, a handful of bars and restaurants in DC proper offer the cocktail. Rather than enjoying the Orange Crush on the Atlantic, how about trying one at The Salt Line, with a view of the beautiful Anacostia River? Their Frozen DC Crush includes vodka and triple sec along with the juice from an orange, but what sets it apart and makes it a DC Crush is the inclusion of DC Brau Orange Crush spiked seltzer, rather than lemon-lime soda.  

DC Brau entered the hard seltzer market in late 2019, introducing the Full Transparency Orange Crush Hard Seltzer soon after. Now it’s one of their biggest sellers. 

“Orange Crush is synonymous with Ocean City, and our city has a huge tie to Ocean City, Rehoboth, all the mid-Atlantic coastal areas and the ‘crush’ cocktails, particularly Orange Crush,” says Skall. “We were trying to put forward a flavor that’s unique but would be recognized by the local community and drinkers in the area — a lightbulb that goes off with, ‘Oh, I know what that’s supposed to taste like.’”

Skall produced a “Crush Pack” of Crush-themed drinks — also including a Key Lime Pie Crush and Peach Melon Crush — but the Orange Crush remains the most popular. It’s available wherever DC Brau beer is sold, from well-curated liquor stores to large grocery chains like Safeway. 

“Seltzer is not a very draft-heavy product — it’s mainly all cans — but Orange Crush has found itself on draft at a lot of establishments across the area,” he says. “It’s something that the city really responded to. The inspiration came from local vacations and good times in the summer.” 

Whether you’re heading to Ocean City for an Orange Crush at Harborside or Seacrets, staying local at The Salt Line or looking to give this recipe a try at home, consider it a seasonally appropriate way to get some more citrus in your liquid diet. 

The Harborside Orange Crush 

  • 1 part Orange Vodka (Harborside uses Smirnoff)
  • 1 part Triple Sec (Harborside uses La Quiere) 
  • The juice from an entire Valencia orange
  • Splash of Sprite

1. Add the vodka and triple sec to a glass of ice. Add the fresh squeezed orange juice. Top it off with a splash of Sprite. Enjoy.


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