A short while ago, a letter scripted in brilliant ruby-red ink landed on my desk. It read:
Dear Bartender, A friend just presented me with a bottle of homemade grenadine for my birthday. What do you recommend I do with it?
-Joe J. of the Eastern Hinterlands
I'm sure that your first experience with grenadine was in the quintessential kiddie cocktail, the Shirley Temple. It was sickly sweet, but when we were young we all yearned to have one. The best part was feeling more grown up because the bartender made your drink. If that's your only memory of grenadine, I have good news. Mr. J., you have yourself quite a treat on your hands! Thanks to mass-market purveyors such as Rose's and Finest Call, grenadine has transformed through the years from a richly flavored potion into neon swill laced with artificial flavoring and Allura Red coloring. For many years, it's been barely fit for a hummingbird. I have a small surprise for you: Grenadine is supposed to be a pomegranate-flavored syrup. A good one will make your drinks come alive. And Joe, when you run out of your gift, making your own is a piece of cake.
To make your own grenadine, mix together equal parts pomegranate juice and sugar. Shake or stir well until the sugar has completely dissolved. Store it in the refrigerator. Voilà, you have grenadine that beats the pants off any store-bought product. Really, that's it. I like to use fresh-squeezed pomegranate juice (just slice a pomegranate in half across its equator and squeeze with a citrus juicer), but the season is very short. If it's not those fleeting moments in fall, I reach for flash-pasteurized bottled juice such as POM Wonderful; it or a similar product is in the produce section of your favorite mega-mart. The shelf-stable juice in the supermarket bottled juice section is a poor substitute. The flavor of pomegranate juice is delicate, and the pasteurization process destroys it. If you want to make your grenadine a little fancier, you can gently heat the juice and sugar with a handful of dried hibiscus flowers (jamaica at a Hispanic grocer), letting the flowers steep until the mixture has cooled, and straining them out before bottling. This adds a nice floral note, and intensifies the red hue. You can also add a couple of dashes of rose or orange flower water for a more complex flavor. If you make more than you're going to use in a week or two, add an ounce of vodka for every pint of grenadine to extend its shelf life. The one negative of handmade grenadine is that its color is muted compared to commercial grenadine, disappearing in a Tequila Sunrise or Planters Punch. If you prefer the brilliant artificial hue of commercial grenadine, just add a drop or three of red food coloring. I won't tell anyone if you do.
Grenadine is a remarkably versatile ingredient, marrying well with almost any base spirit you can think of. While it's most recognizable as the defining ingredient in a Tequila Sunrise, I have found that grenadine shines best in the Jack Rose cocktail. Jack Rose blends the grenadine with lemon (or lime) juice and applejack, an American apple brandy. Grenadine also turns the classic Daiquiri into the Bacardi cocktail, a drink with a unique past. The Bacardi family found out a New York bar was making their Bacardis with another brand of rum. Bacardi sued the bar... and won. So, by legal precedent, if it's not Bacardi rum, it's not a Bacardi cocktail! And remember the Shirley Temples I mentioned earlier? It turns out that when made properly, it's a marvelous drink. Keep a relatively restrained hand on the grenadine, and use ginger ale for more depth than lemon-lime soda. The Shirley Temple grows up quite nicely with the spirit of your choice (would that turn it into a Shirley Temple Black?). I'm partial to rum, but tequila and whiskey should be equally delicious.
Jack Rose Cocktail
- 1 1/2 ounces applejack
- Juice of half a lemon (or lime), about 1 ounce
- 1/4 ounce grenadine (or a little more to taste)
Shake well in a cocktail shaker with lots of ice. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass, and garnish with a lemon (or lime) wedge.
Bacardi Cocktail It's our little secret if you use a rum other than Bacardi.
- 2 ounces Bacardi silver rum
- 1 ounce lime juice
- 1/4 ounce grenadine
Shake well in a cocktail shaker with lots of ice. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass.
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- 6 ounces ginger ale
- 1/2 ounce grenadine
Pour everything into an ice-filled Collins glass. Stir gently to combine. Garnish with a maraschino cherry.