Grenadine is a fairly common ingredient in a bunch of cocktails both old or new. It adds a red colour, acts as a sweetener, and, if you’re lucky, adds flavour.

The big problem with grenadine though, is that it generally comes out of a Roses bottle, and that is NOT real grenadine.

Grenadine comes from the French word ‘grenade’ which just means ‘pomegranate’, so real grenadine is just pomegranate syrup.

The situation is complicated though, by the fact that in the days of classic cocktails, other syrups, especially raspberry syrup were often substituted. I’m not sure if this was because pomegranate was hard to get or because raspberry was a syrup that seems to predate pomegranate, and bartenders just weren’t so fussy.

Anyway, the point is that grenadine came to mean any sweet red cocktail syrup. This leads to the situation where Roses (the most popular) and many other brands, have absolutely no pomegranate at all in them. In fact Roses Grenadine is just high-fructose corn syrup (evil stuff) and artificial colourings (red dye #40 in fact; the same as that used in Robitussin’s cough syrup).

The good news is that grenadine is incredibly easy to make, and when you do, it tastes 100 times better than that Roses rubbish.

There are a bunch of recipes around, most of which involve seeding pomegranates (if using real fruit) and cooking into a simple syrup.

But you can use an even simpler method to make it in just a couple of minutes and it still tastes fabulous. Here it is:

1 cup + 1 Tb superfine (castor) sugar

1 cup pure pomegranate juice

1 Tb high proof spirit (optional)

some red food dye (optional)

Pour the cup of sugar and the juice into a bottle or jar. Shake it a couple of minutes until it’s dissolved. Add a tablespoon of overproof vodka or rum or something if you like to help the syrup keep longer. Shake again. Store in the fridge for a couple of weeks or in the freezer for a couple of months (it has so much sugar that it won’t actually freeze). That’s it! Bloody piece of cake.

If you like (I do) you can throw in a bit of red food dye. Purists might not like this, as it goes against the purpose of making a good natural version of a product that has been corrupted by artificial ingredients. On the other hand, Tequila Sunrise or Tequila Mudrise? Jack Rose or Jack Crap? It’s up to you.

You can use store-bought juice (Jason’s, Breeze or City Super if you’re in Taipei) or, if they’re in season, use real pomegranates (I got some from Carrefour in winter). Here’s another way my method is easier than other recipes you’ll see. Most tell you to separate the seeds and do this and that – it’s all very complicated. Here’s my way. Cut it in half. Stick it in a juicer like this one. Squeeze. Collect juice. This method works great. Store-bought juice makes for an excellent product, but, unsurprisingly, the self-squeezed stuff is even better.

Here’s a couple of cocktails made with my homemade grenadine:

The Monkey Gland

1 1/2 oz gin

1 1/2 oz orange juice

1 tsp grenadine

1 tsp absinthe

Shake vigorously with ice and strain into a martini or coupe glass.

I got this prohibition-era recipe from ‘Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails’, and Ted Haigh is so careful to relentlessly remind his readers to use genuine grenadine, that in his recipes he always calls it ‘real pomegranate grenadine’. He suggests varying it to 2 oz gin to 1 oz OJ, and I might try that, as this was nice but didn’t quite do it for me. I’d also want to tone down the absinthe just a little too. My wife, on the other hand, loved it. At first sip, she thought it was alright (fairly high praise for her – she has quite a narrow taste in cocktails), but later reported back that she really appreciated it by the end of the glass and that it made her feel great. She asked for another one today.

Oh, and my photography really needs work. It was more pink, and less orange, than that photo suggests.

Tequila Sunrise

1 1/2 oz tequila

2-3 oz orange juice

1 tsp grenadine

Fill a highball or collins glass with a scoop of crushed ice. Add the grenadine and tequila. Stir a little. Fill the rest of the glass with more crushed ice. Add OJ to top up. Give a little stir with a bar spoon or straw.

OK, I might have just lost any cred I may have had as a cocktail geek by introducing a cocktail that’s not only well-known, but from that dark era of cocktails, the 70s and 80s (and I had to even go and put an umbrella in it). But firstly, this is, of course, a great drink to showcase the visual effects of the grenadine, and secondly this is also a great drink to show how using craft cocktail methodology, a dull old drink can be nicely rehabilitated.

I’ve improved almost every aspect of this drink – the tequila, the orange juice, the grenadine and the ice.

The tequila: I know I’m not the only one who was put off tequila for a long long time due to bad experiences with cheap crap. Most of the cheaper tequila is known as ‘mixto’ – Mexican regulations allow tequila to be made with as little as 50% real tequila spirit. The rest can be rubbish grain alcohol (and generally is). Make sure you get tequila labelled as ‘100% agave’. Personally I prefer the smoother ‘reposado’ (slightly aged, dark) tequila. In Taipei, I find the ‘Lunazel’ brand available at Drinks a good middle-ground between the cheap ‘n’ nasty and the expensive premium stuff.

The orange juice: Squeeze it yourself. You’ll notice the difference. Fresh juices rock.

The grenadine: With a generous teaspoon of the real stuff, this is nothing like the version with that Rose’s cough syrup-flavoured muck.

The ice: I love crushed ice. It’s easy to make. Just stick your ice in a laundry bag or even a dish towel and beat the crap out of it with a rolling pin. Crushed ice serves two purposes. First, it obviously makes for a nice cold drink. Second, it transforms a drink that might have been, say, 1 part spirit to 5 parts mixer, into a more classically portioned 1 to 2 or even 1 to 1, but still allows you to enjoy it as a long drink. I use this method in loads of drinks. The Mojito is another example, where you use so much crushed ice that there’s bugger all room left for soda. That’s how it should be.

Anyway, grenadine is a piece of cake. Go and make some now.

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