One of the things that seems to be happening a lot recently in the world of drinks is the revitalisation of things often considered to be passé or bad. For me there’s been reexamination of blended whisky (some of it’s nice, some of it isn’t), american beer (see previous parentheses), vodka (etc) and various other revisitings of brands that has confirmed and confounded my expectations. However, one drink that I’ve never really had a lot time for is grenadine – a pomegranate cordial named for the french word for its fruity base, grenade.
My first encounter with it was in France on a school trip where a barman with a small amount of English sold me and some friends a glass of grenadine and water, which he assured us was alcoholic, for a couple of francs. We assumed this was the bargain of a lifetime before we realised we had basically just bought some red flavoured cordial, with any booze watered down along with any flavour in the glass. It wasn’t until my days working in a student bar that I noticed it again, as one of my early duties was to run a satellite cocktail bar on busy Friday nights. We sold 4 or 5 cocktails including Sex on the Beach and The Slow Comfortable Screw, both chosen for their name and thus appeal to students as well as the simplicity of their construction and ingredients. However, we also did Tequila Sunrises, delighting drunken rugby teams as we rosied up jugs of tequila and orange with slugs of bright red grenadine.
Earlier this year an article popped up on American Drink, one of the finest drinks blogs on the web, talking about grenadine and including a variety of methods of making it. Being a fan of constructing drink ingredients in my kitchen I bookmarked it, bought some pomegranate juice and promptly forgot about it until this weekend. On the site they give three methods of making grenadine and due to forgetting to buy fresh pomegranates I decided to go for the ‘hot method’:
- 500ml of pomegranate juice
- 250ml sugar
Bring the juice to the boil, reduce the heat and reduce by half. Remove from the heat, add the sugar, stir until dissolved and leave to cool.
As you can see from the picture, the results are a lot darker than the bright red scary grenadine you’ll often see on the back bar. Flavour-wise it’s just about as sweet but also has a nice fruitiness behind the scenes that I don’t remember from bought grenadine, which I suspect is made of sugar syrup, red food colouring and the concept of pomegranate.
I used Pom (aka Pom Wonderful) whose producing company is currently ‘working with’ the US Food and Drug administration to work out which of the various health claims on their website and bottles are allowed to appear. Reductions in prostate cancer, LDL cholesterol and erectile dysfunction are on the debated list but whatever the claims towards the wonderful super-food properties of pomegranates, the fruits themselves taste quite nice (even if they are a git to peel). However, the juice is often quite tart and not particularly tasty – while mine was cooking down it smelled, as warned by the LCS‘s Mark Gill, rather like turnips, and not in a necessarily good way. My grenadine is non-alcoholic and I suspect that the main reason for making alcoholic versions, as it’s way too sweet to drink on its own or in quantities high enough to spike up a drink, is to add shelf-life – if I don’t get through mine soon enough it’ll probably start fermenting, which will most probably not lead to tasty results and will mainly make the cork pop out of the bottle as CO2 builds up…
Along with grenadine recipes I also looked up some cocktails that use it – without some way of mixing it I would have to drink it mixed down as cordial, an experience that I don’t particularly want to revisit. The first and most obvious drink is the one I mentioned earlier – The Tequila Sunrise. Probably the second-most popular tequila cocktail after the margarita, it’s one that seems to appear on the ‘lesser’ cocktail menus, pubs and student bars that are all about pumping out fruit juice laced with a bit of booze in a high volume/low cost kind of way, and it’s easy to see why – white tequila, orange juice and a splash of grenadine: three fairly cheap ingredients that you can charge a chunk for simply by adding a swizzle stick and calling it a cocktail. It seems to have appeared in the 30s or 40s, invented by Gene Sulit at the Arizona Biltmore Hotel and along with the recipe I used there seems to be another less well known one (which I suspect is the original) – tequila, creme de cassis, lime juice and soda, which I think would give a more extreme dark to light sunrise, as well as some more interesting flavours. I decided to use slightly better ingredients than the usual nasty mixto tequila and Mr Juicy OJ, using 1 measure of Tequileño Blanco, 3 measures of not-from-concentrate juice and a splash of my homemade grenadine. If you pour the gloopy, heavy grenadine directly into the middle of the drink it sinks to the bottom and gradually mixes upwards, creating the signature sunrise effect. A couple of ice cubes in the top and my drink was done.
With my darker grenadine the red-through-yellow effect wasn’t quite as strong (being more a brown-through-yellow) and I was at first rather dismissive of the drink. However, after a couple of sips I had a bit of a reassessment – the pepperiness of the tequila works quite well with the orange juice, and the sweet fruitiness of the grenadine obscures the citrus sourness of the orange juice, bringing the whole lot together. Not something that I’d generally drink, eschewing fruit juice based cocktails as I do, but something I might have to try again when I finish writing this.
Unfortunately after the Tequila Sunrise I was fresh out of cocktail ideas for grenadine, but luckily the internet was there to aid me. A bit of searching through uninspiringly named, boring cocktails of the form ‘lots of juice, 2 shots of booze, splash of grenadine, enough garnish to impress a customer’ I came across one that intrigued me a little bit more – The Monkey Gland. Also known as the McCormick at the time, it was created in the 1920s by Harry MacElhone of Harry’s Bar in Paris and named for the experiments of Serge Voronoff, a man much interested in the use of monkey testicle transplantation to reinvigorate the sex drive and retard or reverse the aging process. The version I made was 2 measures gin (I used Sipsmith) to 1 measure orange juice and 1/4 measure grenadine, shaken hard with ice, strained into an absinthe washed glass and garnished with an orange twist. Or to be more exact a rubbishly cut strip of clementine skin. This is on the edge of what I consider to be too fruity a cocktail for me, with the original recipe calling for equal parts of orange and gin, but the single measure of juice creates a cloudy but translucent cocktail that allows the the flavours of the gin to come out. The orange and grenadine mix yet again work their magic leaving a sweet and sour base behind the gin that accentuates the botanicals, and the absinthe washing imparts a slug of anis to the nose and a little bit to the flavour. A nice one for the summer, but probably not one for an evening where I’m wearing two t-shirts and a jumper while sitting at my desk waiting for the first snow of the year. There are, as ever, many variations on the theme with a dash of absinthe being added to the drink (which was in the original recipe) as well as being substituted for Pernod or other anise, but my love of the absinthe washed glass forces me to champion the recipe I used.
I can see why grenadine isn’t all that popular these days – not many drinks use it and those that do aren’t generally considered ‘refined’ by the new wave of cocktails bars, featuring way too much fruit juice as they often do to fit in with the old fashioned ‘all must be booze’ approach that is becoming popular again these days (and has always been popular chez moi). Cocktail snob that I am it’s not something that I suspect I will be seeking out, but for those evenings when I think I haven’t quite got my five-a-day, adding a slug of home-made concentrated red goop into a glass of tequila and orange must make the drink count for at least two portions.