Grenadine neds an image overhaul worthy of a top public relations firm. At its peak, grenadine was a sweet, ruby-colored syrup made from fresh pomegranates before pomegranates were hip. Bartenders used it to add a splash of color and tangy flavor to cocktails and kid favorites like the Shirley Temple and Roy Rogers. But modernity, namely Red No. 40, hasn’t treated the syrup kindly. Most likely, the grenadine on your shelf doesn’t contain any pomegranate juice, but plenty of corn syrup, artificial flavoring and, of course, color. It doesn’t have to be that way.
Despite rumors that the syrup is named after islands in the Caribbean (Grenada, or the Grenadine Islands themselves), the name actually comes from the French, the original inventors of the syrup, who call pomegranates grenades. And while some speculate that the French named the Caribbean islands for their round, pomegranate-like shape, no one knows the precise origins of grenadine syrup. But it’s not difficult to imagine the moment of inventiveness. Some Frenchman, enamored with pomegranate’s tangy, citrus flavor and rich color, but fed up with the inconvenience of hundreds of seeds within each fruit, juiced his grenade, added water and sugar and voilà, grenadine.
Today, the sweet syrup is used as an ingredient in savory dishes, glazes, fruit tarts, sorbets and drinks. Unfortunately, many mixologists unacquainted with true grenadine pooh-pooh it as a substandard, cloying ingredient, unaware that it should be made from real pomegranate juice. But cocktailians who skip grenadine miss out on a unique dose of liquid fruit, explains Murray Stenson, bartender at Seattle’s Zig Zag Café. He and his bartending staff have been making their own house grenadine for almost a year to avoid the limitations of the short pomegranate season, which runs from October through January. They make the extra effort to pay homage to drinks of the past. “We’re on the verge of a renaissance when it comes to classic cocktails and their ingredients,” Stenson says. “And grenadine’s still an important component in many classics.”
The syrup also works well in new creations. At Zig Zag, Stenson created a drink called the Full Nelson, which features grenadine, ginger ale, fresh orange and lime juices and raspberry vodka. But he’s still partial to Prohibition-era classics, such as the Chinese Cocktail, a fruity-f lavored rum drink with a sophisticated bent. In addition, grenadine proves indispensable in Tequila Sunrises, Singapore Slings, Jack Roses and Planters Punch.
Mix pomegranate juice and sugar in a bottle or jar and shake until sugar is dissolved. Add the pomegranate molasses and shake well (it will dissolve faster if the juice is at room temperature); the molasses thickens and sweetens the syrup while lending a deeper, fruitier flavor. For an added flavor dimension, mix in a little orange flower water to taste.