Most of us first discovered grenadine in childhood via the grandest of kiddie cocktails, the Shirley Temple: fizzy, neon red and always accompanied by a matching maraschino cherry (or four). But grenadine has applications that stretch far beyond staining Sprite. In its true form, grenadine is a reduced pomegranate syrup that figures prominently in many classic cocktails—from the Jack Rose to the El Presidente to the Pink Lady, as well as numerous tiki drinks—contributing rich fruit flavor, texture, acidity and that signature red hue.
Grenadine began to appear in American cocktail books around the turn of the last century. In an exhaustive look into its history, writer Camper English found the pomegranate syrup in production in New York as far back as 1872. But within decades, the artificial stuff began to take over the market. Seminal mid-century cocktail books, including The Gentleman’s Companion (1939) and The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks (1948), actually advise against using grenadine, despite its prominence in many classics. Only with the resurgence of craft cocktails did the syrup regain its footing as a sophisticated ingredient.
Today, artisan brands like Small Hand Foods have introduced much higher-quality bottled versions, but given the ease with which it can be created in-house, most bars prefer to make their own.
While diehards prefer to juice their own pomegranates for the syrup’s base, virtually everyone agrees that using bottled POM Wonderful 100-percent juice is an excellent substitute. From there, methods differ. Some add in pomegranate molasses to give a richer, more concentrated flavor and thicker consistency; some reduce the juice over heat to achieve the same effect; others call for both. Either orange peels or orange blossom water, the latter of which, like pomegranate molasses, is a common Middle Eastern ingredient, are often used to boost the syrup’s aromatics. Beyond that, it’s the wildcard ingredients—ancho chile, salt, mint or even a secret “exotic spice” mix—that set modern recipes apart.
Part of the reason why grenadine is so compelling in cocktails is its ability to match richness and mouthfeel with tart acidity. To pump up the latter, Patrick Smith of Chicago’s The Violet Hour only reduces a portion of juice, layering fresh pomegranate on top of it. He integrates it into his Rorschach Test with aquavit, Amer Picon and lemon juice, which is topped with Brooklyn Brewery’s Summer Ale.
Shannon Tebay of NYC’s Pouring Ribbons also sought to pump up the fresh, tart notes in her house grenadine. Instead of heating the mixture on the stove to integrate the flavors (and thus losing some brightness in the process), she blends together pomegranate juice, sugar, pomegranate molasses and orange oil in a Vitamix, relying on the molasses to give the depth of flavor generally achieved via a stove-top reduction. The syrup makes its way into a number of drinks at Pouring Ribbons, including Joaquín Simó’s Safari Julep, a combination of Scotch, rich demerara rum and chai syrup.
Meanwhile, at NYC’s Dante, Naren Young adds an unexpected layer of freshness and contrast to his grenadine by way of mint and Maldon sea salt, alongside pomegranate juice and orange blossom water. He uses it to add rich fruit and aromatics to his sumac-infused El Presidente 2.0—a complex riff on the often troubled classic.
With its ability to play between fresh pomegranate flavors and concentrated ones, sweetness and acidity, fruit and spice, today’s grenadine is a far cry from the sticky sweet sugar highs of youth. And one that deserves a place in every home bartender’s arsenal.