Riff Diaries: The Wild & Tangy World of Grenadine

Forget the Red Dye No. 4 that defined your childhood drinking days and say hello to the real grenadine.

For most, grenadine is synonymous with sweetened Red Dye No. 4 poured from a jar of maraschino cherries atop a highball glass full of 7UP. But the grenadine we once got jacked up on pounding Shirley Temples has nothing to do with actual grenadine—a sweet and tart syrup made from pomegranate juice that has been used as an ingredient in classic cocktails since the mid-1800s

Given the etymology of the word—which is derived from grenade, the French word for pomegranate—most assume France as the syrup’s birthplace. And while there’s no doubt that grenadine seemed to hit its stride when Paris and London became de-facto capitals for cocktailing during Prohibition, grenadine’s reach was far and wide.

Perhaps the most famous of the grenadine-sweetened cocktails, the Jack Rose—a mix of applejack, grenadine, lemon and lime—has both American and French roots, as it was born in the former and made famous in the latter via its literary appearance at the Hôtel de Crillon in Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises (1926).

A year later, in Mexico City, the cocktail historian and writer Charles H. Baker immortalized a drink called the Mexican Firing Squad, a Margarita-esque concoction jazzed up with the addition of grenadine and Angostura. It’s arguably Mexico’s second most famous drink.

In 1930, the Millionaire Cocktail No. 1 appears in the Savoy Cocktail Book and then goes through several different incarnations under the same name before becoming a close approximation of what Dushan Zaric of Employees Only ended up perfecting for the modern palate.

Rounding out grenadine’s A-team is another drink that found fame in the first half of the 20th century—the Gin Daisy. Originally a simple mix of gin, lime, orange liqueur and seltzer, the new school Gin Daisy kicked orange liqueur to the curb for grenadine by the time the Savoy Cocktail Book was published. Today, both versions of the drink persist, but dare we say, we prefer a little grenadine.

The fruity and tart nature of the syrup makes it a punchy sidekick to any light-spirited shaken drink or the sweet component of a long, icy cocktail like a Collins or a buck. Simply substitute equal parts pomegranate juice to sugar, heat to combine and voilà