Grenadine is one of the most common and versatile sweeteners and flavorings in classic mixology; it’s also damn difficult to find — the real stuff, anyway. Originally a pomegranate-based syrup, grenadine has been hybridized and bastardized out of existence, so that virtually all commercial versions contain little if any actual pomegranate juice. This is a pity — pomegranate has such a bright, fruity (for lack of a better word) flavor that to replace it with a mishmash of high-fructose corn syrup and red food coloring is a real insult to honest cocktails.
Fortunately, it’s pretty easy to make your own grenadine at home. I’ve come across several recipes for the do-it-yourselfer, and there are two that seem to be the most popular: a cold-process mix of pomegranate juice and sugar, and a hot-process method that involves a pomegranate reduction and sugar. But which version makes the more promising grenadine?
Last week I cozied up in my kitchen with a couple of bottles of POM pomegranate juice and a bag of sugar, and set out to determine which process makes the better grenadine.
VERSION ONE — COLD-PROCESS
I started the comparison with a cold-process version. I first came across this recipe in David Wondrich’s Killer Cocktails a little more than a year ago, and it’s been my go-to recipe ever since.
Take one cup of pomegranate juice, and place it in a jar with one cup of granulated sugar. Seal tightly and shake like hell until all of the sugar is dissolved. Add another ounce or two of sugar and repeat. Voila – a simple grenadine. [Optional: Add an ounce of high-proof vodka or grain alcohol as a preservative. You can also store this in a plastic container in the freezer; the high volume of sugar keeps it from freezing, and you can just tip out a little frigid syrup each time you need it.]
The cold process produces a grenadine that has all the bright, fresh flavor of pomegranate juice, with enough sugar to make it useful as a sweetener in cocktails such as a Jack Rose or a Bacardi cocktail. When working with drink recipes, you may need to use more of the homemade version than the recipe calls for to create the desired sweetness. This version also lacks the depth of color found in commercial varieites; if you like, add a few drops of red food coloring.
VERSION TWO – HOT PROCESS
I first came across this version on Jared Brown & Anistatia Miller’s Martini Place; a recent exchange over at Boston Cocktails got me thinking about it again, and this experiment marks the first time I’ve tried using the hot process for grenadine.
Pour two cups of POM into a saucepan. Bring to a boil, then simmer over medium-low heat until reduced by half. Add one cup of sugar, and stir until dissolved. Remove from heat and let cool; if desired, add high-proof vodka or grain alcohol as a preservative (it also keeps well, and doesn’t freeze solid, in a plastic container in the freezer).
This process produces a grenadine that has a deeper color and a richer flavor. While the cold process makes a grenadine that is fresh and light, the hot process makes a more intensely flavored end product, with a distinct “cooked” taste. It’s still not as sweet as the commercial versions, so you may need to alter the proportions in your cocktail recipes, but the rich, red color is there.
VERDICT: Hard to say — both versions are far superior to any commercial grenadine I’ve tried, and comparing the two is more a challenge for personal tastes. I find myself drawn to the fresher flavor of the cold-process grenadine, as when it’s used in a cocktail such as a Jack Rose or El Presidente, that brightness helps lift the overall flavor of the drink. (The cold process is faster and easier, too.) But the hot process is not without merit, and I can see how its deeper, more intense flavor could be useful in multiple-ingredient drinks such as a Planter’s Punch, to help the pomegranate’s flavor stand a better chance among the other ingredients.
Not to be anticlimactic about it, but both versions are worth trying. The flavor of each is different — fresher, fruitier — from the commercial version, so be prepared for the difference (you can also add a few drops of almond extract, or an ounce of orgeat, to your grenadine, for a not unpleasant variation that hews a bit closer to the flavor of the commercial brands).