by Darcy O'Neil on March 2011
In the never ending quest to discover what makes a great cocktail, I've embarked upon a study of grenadine. Sure it may seem like a trivial subject, but I've learned that it’s the small things that are often over looked and lead to the downward trend in quality. When we really understand the simple things, it allows us to create more complex creations. In the world of the chef, the study of salt can takes months, or even a lifetime, to be truly understood. A professional chef can use salt to great effect in creating awe inspiring dishes. Good bartenders should know how to use basic ingredients also. Ya, grenadine doesn't have the importance of salt, but a good bartender should also be able to identify quality ingredients. So lets take a look at what makes a good grenadine.
Grenadine is the general purpose name for a red coloured sugar syrup used in a variety of cocktails. The name "grenadine" comes from the French word grenade meaning pomegranate, as grenadine was originally prepared from pomegranate juice and sugar. Grenadine is one of the most common, non-alcoholic, items found behind a bar and is an ingredient in many, many cocktails. Originally, grenadine syrup was created with the juice of the pomegranate fruit, which imparted the vibrant red colour. Today most grenadine is imparted with FD&C Red #40 food colouring to give it the vibrant red colour. There are a few manufacturers who are returning to the pomegranate fruit base, but the majority are not for practical reasons, like cost and colour consistency. Even though flavour is a consideration, the primary role of grenadine is as a sweetener and colourant for cocktails. Otherwise we’d just use pomegranate juice.
One of the recent trends has been to create homemade grenadine using pomegranate juice and sugar. The basic idea is to concentrate the pomegranate juice, by boiling it down, and adding enough sugar to give it a syrupy consistency. Now I’ve tried to make homemade grenadine and I was less than impressed with the flavour, which is contrary to what most people say. I found that the flavour was too sharp for many cocktails and the colour was off. For example, if you make a Tequila Sunrise with homemade grenadine it turns a foul brown colour reminiscent of sewage water. (Picture: homage grenadine and orange juice) Sure it may taste better than commercial grenadine, but behind the bar I’d never sell a drink that looks like that. Plus, who wants to stock multiple types of grenadine behind a bar?
So what exactly is the purpose of grenadine again? I tend to believe it is a colourant and a sweetener first and a flavourant second. Not all may agree with my opinion, but that is fine. This doesn’t mean that I think any old grenadine will do. My preference is for grenadine that is fruit flavoured, not vanilla flavoured. I don’t mind the addition of vanilla to grenadine, but it can’t be the primary flavour. I also want the colour to be consistent because, like food, visual appeal is a very important part of the cocktail experience.
From my perspective I think that grenadine needs to have good flavour just like any other ingredient in a quality cocktail. The problem is that what most bars stock as grenadine isn't remotely quality driven. It is usually the cheapest stuff they can find.
So in the interest of identifying quality grenadine, in my next post, I’m going to do a review of some commercially available grenadine's (Monin, Fee’s, Trader Vic’s, Sonoma Syrup Company and Chateau Thierry).