If you go about constructing a versatile at-home cocktail bar with a limit of just nine bottles, an initial impulse might urge you toward filling those nine precious slots with as many types of liquor and spirits as you can. That ought to cover your bases for the largest number of cocktails, right? With a vodka, a gin, a whiskey, a tequila, and so on, you probably think that suddenly you're able to mix up practically anything. Wrong.
The 9-Bottle Bar has a mix of spirit and liquors as its base, but the supporting players are just as important. Take one of our optional extras, for instance: grenadine.
In cocktails, it's all about interaction.
In reality, few if any cocktails are made with spirits alone (and by spirits, I'm referring to liquors typically bottled at 80 proof and above). Indeed, the very reason cocktails came into being was to modify, enhance, and dilute higher-proof distilled spirits like whiskey and gin. Cocktails made the bad booze of our forefathers more palatable. (Nowadays, the job of the cocktail isn't so much to mask the taste of poorly made spirits, but rather to make well-crafted spirits taste even more interesting.)
So to stock up mainly on spirits like the types mentioned above and to overlook the other essential components of a cocktail leaves your home bar with very few drinks it can produce without outside help.
That's why the 9-Bottle Bar strives to have a little bit of everything. There are a few base spirits, sure, but also a few vermouths, a couple of liqueurs, and some bitters. In choosing to include a fruit-forward liqueur or aromatic bitters over, say, a bottle of tequila, it means that the 9-Bottle Bar won't have the tools to turn out a margarita. But without those important modifiers around, the base spirits you do include will have no one to mingle with regularly. And when it comes to cocktails, it's all about interaction. Because with more interaction comes more versatility.
9-Bottle Bar Extras
By now you're probably saying to yourself, "Hey, this column is about grenadine. That's not part of the 9-Bottle Bar. What gives?" Right you are.
The point I'm trying to make is, given the way classic cocktails are often formulated, having liquors, liqueurs, vermouths, and bitters on hand gives you far more flexibility to approach these drinks than an all-liquor lineup would. But even then, certain drinks will still be out of your grasp because you're lacking a non-alcoholic ingredient. That's where this and future columns like it come in to help.
Grenadine is one of those ingredients that, while not worth including as part of the core 9-bottle arsenal of your home bar, are nice to have around as extras for the handful of additional cocktails they can bring to your repertoire. For one thing, it takes a measure of grenadine to make the Ward Eight, a fruity, layered, and yet very approachable classic cocktail made with rye whiskey. And later in this series we'll also explore the Scofflaw, another storied drink that calls for grenadine.
What is grenadine?
In the simplest terms, grenadine is pomegranate syrup (the word means "pomegranate" in French). Many of us had our first taste of grenadine as kids, drinking Shirley Temples — which were almost certainly made with Rose's brand commercial grenadine. But now that 100 percent unsweetened pomegranate juice has become fairly ubiquitous at the supermarket, there's no reason to settle for Rose's, what with its artificial colors and high fructose corn syrup. You can make much better grenadine in your kitchen. Not only will yours contain none of the artificial stuff common to mass-market brands, it'll taste richer and more complex, thanks to the combination of concentrated pomegranate molasses, pomegranate syrup, and flavors of bitter orange.
Making grenadine at home can be as straightforward as syrup-izing store-bought pomegranate juice (heat equal volumes of juice and sugar until the latter dissolves). But with a bit more patience you can tease out far more depth of flavor from this tart, cherry-red nectar. It's a two-part process; first you'll make a thick molasses, then add that to a pomegranate syrup. The result is a subtly tart, more resonate grenadine compared to the store-bought stuff.
16 ounces unsweetened 100 percent pomegranate juice, divided in half
1 1/8 cups Demerara sugar, divided
Juice of half a lemon, about 1 1/2 tablespoons
3 dashes orange bitters
Make pomegranate molasses: Heat 8 ounces of pomegranate juice, 1/8 cup Demerara sugar, and the lemon juice in a saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a boil and lower heat. Simmer for about 30 to 35 minutes, or until the liquid reduces by half and acquires a thick, molasses-like consistency. Be careful not to over-reduce the liquid, as it will lose its viscosity. Remove from heat and cool.
In a separate saucepan, gently warm the remaining pomegranate juice and sugar until the sugar dissolves (the liquid should not need to boil). Add a tablespoon of pomegranate molasses and orange bitters and stir until the molasses is dissolved. Remove from heat and let cool.
Storage: The grenadine should keep in the fridge for a month or so. Add a 1/2 ounce of light rum or freeze the mixture to preserve it longer. Any pomegranate molasses can also be refrigerated for a month or more.
This grenadine recipe substitutes orange bitters (part of the 9-Bottle Bar) for the more common flavoring of orange blossom water. If you have the latter on hand, use about a 1/2 teaspoon in place of the bitters.
Recipe is adapted from those by Jeffrey Morganthaler and Alton Brown.