I make and sell a grenadine through my company Small Hand Foods. It differs vastly from what is currently on the market, and some people have been asking why.

First and foremost is the issue of taste. There are generally two kinds of grenadine on the market: ones that contain juice, like Stirrings and Sonoma Syrup Company, and ones that don’t, like Rose’s and Monin. Unfortunately, although the ones with juice in them are far tastier than their artificial addititive counterparts, when mixing them into cocktail, they simply don’t taste like pomegranate. There is the sweetness, of course, and the citric acid tartness, but none of the tannic juiciness I associate with ripe pomegranate.

I had always understood that grenadine was a syrup made from pomegranate and sugar, grenade meaning pomegranate in French, and granada in Spanish. But unlike other cocktail ingredients I can find almost no recipes for it in my collection of old cookbooks. In fact, the only recipe I found is in Home Made Beverages: The Manufacture of Non-Alcoholic and Alcoholic Drinks in the Household by Albert A. Hopkins, first published in 1900. And it is a rather unfortunate one:

Extract grenadine, 2 oz.; liquid foam, 1 oz.; red fruit coloring, 1 dr.; syrup, 1 gal. Mix then add fruit acid, 2 oz.

(Syrup here would refer to simple syrup, made in this book by adding 2 pounds of sugar to each pint of water and heated until dissolved.)

So I guess we shouldn’t fault the modern artificial versions too much; they obviously are following a long heritage as well. But for me, I want a simpler product that tastes like its ingredients. I like to drink the way that I like to eat, close to the earth with minimal processing. I want to know my ingredients, how they were grown and produced, and if possible, the people that grew and produced them. So I knew that my grenadine was going to taste like pomegranate, and hopefully, make cocktails that tasted like there was pomegranate in them.

In a lot of classic cocktails, grenadine is called for in dashes, leading me to believe that it was used often for color. And if you look at a modern version of a common grenadine cocktail like a tequila sunrise, you will see that yes, indeed, there is a very noticeable color addition.

My problem is that if grenadine is made with just pomegranate and sugar, it wouldn’t be a bright red, it would be a darker, more wine-like color.

Perhaps we have gotten so used to artificial colors that something natural looks too muddy. When we serve a Shirley Temple at Heaven’s Dog we use Fever Tree Ginger Ale (as the Shirley Temple was originally made with ginger ale, not 7up or Sprite) and sink some Small Hand Foods Grenadine into the glass. Kids, and the occasional adult who order them, often look askance at the beverage until they take a sip. It’s really good, and tastes like ginger and pomegranate, like the actual ingredients. Unusual, yes, but only compared to the high-fructose corn syrup and FD&C Red #40 concoction we’ve become accustomed to.

There is a great discussion in the Spirits & Cocktails forum on eGullet about making your own grenadine. There are many, many recipes that contributors have posted, and every one of them is vastly superior to anything you can find on your typical liquor store shelf. However, one of the most interesting parts of the discussion is that some people add additional flavors to their grenadine, from vanilla to orange flower water to star anise. One post compared grenadine to pomegranate syrup like orgeat to almond syrup, as in, one is a pure flavor syrup and the other is a flavored syrup with pomegranate or almond as the base. Etymologically this is erroneous, of course, as grenade means pomegranate, and orge actually means barley, the culinary root of this syrup, which has evolved into its current form.

I tried adding flavors to mine. I love orange flower water, and thought vanilla, since it is often used in artificial grenadines, would make the syrup taste a bit more familiar. I even tried adding hibiscus, thinking it would donate a brighter red color and a bit of that lovely sorrel-like zing. But they all tasted weird to me. The vanilla made the syrup taste more like artificial grenadine, which was really unfortunate. The orange flower water tasted out of place and lended a body-product floral unpleasantness, the way too much lavender or violet can. And the hibiscus just muddied the bright acidity of the natural pomegranate.

So I came back to a pure pomegranate syrup. It’s dark and murky, like a reduced red wine sauce, and adds a lot of color to a cocktail. But it tastes juicy and rich, less sweet than commercial products, and still has a tannic bite that reminds you it comes from real fruit. And yes, it will add more flavor to your cocktail than the other stuff. But I think that’s the way it should be.


As a pretty geeky bartender, I like to scan old bar books looking for drink recipes that call for obscure ingredients (see Capillaire and Orchard Syrup).

I first came across Sirop-de-Groseille in the Savoy Cocktail Book, although it’s also listed in Harry McElhone’s “Barflies and Cocktails.” It’s a red currant syrup, sometimes used as a substitute for grenadine or raspberry syrup. It’s often described as having a similar flavor to those, although I find it quite different, tannic and with an odd seedlike flavor, like biting into an apple seed. I think it is this quality that makes it a good match with kirsch, as kirsch is made by fermenting whole sour cherries including their pits.

Stone fruit seeds and apple seeds contain benzaldehyde, a poison related to cyanide (see The Trouble With Cyanide). The flavor is barely noticeable in fresh red currants, but when I cooked it into a syrup, the seedlike pungency is much more pronounced.

The first recipe I saw with this syrup was the Artist’s Special from the Savoy. I always like drinks that combine sherry with another liquor, and the nutty oxidation of the sherry tones down the tannins and seedy flavor of the groseille. Erik Ellestad of Underhill-Lounge describes his experience with this cocktail here.

Artist’s Special Cocktail
1 oz whisky
1 oz sherry
1/2 oz lemon juice
1/2 oz groseille syrup

Shake and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

CocktailDB lists the Nineteen-Twenty, a cocktail with both groseille and kirsch. I love this combination, and I love this drink, although I prefer a variation made with genever instead of gin. My co-worker Jon suggested this as I was working out the drink, and I think it is just fabulous.

Dutch 20
1 1/2 oz dry vermouth
3/4 oz genever
1/4 oz kirsch
1/4 oz sirop-de-groseille

Stir and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a lemon twist.

There is a French cocktail called The Rose, published in “Petits et Grands Verres” from 1927 that is essentially this drink without the gin. The name refers to the color the syrup lends the drink.

CocktailDB also lists a recipe for making the syrup:

Express the juice of small red currants, reds. Per quart of juice obtained, add 2 quarts of water and 3-1/2 lbs. of sugar. Dissolve sugar in water before adding the juice. Leave standing for several days. Filter or clarify and bottle.

I suppose you could put the currants through a juicer, but I find it easier to simmer them in water for about 10 minutes until the water is bright pink and the fruit looks anemic and sad. Press the whole mass through a chinois. You don’t need to de-stem the currants, either, just throw everything into the pot. And I don’t know why you would let it stand for several days, except to eliminate solids. I am far too impatient, so I let the whole mass drip slowly through a jelly bag. It still had a tiny amount of sediment, but not enough to be noticeable in a drink.

In any case, red currants are only available fresh for a short period of time every year. But the syrup will last for a while, so give it a try! Or come into Heaven’s Dog, for as long as my bottle lasts, of course.


I’ve been enamored of the curdled/strained milk addition in cocktails ever since I made Italian Lemonade. It’s often called for in milk punches, although bartenders tend to make milk cocktails to order. Shaken and consumed immediately, one often avoids curdling the milk, at least in the glass. But mixing the milk and citrus ahead of time, allowing it to curdle, then straining out the solids leaves the protein of the whey without the richness of the rest of the milk.

One of the features of the Italian Lemonade is its incredibly low alcohol content. I wondered if I could harness the flavors but punch up the booze to make it a proper cocktail. Also, while making it, I had to strain it several times. But the mixture remained cloudy. Although the drink did not appear mottled and curdled, there was still a lushness that betrayed the dairy content. I wondered if I could remove all of the solids, and what the remainder would taste like.

Rather than mix everything at once, I isolated the two components that cause the curdling: citrus and milk. I substituted lime for lemon, mixed them together, and waited until it was quite chunky.

Straining required time and patience. A coarse sieve removed the bulk of the solids, then a tea strainer, then finally I wet a kitchen cloth, set it in a funnel and let the liquid slowly make its way through. Ultimately I was left with a greenish-clear substance that smelled kind of like a lime popsicle.

I’ve been enamored of Marian Farms California Style Pisco since it became available last summer. The farm is located in the San Joaquin Valley and distills spirit from biodynamic Muscat and Thomson grapes in a copper pot still. The result is an unctuous, flavorful spirit with a lower phenol content than other Piscos I have tried, giving it a cleaner, more mixable quality. It lends a backbone to cocktails, yet is mild enough to let other delicate flavors come through. I think this is what some bartenders default to vodka for; they don’t want the spirit to ruin the flavors they have put together. I try instead to match qualities of spirits to the qualities of the added ingredients. As much as I love agricole rhum, it would kill the nuances of this drink. And yet vodka would add nothing. This Pisco makes me happy.

This cocktail does something I delight in: the ingredients mesh so that it is hard to identify any one thing. Various bartenders I have made this for asked if it had gin, or egg white, or rum. The foam created looks like egg white, but it’s not as slippery. And the whey adds a familiar protein quality but having the rest of the milk removed makes identifying it elusive. I love this!

I submitted this cocktail to the guys at Left Coast Libations for their upcoming book. It’s promising to be a very interesting collection of recipes from the specifically west coast style of bartending. I’ll write about it more when it comes out.

1 oz lime/whey mixture*
1/2 oz manzanilla sherry
1/2 oz Cointreau
1/2 oz 1-to-1 simple syrup
1 1/2 oz Pisco

Shake all ingredients together vigorously in mixing tins. Double-strain into a chilled coupe. Garnish with an orange peel.

*Mix 8 oz nonfat milk with 3 oz freshly squeezed lime juice. Let stand a few minutes to curdle. Strain through successively finer strainers, then pour through a wet kitchen cloth, letting stand until the clear liquid has filtered through.

The Trouble With Cyanide

How to Mix Drinks by Jerry Thomas is usually the first reference for anyone looking into pre-prohibition cocktails. But as a confectioner as well as a bartender, I am equally intrigued by the appendix added to this book, almost as long, titled A Manual For The Manufacture Of Cordials, Liquors, Fancy Syrups, Etc. Since I know that modern commercial orgeat is not made from actual almonds, I decided to see how historical recipes were made.

424. Orgeat (or Almond) Syrup.
2 lbs. of sweet almonds.
3i ounces of bitter almonds.
3 pints of fresh water.
6 or 6 1/2 lbs. of sugar.

Take your almonds (sweet and bitter) and drop them into boiling water. This blanches them, and they are easily skinned. Having peeled them, drop them into cold water, in which wash them; when ready put them into a clean mortar (one of marble is better than bronze), and mash them; next, squeeze in the juice of two lemons, or add a little acid, and, as you pound the almonds, pour part of a pint of clean water into the mortar; mash thoroughly, until the mixture looks like thick milk, and no pieces of almonds are left; then add another pint of the spring water. Now squeeze the white mash through a hair-cloth, or other good strainer: a common plan is to have a large strainer held by two persons; as they twist the milk may be caught in a clean basin; whatever of the almonds is left in the cloth put it back into the mortar, and mash it over again, adding a little of the spring water; then strain it, and mix with the former almond milk; this done mix it with your sugar (about 6 lbs.) which must first, however, be clarified and boiled to a ” crack” (see No. 17); whilst adding the almond milk let the pan of hot sugar be off the fire; when mixed give another boil up; then remove the pan from the fire, and stir the syrup until cold;* pour in a small portion of the tincture of orange flowers, or the least drop of the essence of neroly, and pass the mixture again through a cloth; give the bottles an occasional shake for a few days afterward; it will keep the syrup from parting.
*This is done to keep it from separating and splitting up after being bottled.

This is the first recipe I came across that calls for bitter almonds to augment the sweet ones. Now, I am a methodical cook; I will happily adjust recipes to suit my tastes, but I have to make the original to the letter the first time. How would you know how to adjust it without a specific frame of reference?

So apparently I needed some bitter almonds. Turns out, they are pretty much M.I.A., at least in the U.S. Even scouring food boutiques that specialize in European foods (I’m looking at you, Boulette’s), I was only able to find some specialty varieties of sweet almonds. Delicious out of hand, absolutely. But not what I was looking for.

So I started researching it.

The bitter almond is rather broader and shorter than the sweet almond, and contains about 50% of the fixed oil which also occurs in sweet almonds. It also contains the enzyme emulsin which, in the presence of water, acts on a soluble glucoside, amygdalin, yielding glucose, cyanide and the essential oil of bitter almonds, which is nearly pure benzaldehyde. Bitter almonds may yield from 4-9mg of hydrogen cyanide per almond. Extract of bitter almond was once used medicinally, but even in small doses effects are severe and in larger doses can be deadly; the cyanide must be removed before consumption.

So this explains why bitter almonds are so hard to find in the U.S. And it explains why modern recipes never call for them. Many websites detail that the cyanide is neutralized with cooking. Which is why, I suppose, we have been able to take delight in the lovely flavor that is the bitter almond, as it flavors marzipan, Italian and Chinese almond cookies, and anything else with almond extract in it, as the heat-processing of the extract makes the result safe for consumption.

It also explains why old recipes call for whole bitter almonds, but always within the context of a highly cooked product. The cooking was necessary to neutralize the poison.

Now, in my attempt to make the original recipe, I was stymied by the lack of available bitter almonds. However, other stone fruits also contain benzaldehyde in their kernels, including peaches, cherries and apricots, as well as apple seeds. I know that apricot kernels are available in some herbal pharmacies, as they are sometimes used as a natural cancer treatment. A controversial medicine called Laetrile, first sold in the United States in the 1960s, was touted first as a cancer cure, then relegated to treatment status, and ultimately claimed to be only a preventative measure. The USDA stopped its import and sale in 2000, although there are ways to get around this ban. Laetrile is made from amygdalin, a substance found in, you guessed it, apricot kernels.

So I headed to my local herbal-specialized grocer and indeed, found a big jar of apricot kernels. They were unblanched, so I had to go through the hassle of blanching them myself, but ultimately I had enough to make the recipe. I even went so far as to clarify my own sugar using egg whites, a procedure I do not recommend unless you are happy having to forever afterwards light your stove burners with a lighter because you have completely killed the pilot lights.

I made the modern concession of using a food processor instead of a mortar and pestle. But when I boiled the whole thing with the quantity of sugar specified, it was so thick that by the time it cooled it had to be spooned from a jar. It reminded me of pomade, or the solidified part of a can of cream of coconut. And after a couple of days, the entire thing crystallized and had to be chipped out of the jar.

Flavor-wise, however, it was delicious. The apricot kernels had imparted a profound bitter almond flavor, much like almond extract. And the richness that came from using actual almonds was apparent. The fat and protein in the mouth make for a depth of flavor and texture that simply is not possible when just using sugar syrup and almond extract.

Obviously there were problems. I can’t see having to spoon a mixture into a cocktail shaker a practicality at a bar. But this, combined with what I learned from the Art of Drink recipe, gave me a great foundation for attempting to make an orgeat I feel will work in a modern bar but be made in an old-world sensibility, with real, whole ingredients.


I read cookbooks like novels. Cover to cover. You know how a lot of dudes have stacks of books in their bathrooms? My stacks are cookbooks. (And I like to take baths.)

Being the diligent bar geek that I am, I love old bar books. Most of us relish finding obscure recipes from out-of-print books that are interesting and delicious, and serving them along with their back stories. When Plymouth released their Sloe gin, Dominic Venegas started serving the San Franciscan at Bacar. It’s a cocktail listed in Trader Vic’s Bartender’s Guide from 1947. Delicious. (And beautiful. Dom’s got the sexiest collection of bar tools of anyone I’ve seen. Watching him work is an absolute pleasure.)

Once I started making cocktail ingredients in earnest, I scoured my old bar books for recipes. But aside from a few notable exceptions (Christian Schultz, the “other” author of Jerry Thomas’ How to Mix Drinks, of course), there isn’t much by way of ingredient recipes beyond fruit and liquor infusions and the like. But then I found The Royal English and Foreign Confectioner: A Practical Treatise On The Art Of Confectionary In All Its Branches. Turns out it was drawn upon heavily for a book called The Art of Confectionary, which I had been looking for but was one of those rare, expensive auction types. But Kessinger Publishing has started reprinting vintage books under its Legacy Reprint series, and now I have a whole chapter on syrups! Including capillaire!

Capillaire is a gum syrup of sorts seasoned with maidenhair fern and orange flower water. There are many varieties of maidenhair fern, but the one called for in this recipe is Adiantum pedatum, or North American maidenhair. Evidently the plant is mildly toxic when fresh, but neutralized when cooked. (Much like apricot kernels, so I’m in familiar territory here.) Capillaire syrup was originally used to soothe throat and lung ailments. I’ve been looking for maidenhair fern with no success yet. I may have to buy a bunch of plants from an organic nursery and dry them.

Although, I have come across several recipes for capillaire that omit the fern altogether, so maybe it doesn’t contribute much by way of flavor. You know I’ve got to try the original though!

David A. Embury

I finally received my copy of David Embury’s The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks, courtesy of the bartender’s dream publisher, Mud Puddle Books. They’ve been reissuing out-of-print cocktail books, including Harry Johnson’s Bartender’s Manual (1900) and How To Mix Drinks: A Bon Vivant’s Companion by Jerry Thomas (1862). They all have introductions by the likes of David Wondrich, Audrey Saunders and other current players.

Embury was never a bartender, just an aficionado. And his drinks are unquestionably strong and dry (8-2-1 proportions in a daiquiri?). But his passion is undeniable and a delight to read. Until now, if you wanted a copy it would take months of diligent ebay-ing and a few hundred dollars.

My favorite quote so far, on procuring bottles of Mount Vernon rye and Old Granddad bourbon 18-20 immediately after the repeal of prohibition:

Oh yes, I still have a bottle or two of these rare old jewels of perfection, but I don’t drink them. I occasionally get out a medicine dropper and gently anoint my tongue with a few drops – just so I won’t forget what real whisky should taste like.

David Embury, you are a treasure. And Mud Puddle, I love you guys!