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Monday, March 30, 2020

Not long ago, the pomegranate was considered an exotic fruit. It was rare, expensive and only available for a couple of weeks in the fall. In the last decade, in part due to advertising touting pomegranates’ high level of antioxidants and other healthful properties, pomegranates and pomegranate-based products have become trendy and almost ubiquitous. The California-based Pomegranate Council now estimates that sales of fresh Californian pomegranates are growing at a steady rate of 20 percent annually.

As pomegranates have become more popular they have also become a choice bar ingredient. Pomegranates in cocktails is not a new trend but rather a very old one that has been rediscovered. Pomegranates started making their way into mixed drinks at the turn of the last century (the earliest bar book I’ve found that includes pomegranate-flavored cocktails is George J. Kappeler’s 1900 book Modern American Drinks); however, pomegranate-flavored drinks arguably reached the peak of their popularity in 1920s and 1930s Cuba.

Known as “America’s Playground” during the thirsty years of Prohibition, Cuba was the choice destination for Americans to drink and relax in the tropical sun. Most of the cocktails served at Cuba’s bars were made from local rum, and some of the most popular were flavored with a pomegranate-and-sugar syrup known as grenadine.  The Cuban bartenders had discovered that pomegranate’s tart flavor is a good complement to the light flavor of Cuban-style white rum.

After Prohibition ended, Cuban cocktails became, and have remained, among the most popular mixed drinks in the U.S. However, as the quality of grenadine declined in the 1940s and 1950s (becoming almost exclusively something made of corn syrup, citric acid, artificial flavors and artificial color, so, too, did demand for grenadine-flavored drinks.

These days, though, with the ever-growing popularity of the pomegranate, grenadine-flavored cocktail classics are being rediscovered. Here are recipes for two easy-to-make grenadine-flavored Cuban cocktails—either of which would be a perfect choice for sipping on a sweltering afternoon—along with an easy recipe for homemade grenadine. (If you would prefer to buy grenadine, Stirrings makes an authentic pomegranate juice-based grenadine that is certified kosher by the OU.) Enjoy.

The Bacardi Cocktail

Named for Bacardi Rum, this grenadine-flavored version of the Daiquiri was likely invented in the 1910s, and for a time after Prohibition it was perhaps the most popular rum-based cocktail in the U.S. The cocktail’s name resulted in an interesting law suit in 1936 (Compania “Ron Bacardi,” S.A. v. B.P. Hotel Co., Inc.) when Bacardi was able to successfully sue a Manhattan restaurant for selling Bacardi Cocktails made with a competitor’s rum. The ruling was later upheld by the New York Court of Appeals.

• 3 tbsp. white rum (Bacardi Superior, Flor de Cana Extra Dry and Rhum Barbancourt White would all be good choices)

• 1 ½ tbsp. fresh lime juice

• 1 tbsp. grenadine

Shake in a cocktail shaker with plenty of ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

The Mary Pickford Cocktail

Silent movie star Mary Pickford, then known as “America’s Sweetheart,” visited Cuba with her new husband, Douglas Fairbanks, Sr., in 1920. This drink was created for her by one of Havana’s foremost barmen (accounts differ as to whether it was Eddie Woelke or Fred Kaufmann) during the trip. It’s been a classic ever since.

• 3 tbsp. of white rum (Bacardi Superior, Flor de Cana Extra Dry and Rhum Barbancourt White would all be good choices)

• 3 tbsp. of fresh (preferably) pineapple juice

• 1 tsp. of grenadine

• 6 drops (use an eyedropper) of Luxardo Maraschino Liqueur

Shake in a cocktail shaker with plenty of ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

Homemade Grenadine (Yield: 1 ½ cups)

• 1 cup of (fresh or bottled) pomegranate juice

• 1 cup of raw sugar

• 1 ½ tbsp. of vodka (optional, as a preservative)

In a saucepan over a medium-low flame, heat the juice and the sugar, stirring constantly, until the mixture begins to simmer and the sugar is fully dissolved. Let cool, stir in the vodka, and transfer to a small bottle or jar (I like to reuse a 20-oz. soda bottle). If kept refrigerated the grenadine should stay for at least a month. If you are planning to finish the grenadine in under a week, you need not add the vodka.

By Gamliel Kronemer