Grenadine is a pomegranate syrup—or that's what it's supposed to be. If you've ever seen a pomegranate, you know that it's not an easy fruit to juice. So somewhere along the way, grenadine makers strayed away from using real pomegranate juice and instead used corn syrup and red dye #40. That's why a lot of us think of grenadine as "that sweet stuff that turns drinks red" and avoid it like the technicolor plague. So I'm shocked at how much I use grenadine now that I only use the kind made with actual pomegranate juice.
Real grenadine is a bit tart with a depth of flavor you just can't get from corn syrup. Forget about Shirley Temples or anything that looks or tastes like Hawaiian Punch. Grenadine is for grownups. Luckily, there's been a resurgence of real grenadine, since it's called for in tons of classic, respectable cocktails that wouldn't be caught dead dyed red.
What's Available to Buy
Rose's Grenadine is the easiest brand to find, but it's basically corn syrup dyed red. Fortunately, there are a lot of other choices made with real pomegranate. They cost more, but that's because fruit is more expensive than corn syrup. Small Hand Foods, Employees Only, Stirrings, and Sonoma Syrup make some of my favorites (with actual pomegranate.) I've also heard good things about Okole Maluna's Hibiscus Grenadine.
While there are a lot of fantastic small batch grenadines out there, it's so easy to make your own that is suited to your specific tastes. Whether you juice your own pomegranate or buy bottled pomegranate juice, it still ends up being cheaper to make it yourself, too.
DIY grenadine is as quick to make as simple syrup, and you are in control of how sweet it is. I like to use a little pomegranate molasses and rosewater for a more complex grenadine, but you can also keep it basic with just pomegranate juice and sugar. You could add floral touches like hibiscus flowers or orange blossom water, or even add other fruit flavors like blueberry or cherry.
The ultimate respectable cocktail made with grenadine is the Jack Rose. The lesser-known but also classic Ward Eight, Pink Lady, and Clover Club also use this gorgeous ruby syrup without making things too sweet.
Grenadine also plays a big role in Tiki drinks like Planter's Punch and the Zombie. For a little fun on the sweeter side, try a Mary Pickford cocktail.