Seedy drink, thorny problem

The best way to tell a good bar from a bad one, without taking a sip?

Look for the juicer.

Seriously, I think the willingness of a drinking establishment to use fresh squeezed citrus rather than to rely on purchased, packaged mixers says a lot about its commitment to quality cocktails—more than, say, the abundance of top-shelf spirits it has on display, or even the bartender’s experience level.

It’s a question of quality. Is the goal to make the most memorable, flavorful concoctions your customers have ever imbibed? Or is it to serve them mediocre-but-high-profit sludge in hopes that, after they’ve slugged down a few, they can’t tell the difference?

I’ve written elsewhere about the importance of using fresh ingredients instead of the artificially flavored corn syrup that comes in gallon jugs. I’m convinced that the cocktail renaissance of the past two decades is attributable as much to juicers in bars as it is to artisanal whiskeys and food-pairing menus.

My favorite juicer is the kind that can be spotted from across the room: a manual, long-lever, cast iron countertop citrus press. Any bar willing to invest hundreds of dollars just to squeeze lemons and limes is on the right track. Extra credit to the establishment that goes to the trouble of bolting the bloody thing to the bar top.

For the home bartender, a hand-held juice press or even an old-style citrus boat will do the job. And I’ve got nothing against electric juicers, although they’re a pain to clean, don’t really save much time, and are often more powerful than is necessary just to separate the liquid from the pulp.

This week’s Sunday Special calls for not one, but two fresh juices—but making one of them is challenging, so I’m going to give you a cheat (one that doesn’t involve corn syrup).

The Jack Rose cocktail was created sometime before its first appearance in print in 1899. According to David Wondrich’s Imbibe!, the drink’s inventor, one Frank J. May of Jersey City, was nicknamed Jack Rose. Which seems unlikely. A simpler explanation for the drink’s moniker is that applejack is its base spirit and grenadine gives it the crimson blush of a rose.

In any case, the lemon juice that makes up a good portion of the cocktail must, of course, be fresh. But what about the grenadine, a syrup made from pomegranate? The juice of that fruit resides in its seeds and is notoriously difficult to extract. as Jeffrey Morgenthaler writes in The Bar Book: Elements of Cocktail Technique: “I can’t tell you how many professional and home bartenders I’ve spoken with about the hard work and low yield of fresh pomegranate juice and the tedium of dealing with the seemingly endless number of tiny juice-filled seeds, each waiting to spill a meager drop or two of its messy, staining juice.”

Morgenthaler suggests using a citrus juicer to streamline the process, but that doesn’t negate the other downside of fresh pomegranates: They’re available only a few months each winter. Much easier, he says, to use a bottled, 100 percent pomegranate juice such as POM Wonderful.

For the grenadine, the simplest method calls for nothing more than pomegranate juice and ordinary granulated sugar. In their epic Cocktail Codex: Fundamentals, Formulas, Evolutions, authors Alex Day, Nick Fauchald, and David Kaplan go much further, using unbleached cane sugar, powdered malic and citric acids, and a touch of orange extract. The Spruce Eats wisely stakes out a middle ground, omitting the acids while subbing a few dashes of orange flower water for the extract.

That awful premade grenadine mixer in a bottle does have one attraction: a long shelf life. Don’t give in to temptation. If you’re not going to use up your homemade grenadine in two to three weeks, Morgenthaler advocates adding an ounce of vodka as a preservative.

From there, the Jack Rose demands only that you decide on a garnish. Apple slice? Maraschino cherry? Either will do, but after juicing all those lemons, I know you’ve got more than a little lemon peel around, just waiting for its moment in the spotlight.

Jack Rose

Adapted from Gary Regan, The Joy of Mixology

2 ounces applejack
1 ounce fresh lemon juice
1/4 to 1/2 ounce grenadine
Lemon twist for garnish

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


Adapted from The Spruce Eats

1 cup pomegranate juice
1 cup granulated sugar
1 to 2 dashes orange flower water

In a saucepan, combine the pomegranate juice and sugar. Bring to a slow boil, stirring constantly until the sugar is dissolved. Reduce the heat and cover. Simmer for 10 to 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Allow the mixture to cool, then pour it into a small decanter or bottle with a tight-sealing lid. Add a dash or two of orange flower water. Seal the bottle and give it a few good shakes.

A huge thank-you this week to Patricia Nilsson, Patreon supporter of the forthcoming book Sunday Specials: 52 Classic and Cutting-Edge Cocktails to Cap Off Every Weekend of the Year. If you’d like early and exclusive looks at the book’s contents along with updates on its progress, please consider becoming a Patreon backer.

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