I subscribe to the idea that it is always best to have a go-to cocktail on hand. There’s just a certain level of social fluency that only exists when swirling a cocktail in a rocks glass with friends. But, somewhere between work and life all of this had escaped me.
Then, one night I stumbled into the new vodka distillery up the street. They were serving up delicious cocktails and sweet 90’s jams, and it reminded me that a night in with friends and a single good cocktail doesn’t necessarily have to end up with me serving a complicated dinner and spending more time in the kitchen instead of in conversation.
It was nice. I thought, huh, I should do this again. So, during this holiday season, I’m keeping this cocktail on rotation, so I always have something to offer guests and friends. Made with fresh cranberry juice, homemade grenadine, cinnamon bark syrup, and a dash of vanilla, it’s tart and just interesting enough to feel special. I’ll be honest, the syrups are a little involved but can be made in advance and will keep in the refrigerator for weeks.
Grenadine is that bright red, sweet, pomegranate syrup that puts the blush in cocktails. So, why make your own? For starters, homemade grenadine has flavor beyond any store-bought product and actually tastes like pomegranates. Furthermore, when you make your own, you can leave out the red dyes, artificial flavors, and high-fructose corn syrup.
When searching how to make my own, I looked no further than the cocktail experts at Death & Company. They start by mixing organic unfiltered, unsweetened pomegranate juice (available at grocery stores like Whole Foods or even Trader Joes) with cane sugar and then stirring in sweet, caramelized pomegranate molasses. Orange twists get squeezed over the surface to perfume the syrup. The grenadine will keep in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.
You can buy pomegranate molasses or make your own. To make it, bring more organic unfiltered, unsweetened pomegranate juice to a boil with a little sugar and reduce until thick, syrupy, and 1/4 of its original volume. For example, if you start with 4 cups of juice, reduce to 1 cup. The molasses will keep in the refrigerator for up to 6 months and is great over yogurt, oatmeal, and ice cream.
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Bark + Bite Cranberry Cocktail
- 2 oz vodka
- 3/4 oz organic unsweetened cranberry juice
- 3/4 oz homemade grenadine, recipe below
- 1/2 oz fresh lime juice
- 2 teaspoons cinnamon bark syrup, recipe below
- 1 or 2 drops of good-quality pure vanilla extract
- Garnish: 2 or 3 fresh cranberries, 1 orange slice, and 1 stick of cinnamon
Shake all the ingredients with 3 ice cubes, then strain into a double rocks glass filled with ice cubes. Garnish with the fresh cranberries, orange slice, and cinnamon stick.
- 32 oz (4 cups) organic unfiltered, unsweetened pomegranate juice
- 347 g (1 and 3/4 cups) organic cane sugar (often labeled “evaporated cane juice”)
- 1 large orange
For the Pomegranate Molasses: In a saucepan, combine 16 oz (2 cups) of organic unfiltered, unsweetened pomegranate juice and 50 g (1/4 cup) of organic cane sugar. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the sugar is dissolved. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook until syrupy and the mixture has reduced to 4 oz (1/2 cup). Remove from the heat and let cool for 30 minutes. Transfer to a container and let cool to room temperature. Store in the refrigerator for up to 6 months.
For the Grenadine: In a saucepan, combine an additional 16 oz (2 cups) of organic unfiltered, unsweetened pomegranate juice and 297 g (1 and 1/2 cups) of organic cane sugar. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly and without bringing to a boil, until the sugar is dissolved. Remove from the heat and let cool to room temperature. Transfer to a container and stir in 4 ounces of pomegranate molasses. Squeeze 4 half-dollar sized orange twists over the surface, discarding the twists, and stir well. Store in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.
Cinnamon Bark Syrup
- 1 oz cassia cinnamon sticks
- 8 oz (2 cups) water
- 396 g (2 cups) superfine sugar
In a saucepan, muddle 1 oz of cassia cinnamon sticks until it’s broke up into shards. Add 2 cups of water and 2 cups of superfine sugar. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. Lower the heat, cover, and simmer gently for 4 minutes. Remove from the heat and let stand overnight. Strain through a cheesecloth-lined sieve. Refrigerate up to 1 month.