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POM Wonderful Dinner Party – Part Three: The Monticello Cocktail

a 12 Bottle Bar original

1.5 oz Rye
1 tsp Grenadine
1 Dash Orange Liqueur
1 Dash Orange Bitters
0.25 tsp Pomegranate “Bitters” (see below)

Add all ingredients to a mixing glass
Chill in refrigerator
When chilled, pour in rocks glass, over POM juice ice cube(s)

Scale as needed

* * *

There’s no doubt in my mind that Thomas Jefferson occasionally enjoyed a good Cocktail.  Taking the Office of the President in 1801 — just two years before the term Cocktail first appears in print — Jefferson, like most Commanders-in-Chief, certainly needed a good, stiff drink now and again.  It’s to his honor and memory that we dedicate the Monticello.  But, you ask, what does any of this have to do with a POM Wonderful Dinner Party?  We shall tell you.

As the overriding theme of our POM Dinner event was to chart the history of the pomegranate “from Eden to this Evening” (as stated on the menu), the 1771 planting of pomegranate trees at Monticello by Mr. Jefferson captured our attention and inspired us.  As the United States blossomed into a new, independent nation, so did her pomegranate trees.  Spanish settlers had introduced them to California (where POM Wonderful fruit is grown and products are made) in 1769.  Apparently, the Spanish had a thing for the fruit, as the Andalusian city of Granada is named for it.  Granada, which bears the pomegranate as its heraldic symbol, sits just above North Africa and was an early Moorish colony.  The assumption here is that it was the Moors, chiefly from Africa and Arabia, who had brought the pomegranate with them from its native Persia.

In the New World, the pomegranate was not an unfamiliar sight among the American Colonies.  Today, two pomegranate trees grow outside of the Governor’s Mansion at Williamsburg, which served as the capital of Virginia until it was moved to Richmond in 1780 — during the term of Governor Thomas Jefferson.  So, it’s safe to say that Jefferson and pomegranates had a history.  Jefferson also had a history with Rye, growing the crop for grain at Monticello and, in some years, dabbling in the bottling of Rye spirit.  Is it entirely possible that, on some balmy summer’s evening two hundred years ago, the Father of the Declaration of Independence sat on the porch at Monticello and enjoyed a pomegranate and Rye Cocktail?  We like to think so.

As with all of the items we prepared for our POM Dinner Party, the idea behind the Monticello was to get as many logical treatments of pomegranate into the drink as possible.  The first, and most obvious, was to substitute our homemade grenadine for the sugar cube and water of a traditional Cocktail.  In our research into the world of the pomegranate as well as in working with them, we time and time again stumbled upon the sentiment that the pith and rind of the fruit are inedible, due to their extremely bitter qualities.  Did someone say “bitter”?  To us cocktail nerds, that meant that we had to take a stab at crafting our own Pomegranate Bitters, as follows:

Pomegranate “Bitters”

  • Remove the arils (seeds) from one pomegranate, leaving only the albedo (pith) and rind
  • Dry these in a dehydrator until completely dehydrated (about one day)
  • Place dried pomegranate in a clean mason jar and cover with high-proof neutral spirit
  • Add 2 teaspoons whole Cubeb Pepper berries, 3 pods Selim Pepper, 1 pod Star Anise
  • Seal jar and shake daily
  • After three days, add 3 dried Hibiscus Blossoms
  • After 5-7 days, strain solids from liquid and preserve the liquid

Now, I call these “Bitters” because I whipped them up without much specificity or forethought.  And, rather than use a neutral spirit, I used Wray & Nephew Overproof Rum — the most powerful stuff I had on hand.  I also didn’t let these sit nearly as long as they should have (apparently, Cubeb can get nasty after a few weeks), as I simply didn’t have the time between spark of inspiration and dinner party.  So, are they proper Bitters? No.  Maybe they’re more of a compound tincture.  Whatever they may be called, I present them here because they were used in the drink, and hopefully, they will inspire others to throw spices in alcohol and see what happens.  If you’re interested, Chris Amirault, over at eGullet, has a great overview of what to expect from various bittering agents.

If going the whole home science route isn’t appealing to you, just make your drink with an extra dash of Orange Bitters in place of the Pomegranate “Bitters”.

The final element — and pomegranate quotient — was the ice.  If you go to any proper, classic cocktail bar, you’re likely to get a drink with hand-chipped ice.  It’s both exciting and practical, as the larger the ice is, the slower it will dilute the drink.  In Asia, cocktail ice carving has reached an art form, with perfectly carved balls of ice being the pinnacle of the craft (watch in action).  As pomegranates are spherical and we needed ice in the drink, pomegranate juice ice balls seemed the logical step.  Not having the skills of a master Japanese ice carver — nor time to learn them — we opted for ice ball molds.

Visually, the POM ice balls really reinforced the pomegranate nature of the drink, which now offered up a full three treatments of pomegranate — grenadine, “bitters”, and ice.  As a Cocktail can be too strong of a drink for many, the POM ice also presented the drink an opportunity to dilute into a weaker, but equally tasty, pomegranate tonic of sorts.  In order to keep the ice in place while drinking, we opted for a stemless wineglass design, which held the ball toward the bottom glass much better than a straight-sided glass would have.

As mentioned in yesterday’s post, which covered the dinner menu, the Monticello served as the second half of our “Fire and Water” course.  The first part — the Fire — was a smoldering ember of pomegranate rind trapped under a glass.  The glass captured the smoke from the rind, and then, as it was turned over by the guest, released it into the air.  The goal was to create a new sensorial pomegranate experience while preparing guests for the Pomegranate-Apple Smoked Pork Loin to soon follow.  Once everyone had experienced the smoke, we came around with the pomegranate ice balls and placed one in each of the glasses which had originally held the smoke.  This was followed by a measure of the Monticello Cocktail, which we had made in batch form and chilled in the fridge for easier, faster service.  Pomegranate “fire” and “water” in the same glass — it was pretty cool, and our guests certainly seemed to appreciate it.

Alongside the Cocktail, we served homemade Pork Cracklings (Jefferson’s Virginia has always been home to famous ham and pork).  As cracklings – rather than “pork rinds” — seemed most likely to have been the term used in Colonial times, we took that as our moniker.  We sprinkled the cracklings with salt and cracked pepper in order to match the peppery qualities of the “Bitters”, while the crunch and fattiness of the cracklings provided a nice counterpoint to the tannic qualities of the pomegranate juice.  Those same tannins would also set the stage for the lovely, pomegranate-centric Flowers Pinot Noir, which would accompany the entrée.  We think Mr. Jefferson, an avid wine connoisseur, would have approved.

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