Repeal Day and the Pomegranate “Manhattan”
Add all ingredients to a mixing glass
Shake with ice and strain into a cocktail glass
Garnish with a lemon twist
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Author Gore Vidal is noted for claiming that our puritanical forefathers came to America not to escape persecution but to be free to persecute others. As a generalization, it’s a sentiment that strikes a deep vein running through the history of our young nation, and perhaps there has been no greater mass persecution committed upon the free citizens of the United States than that of Prohibition. In 1920, succumbing to pressure from the ever-vocal temperance movement, Congress passed the 18th Amendment – over President Wilson’s veto – banning the manufacture and sale of alcohol. For thirteen long years, the country was dry – at least, officially. Then, in a spark of sanity, on December 5, 1933, Congress overturned the Volstead Act by passing the 21st Amendment. In just ten days time, it would be legal to drink again. Americans don’t like to wait, however, and drinking began before the ink on the amendment was dry. And thus, it’s today that we celebrate the anniversary of the reclamation of one of our most fundamental liberties: booze.
Of course, we had to celebrate Repeal Day with a cocktail and a recent visit to the market reminded me of one of our favorite seasonal ingredients: pomegranates. In fact, it was just over a year ago that Lesley and I competed in (and won!) the POM Wonderful Dinner Party competition. So, picking up a bottle of POM, and a fresh pomegranate, I decided to go back through last years’ recipes to see if I missed anything.
One of the key ingredients to a well-rounded bar is a great bottle of grenadine, a syrup made from pomegranate juice. We make our own, and I always enjoy the alchemical process of whipping up a new batch. Unlike many recipes, ours is a bit involved – a mixture of fresh juice syrup and a reduced syrup – but I find that the combination creates a wonderful balance of brightness and depth. Around the holidays, grenadine is a nice addition to drinks, providing balanced sweetness and a rosy hue. What I set my eye on for this post, however, was something different than traditional grenadine – something deeper, darker, and more warming. Pomegranate molasses.
Pomegranate Molasses (from Alton Brown)
4 cups Pomegranate Juice
0.5 cup Sugar
1 Tbsp Fresh Lemon Juice
Add all ingredients to a sauce pan
Cook over lowest heat for several hours or until only 1 cup of liquid remains
Allow to cool (syrup will thicken)
As luck would have it, making pomegranate molasses is even easier than making grenadine – at least, our grenadine. There are only three ingredients, and you reduce them over low heat until you get the proper volume. Let the mixture cool, and you have a wonderfully complex syrup that is sweet yet tart and full of complex caramelized flavors. Traditionally, pomegranate molasses is added to Middle Eastern rice dishes, soups, and meats, but it also proves to be a surprisingly sophisticated addition to cocktails.
The Pomegranate “Manhattan” isn’t our brainchild – versions of the drink abound on the internet. Most feature straight pomegranate juice and sugar or a pomegranate liqueur like PAMA. We won’t stop you from trying these. One recipe we found, that of Duggan McDonnell of San Francisco, features pomegranate molasses in addition to Cynar (an Italian artichoke-based aperitif), and house-made bitters. Again, if you have the ingredients, go for it. Our version here, however, is a classic Manhattan recipe with the simple switch of the molasses for the traditional sweet vermouth, and it is glorious.
First off, we call for Rye here, but that’s just to be classicists – feel free to try it with Bourbon, Genever, Irish Whiskey or a peaty Scotch, as anything with broad shoulders should work nicely. Now, while the drink certainly isn’t a properly dry Manhattan (we did add quotes to our name), it’s a much more approachable cocktail than its forbearer. All of the complexity of a vermouth like Carpano Antica is there – bitter chocolate, tobacco, spice – but with a sweetness that softens any brutishness that some may perceive in a traditional Manhattan. And, whereas dry cocktails are the way to go before a heavy meal, this is a wonderful cocktail party alternative – extremely warming and evocative of the season without making you feel like you’re headed for a Don Draper-sized blackout.
So, Happy Repeal Day! Go out and celebrate with a cocktail new or old. Support a classic cocktail-focused bar and the kind folk who make it tick. After all, it wasn’t so long ago that our grandparents didn’t have that simple privilege. If nothing else, Repeal Day is a fine reason to put out your flag and kick off the holiday drinking season.