It may be long overdue, but we are finally getting around to posting about the El Presidente cocktail. We mentioned this drink way back in November 2009 but never provided a recipe. That’s because it was one in a list of several classics you could make with grenadine and we placed our focus on a homemade recipe for this wonderful syrup. It’s been a while since we’ve touched on this ingredient, and even though the El Presidente contains just a tiny portion of the stuff, there are plenty of other great classics that employ pomegranate syrup to sublime effect. Of course, you have to use the real deal, not an artificially flavored bottle of corn syrup. It seems appropriate to briefly revisit the details.
The sad truth is that the most common store-bought brand of grenadine is excruciatingly bad for cocktails. It’s supposed to be a syrup based on real pomegranate juice with a hint of orange blossom, but today, we most often find a bottle of neon-red high fructose corn syrup loaded with artificial flavors. Fortunately, grenadine is one of the easiest cocktail ingredients to make and you can whip up a batch in about 5 minutes and use it to create some of our favorites like the Monkey Gland, Jack Rose, Twelve Mile Limit and many others.
If you want to juice your own pomegranate arils, by all means, follow this guide from an older post and make your grenadine completely from scratch using fresh fruit. The shortcut is much easier: Pick up 16-ounce bottle of POM Wonderful 100% Pomegranate Juice. It’s available practically everywhere now, but make sure you aren’t getting the mixed variety that also has cherry juice, and check the date so you aren’t starting with an expired bottle. Hunt around for some Orange Blossom Water if you don’t already have it. Ethnic food stores often carry it, especially Middle-Eastern markets. Pour out half of the bottle of pomegranate juice leaving a cup of liquid in the bottle. Next, add a 1 and ¼ cups of sugar to the bottle using a funnel. Finally, add a teaspoon of orange blossom water. Cap the bottle tightly and shake it until the sugar dissolves. Refrigerated, homemade grenadine will last for weeks, but you can also add some vodka to the top as a preservative.
Once you have real grenadine, try making the El Presidente as follows:
1.5 oz white rum
.75 oz dry vermouth
.25 oz orange curaçao
.5 teaspoon real grenadine
Add to a mixing glass and stir with ice until chilled. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with a lemon twist.
There’s little doubt about the general origins of this drink but plenty of uncertainty surrounds the specifics. It likely comes from Cuba and was probably created in the mid-twenties during Prohibition. At that time, Havana was a popular destination for Americans seeking relief from restrictions of our Noble Experiment.
Most recipes specify Puerto Rican white rum which is probably a more convenient substitute for the similar Cuban base spirit. Dry vermouth is, of course, the light-colored French variety, and orange curaçao is a liqueur made using orange peels. Finally, our grenadine appears not as a feature but as a secondary flavoring component. The original recipe calls for a 2:1:1 ratio of the main ingredients, but over the past several years we have seen this recipe shift somewhat.
The change most often referenced is a reduction in the amount of curaçao. The orange liqueur may not be as potent as triple sec, but its flavor can easily dominate with a risk that the cocktail will become overly sweet. So, rather than adding the classic amount, the best versions of this drink specify a significant reduction of sweet orange giving the other components a chance to show off. That’s how we’ve documented the recipe above, but feel free to experiment. Achieving the right balance will reveal the other flavors nicely, but it only works if you use a decent vermouth, and for most of us that means a fresh bottle.
Some swear by the quality and flavor of Noilly Prat while others suggest that only Dolin Blanc, with its touch of sweetness, yields a compelling result. In truth, variation of brands is what makes this cocktail so intriguing. It’s not a recipe that requires fresh juice which makes it convenient and easy. Selecting an aged rum from various islands can steer you in several directions resulting in a bewildering number of interesting endpoints. Your El Presidente may be different than ours, but successful execution should allow you to taste the nuances of your rum, the botanicals of the vermouth, the sweet orange and just a hint of fruit from the grenadine—all without tasting an excess of sugar. When it’s good, it’s very good, despite this being a rum cocktail without citrus.