The Grenadine Syrup Taste Challenge
What’s your favourite Grenadine syrup? It turns out that Daniel is addicted to the stuff, and during a visit to France last year he got me hooked.
Daniel says: I remember my first time. A day in 1970, I was ten, starting a new life away from my village, attending (sort of :) the big school/Lycee in Aix-en-Provence (the same one Dom went to years later). The teachers who taught me weren’t cool (No I can’t complain) so I’d dropped school again to walk around the area of the Palais de Justice, an impressive acropole-like white building. I got thirsty and so I bought a little plastic bottlette of red stuff, labeled with a weird name, about the size of a mignonnette (10cm high - small alcohol bottles we used to get in airplanes). I tasted it and it was good but very strong, and I realized it was probably to be taken with water. I looked around and there was an old fountain nearby, so I got there and I figured I would: get water in my mouth from the spring, inject a dose of syrup without losing too much water, mix inside, enjoy. After a couple of drooling failures, I ended up absorbing most of the bottle in one shot, and that’s how I ended up liking Grenadine so much!
As Grenadine syrup is hard to find in Australia Daniel offered to send me a bottle (are you listening Cottees?). I had to do something in return for him, but I don’t want to scare the kids away by describing it. Unfortunately I didn’t know which brand of Grenadine to ask for, so Daniel decided to arrange a taste test while I was nearby (I was in London for a week, Daniel is in France). Here is his message:
Should arrive mid next week in London, unless Customs opens it and decide to explode it in a vacuum chamber at Heathrow.
If you can open the package, surrounded by 10 meters of duct tape, you’ll find three little bottles, labeled:
- Grenadine X
- Grenadine Y
- Grenadine Z
You will have to test each syrup separately, and tell me which one you prefer, and I’ll get you a big bottle of that one.
(damn, I wished I had taken a picture of the three little anonymous bottles in their case before sending them, it really looked like a bomb in the making!)
Daniel chose three Grenadine syrups for the contest:
- Moulin de Valdonne (the margaux of grenadine, supposedly)
- Williams (the bar taste)
- Leader Price (the cheapest)
The original bottles from which the blind samples were extracted.
The suspicious package took its time getting to me in London. This was only a couple of weeks after the London bombings and my hotel was swarming with Police (they seemed to be using it as a temporary base as it was connected to Charing Cross station). I guess the UK has trained Grenadine sniffer dogs.
Daniel says: 10 days to reach London from Nice. Hello! The SMS I got that day (6 aug):
"Package arrived just as I was leaving. Woohoo. Dean". Made my day!
The package with the Grenadine samples
I took the package home to Australia, where I’m required to declare all food at Customs. They put my bag through the X-ray and asked what food was in it. My answer was “I think it is three small bottles of Grenadine syrup”, expecting them to want to investigate. However the Customs officer thanked me and waved me through.
Daniel says: I remember my airport arrival in Brisbane in 98 and how suspicious the custom was. They had us all aligned in a big corridor, and our ass and luggage sniffed by a german shepherd dog by the name of Adolf.
Once home, it was time to unpack and start the taste test. As Daniel described, it was extremely hard to open and did somewhat resemble a bomb. Would you trust some unmarked blood-coloured liquid sent to you by a Frenchman?
The interior of the package
Daniel says: Packing the three little bottles for a round-the-world voyage like that reminded me of the end of the movie 12 Monkeys, when the villain takes his seat on the plane, carrying a box full of deadly virus, nicely bottled in little samples, to spread around the planet and kill 90% of the population eventually.
Luckily, I had a specially trained sniffer cat I was ready to sacrifice.
Pounce, the cat, examining the contents
Once I’d determined the contents were safe to handle I found, as expected, three bottles of syrup.
The tasting samples
My dog NooNoo wanted to start the tasting test as early as possible. (*Daniel says*:Isn't French vastly superior to English? I mean, by now, in French, you would know that your dog was a female.) I got the impression that she wasn’t too concerned about picking a favourite. Part of me was tempted see how crazy a border collie with a sugar high from three bottles of concentrated syrup would be.
NooNoo picked bottles X, Y and Z as favourite
Daniel says: The three bottles were beer palimpsests and the three corks from Bordeaux red wine origin. I don’t think it matters for the test, but that’s what I would say to NooNoo if I’d met her, and I’m sure she’d understand and wouldn’t run to webster online to check what a palimpsest is.
As any professional Grenadine syrup taster knows, there are three rules when it comes to a taste challenge: preparation, preparation and preparation. Daniel told me that I must mix six parts water to one part syrup. This called for three standard glasses and a measuring cup.
The tasting equipment
I wanted a clean contest, so carefully inspected the glasses to ensure they were correctly sterilised.
Examining the glass for any unwanted taste surprises
Daniel says: Mental note - offer Dean a sweatshirt with shorter sleeves.
Opening the bottles
There is only one official way to open a bottle of Grenadine syrup.
Don’t even think of Photoshopping this image!
Unfortunately, the bottles were sealed too well and I had to resort to non-standard tools.
A corkscrew was required
But it still wasn’t easy
Daniel says: Ah, I didn’t say in my email, but the easiest way was to put them in a microwave till the cork pops up by itself. Plus it gives a much much better taste the syrup. Sorry for forgetting that.
The tasting process
There was a lot riding on the outcome of this taste-off so I pushed each syrup to its limits. First, the aroma of the raw syrup.
Then the colour and consistency.
It should be slightly brighter and thicker than blood.
Daniel asks: Blood! Where did you get that from? source? url?
Dean replies: OK, I made it up. But the rest of the story is true, believe me.
Now it was time to taste. With a rush of excitement, I mixed in the water and brought the first glass up to my lips.
At this point, I’m hoping it isn’t a big joke
Daniel says: That syrup glass doesn’t look well mixed to me Sir! I can see all the syrup down at the bottom. Teach a monkey to read… Well, maybe it’s the ridiculous long sweater sleeve showing thru.. Teach a monkey to dress…
All results were carefully recorded.
Too many variables to keep in my poor head
The initial reaction was that two of the syrups tasted really good. I was disappointed by the third.
Daniel says: I had a hard time finishing the third bottle on my side. On of those moments of solitude where I appreciate having an American daughter who will drink anything icy.
I wasn’t going to rush into a decision. This wasn’t some silly wine tasting contest. Lives were at stake!
Which syrup to choose?
Thinking, thinking, thinking.
|X||6||6||6||9||8.5||Despite average smell and colour, Grenadine X blew me away with its fantastic taste.|
|Y||8||8||8||7||8||With a strong fruity aroma (probably artificial) this was a promising contender, but it didn't quite taste up to expectation.|
|Z||7||7||7||1||2||I think this was Daniel's bottle of battery acid sent as a joke.|
A hush settled over the crowd. I’d made my decision. Grenadine X was the winner, followed closely by Grenadine Y. I will be serving Grenadine Z to guests only.
Daniel says: Guests or family! Don’t forget your family!
I played La Marseillaise at the ceremony
With all the pressure lifted, I enjoyed a good glass of Grenadine X.
Now it is Daniel’s turn to reveal the winning syrup. Who is behind bottles X, Y and Z?
Daniel says: OK. A little bit of history first. Grenadine, the concept, was discovered in the 13th century in Romania, by a monk with the name Marcel Duchateua (yeah, looks like a typo, but who cares, I’m making that up anyway, and I’m not even closing this ).
Instead, look at this international court case background over who should have the right to use the name “Grenadine” http://www.american.edu/ted/grenadine.htm#r1
“Who will be left with the right to produce grenadine syrup? A number of possibilities exist: the nation of the same name, the nation bearing the name of the authentic pomegranate fruit, the Mediterranean nations where pomegranates originated, the fruit’s new home in North America, the commercial producers, who use sugars and corn syrups in lieu of pomegranates, or whoever first came up with the idea to use pomegranates as a cocktail mix.”
Now the real story: I discovered Mouline de Valdonne, the winner, the X in Grenadine X, about 15 years ago, when it was only distributed near the town where it was made, in Peypin-en-Provence, not too far from Aix (a place known for the quality of its water, as its roman name indicates: Aquae Sextiae).
Years after years, I saw the expansion of the brand in France, finding it in Carrefour Antibes, a couple of hours east from Aix, then in Carrefour Perigueux, a good 500 km from Peypin. I was so proud of being of a pioneer! My parents were so relieved not to have to buy it (or lose their son) each time I visited them near Aix.
I knew it was from Peypin because it’s written on the label, but I didn’t actually know what Peypin looked like until my in-laws bought a house there a few years ago. It was like a sign from God! When I first visited them, I actually drove by the factory on the way to their house. Their in-law pain factor went down an order of magnitude that day: my dream of a wonderful family house with uninterrupted Grenadine tap service was actually getting closer to reality.
One day last spring, I actually went to the factory and asked to visit the mill, but they told me it was just for resellers, no public visits. I was cool and even though they had treated me like a criminal for wanting to pick in, I helped them setup their intranet with W3C technologies.
Last week, I was there again for a family reunion and I learnt that the factory was being closed and the production unit moved to Grenoble (the head-quarters of the new mother company, Teisseire). Everybody was concerned because of the lost jobs in Peypin, and I told my in-laws it was probably because they wanted to get closer to the Amaya team. Nobody laughed (and nobody will).
That’s the end of my story on X. I actually don’t buy Moulin much anymore. Everywhere I go, friends give me Moulin, e.g. a bottle they have bought especially for me a while ago, or one I brought :) So at home, I’m usually more into the bar taste, Y (Williams, or another brand).
Moulin created a “old fashioned looking” trend in France, and there are now several other authentic looking Grenadine brands in store, some made by squashing real fruits (e.g. fresh corn) with their feet (redness comes from bleeding I guess).
A few years ago, I was on a family trip in Tunisia and I actually got a chance to drink Grenadine made out of real granada fruits! (it was in Douz, Sahara, in a zoo, and they were indeed Granada trees growing up around town. I also bought this watercolor painting representing the fruit that same week in a different town - sorry for the flash)
In as much as you can trust a young Tunisian boy with a monkey on his shoulder serving you something from a white unmarked bottle exactly like I ones I sent, just bigger, I think it’s the only time I had this privilege, others were made of corn and blood.
So the champion Grenadine was Moulin de Valdonne, a drink for royalty. Second place was Williams. Last place, and the Grenadine you’d only serve to your mortal enemies, was Leader Price.