Groseille (redcurrant) syrup - how to make & cocktails
Words by Simon Difford
Groseille syrup is one of those bartending ingredients of legend, its notoriety due to it being a key ingredient in one particular cocktail from the 1920s - the Artists Special Cocktail. Groseille syrups are available but it is easy to make yourself and the Artists Special is worth the effort.
Groseille is French for 'currant' - red currants. Groseille syrup is simply redcurrant juice mixed with sugar to make a syrup (although commercially produced syrups also contain citric acid and flavouring). The first bartenders' guide written by Jerry Thomas and published in 1862 has numerous fruit syrup recipes, including this one for Sirop de Groseilles.
Bartender's Guide 1862
The redcurrant (or red currant) Ribes rubrum is a member of the gooseberry family and is native across western Europe. A deciduous shrub, Ribes rubrum can grow as tall as 2 meters (7 ft), each bush producing some 3-4 killos (7-9 lb) of berries from June to late summer (but even in January we found redcurrants for sale at London's Borough Market.) There are other species producing similar edible fruit in Asia and North America.
The berries are slightly tart and here in the UK we mostly enjoy them made into redcurrant jelly, a type of jam served with lamb, game meat and particularly turkey at Christmas time. This is made by adding the redcurrants to sugar, boiling and straining, and you can use the same process to make a less concentrated syrup, although you'll find the syrup tends to jellify. Indeed, the syrup can start to jellify within hours of your making it so I'd suggest making the syrup soon before you intend to use it.
Redcurrants come attached to their stems in attractive sprays and you are best off refrigerating them (unwashed) in this state prior to use or for garnishing. Beware, the berries tend to turn mushy after 2-4 days even when freshly picked.
How to make groseille (redcurrant) syrup
- Wash your redcurrants while still on their stems.
- Destalk your washed redcurrants by holding the stalk over a bowl and run a fork down the length of the sprig so the folk's tines strip the berries from the stem with a comb-like action. (Some instsist on also pinching off the brown tip on each berry but it's not worth the faff.)
- Weigh 300 grams washed red currants into a medium-sized but highsided saucepan.
- Muddle the currants in the base of the pan to juice.
- Cover muddled red currants with 150 grams water.
- Add 200 grams white caster sugar.
- Stir to mix three ingredients together.
- Heat pan on a hob while stirring occasionally and bring to the boil.
- Cointinue to boil for 5 minutes while stirring occasionally (a highsided pan helps to prevent boilover).
- Reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes continuing to stir.
- Cover pan and leave to cool.
- Strain through a fine sieve and then through a cheesecloth or 100 micron Superbag.
- Adding 60ml vodka to your syrup will help prevent it from jellifying.
- The above should yeild 400ml styrup which should be refrigerated in a sanitised sealed bottle and use within 14 days. Even with the vodka you should shake the bottle at least a couple of times a day to help prevent jellification
Cocktails with groseille (redcurrant) syrup
So now you have groseille syrup you should reach for the Irish whiskey and make yourself an Artists' Special - essentially a whiskey sour with sherry and groseille syrup, this first appeared in print in Harry McElhone's 1927 Barflies and Cocktails.
Barflies and Cocktails 1927
The same recipe appears in Harry Craddock's 1930 The Savoy Cocktail Book which also includes the second best-known cocktail using groseille, the Nineteen Twenty Cocktail.
The Savoy Cocktail Book 1930