DIY cocktail ingredients: homemade cherries, orgeat syrup, and grenadine

It's the newest trend in high-end bars around town: artisan cocktails made with house-made ingredients, which can add a whole new level of flavor and sophistication to drinks. So why not adopt that trend for your own homemade cocktails? Since some fancy syrups and garnishes seemed simple to prepare at home, we thought we'd test recipes and pick a few winners. Grenadine, for example, is really just pomegranate simple syrup, we reduced pomegranate juice with sugar--that's it--and it tastes heavenly. Many people think store bought maraschino cherries are gross (don't even mention the green ones), and when one of our readers sent in a recipe for homemade cherries we found another winner. And orgeat syrup, a very old-school ingredient used in many rum cocktails, only needs three ingredients.

Put on your aprons, DIYers: Here are some of our favorite cocktail-fixin' recipes, plus a great mai tai recipe that combines them all:

Homemade grenadine

Bring equal parts pomegranate juice and sugar to a boil, simmer for 10 to 15 minutes to thicken slightly, cool and refrigerate.

Brandied cherries (tweaked from a recipe by reader Bstamp)

Mix 2 1/2 cups of simple syrup (1:1 will be very sweet, so adjust to your taste) with 1/4 cup of lemon juice and one cinnamon stick in a pot. Fill a quart jar with cherries and add to your mixture. Bring to a boil, simmer 10 to 15 minutes, until cherries slightly soften. Cool, then add 2 oz. brandy, 1 oz. maraschino liqueur, 1 oz. kirsh. (Here is where you can improvise: Try adding port, cognac, or your choice of spirits.) Top with a dash of orange flower water and/or rosewater and store in a jar in the fridge, up to two weeks or so.

Orgeat syrup (from Kaiser Penquin)

1 1/2 lbs. whole, raw almonds
4 cups sugar
2 cups water
3 dashes rosewater
3 dashes orange flower water

Toast almonds at 400 degrees, tossing once or twice, until crisp--about 10 minutes. Crush almonds in a food processor or in a double-ply baggie with a hammer or rolling pin, until they are all crumbled. Bring almonds, sugar, and water to a boil, and then simmer for 2 minutes. Remove from heat and let stand covered for at least 12 hours. Strain (through cheesecloth or fine mesh). Add rose and orange flower waters. Bottle and refrigerate.

And now let's put them all together in one delicious cocktail:

Mai Tai Cocktail (tweaked from a recipe by Alex)

2 parts dark rum
2 parts white rum
1 part orange curarcao (or substitute triple sec or Cointreau)
1 part grenadine
2 parts pineapple juice
dash orgeat syrup
1 part lime juice

Shake together very well. Strain into highball glass over ice cubes. Garnish with pineapple spear, cherry, and paper umbrella.

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