As we’ve written about before, sugar is a major component in a great deal of cocktails. Whether it’s a cordial, a shrub or a sugar cube, a cocktail can be brought together and even elevated by even a barspoon of simple syrup. Simple syrup is the basic building block of many syrups, and it’s also the easiest to make. Simply take equal parts sugar and water, heat to a boil then allow to cool.
Many boutique grocery stores and online sources will try and sell you on buying it from them, at the low cost of over 100 times what it costs to make it at home. This article is more on the philosophy behind syrups than actual recipes because once you have the fundamentals down, it allows you to cater to your own personal taste.
Cocktail Syrup Basics- Herbs
An herb syrup is the next step, and all it entails is throwing your fresh herb of choice in simple syrup that’s just been taken off the stove top. Allow to steep for 8-10 minutes, strain out the solids, allow to cool and store in your refrigerator. You’re essentially creating a sweet tea or an infusion. Your standard green herbs will all take to this method, from Mint to Sorrel, and the simple syrup will take on a green hue.
Similar to infusions, these fresh flavors won’t last forever, and there is a shelf life to your syrups. If you want to play mad scientist, there are plenty of ways to extend your creations’ lives, but there’s no way to replicate freshness. Both the color and potency of your flavors will diminish, so it’s vital you keep it in the fridge.
Cocktail Syrup Basics- Spices
Spices are only slightly more complicated than fresh herbs, but the principle is still largely the same. Instead of throwing in your subject at the very end, to break down the oil and compounds in spices, you’ll need some sustained heat.
Allspice, anise, clove and cinnamon are all easy targets for light crushing, adding to your water and sugar mix and then keeping on a simmer for around 12 minutes. Instead of straining off the solids in short order, it’s often best to let these reach room temperature and steep for an extended period before straining and storing.
Cocktail Syrup Basics- Fruit and Vegetables
Fruits and vegetables are where syrups can become a little complicated. Too much heat with some things will ruin a syrup, while too little may not give you the desired effect. The good news is that anything you can think of is up for grabs. If it grows together, it goes together is the main principle of both cuisine and cocktails.
It’s no mistake that pineapple and lime are amazing with Mezcal, or that rosemary is fantastic with gin. Your method of putting your syrups together is largely going to be to you. The subject can either be stewed in your syrup and cooked down to taste, or juiced and mixed with your syrup with a dash of heat to help incorporate the flavors.
Advanced Cocktail Syrups
Once you’ve tried your hand at a few single-ingredient syrups, you can begin to mix your methods and subjects, all while experimenting with different sweeteners. Unlike Shrubs, you also have ingredients like molasses, agave syrup, maple syrup, cane juice and honey at your disposal. Pineapple-Habenero Agave syrup. Brown sugar rosemary and apple syrup. Lemon honey clove syrup.
The kitchen is your playground, and there’s no real wrong way to go about creating syrups for home use. A lot of my favorite syrups go great on pancakes and waffles just as they do in cocktails, which is something to consider if you wanted to have an epic brunch. The point is to have fun with cocktail syrup creation and to make it your own. Anyone can follow a recipe, but it’s thrilling to perfect your own.
Expert Level Syrups
There’s still more to explore, but for the purpose of two humble travelers just trying to make quality drinks on a budget, a lot of my favorite methods and toys are simply not available, nor do they make a lot of sense. Your favorite beer, cider or wine may very well make an incredible syrup.
Savory syrups are a woefully unexplored galaxy. Reductions, centrifuges, vacuum sealing, sous vide and even magnetic chemistry hot plates are all techniques that bars around the world use. We may talk about some of them down the road, but for the time being, a trip to the market, a pot and stovetop are all that’s required.
- Combine 1 cup sugar and 1 cup water in a saucepan.
- Bring to a low boil, then remove from heat.
- Place a handful of rosemary sprigs into the saucepan.
- Allow to steep for 10-12 minutes.
- Strain solids out, store syrup in refrigerator.
- Yields roughly 10 ounces. Syrup should last for up to 2 weeks.