Simple syrup, as the name might suggest, is simply syrup. It is equal parts sugar dissolved in hot water. You will see a lot of cocktails calling for simple syrup, and if you go to buy it from your local supermarket or wine store, you will see a small bottle of it sell for $4 or more. What is worse, it could include high fructrose corn syrup which you certainly don’t need in your digestive system. Read up on it, its bad for you. The truth is, you can pay almost nothing for simple syrup. You know those extra packets you take from the diner or coffee shop just have on hand? You can use them, and of course spring water is less than $1 per gallon, and you only need a few ounces. Even if you buy the sugar of your choice, it is still less than $3 per pound and again, you only need a few ounces.
Instead, go the simple route for your simple syrup. Get a clear glass bottle you can easily pour from. Get about a half cup of sugar (4 ounces or 120ml). Boil the same amount of clean spring water into a saucepan or clear glass bowl or jar, and pour in sugar and stir until completely dissolved. Allow to cool, transfer to a small bottle, and refrigerate. If you are going to use this within a month, refrigeration is fine. If you are going to keep it 2 months or more, add in a teaspoon of high proof vodka or rum to help preserve it a bit longer.
Personally I like the turbinado or demerara syrup, this is the “Sugar in the Raw” you find in your popular coffee shop, like perhaps Starbucks. The white sugar is basically the same thing, only the brown molasses are “washed off”. I like the caramel taste for some depth.
This one simple prep step can elevate your game a great deal. It does not matter if for iced teas and mocktails, or high end and authentic cocktails. It surely beats artificial ingredients filled with preservatives and tastes way better. Add a teaspoon of vodka or overproof rum and it will last for well over a month in the refrigerator. It really beats using granular sugar that never seems to melt completely.
If you walk into some fancy cocktail bars you will see bartenders or mixologists using these. But if you want to recreate the same taste at home and not pay $12-15 for a cocktail, experiment with some of these recipes below.
Now to take it to the next level, there is the fun part, flavorings. Once the water is boiling, you can add things like broken up cinnamon sticks. Once you take it off the stove, and add the sugar, let it sit for at least 2 hours. For tiki drinks this is the missing link. It will truly elevate your cocktail game just as much if not more than using things like bitters, and its far less expensive.
Cloves can be used in more seasonal drinks like Autumn and Winter. This works well in toddys teas and anything with apple brandy or cider. A dozen or so cloves in boiling water should do it. Just strain them out when you transfer to the syrup bottle.
The hardest one to use but really one of the most flavorful and fun to experiment with is ginger. You want to use fresh ginger, and after you have tasted this, you will never use store bought ginger ale again. Simply chop up a ginger root the size of your palm. Add it to the boiling water and continue to let simmer for at least 30 minutes. Strain into another glass, add in the sugar and stir until dissolved and transfer to your syrup bottle. If you add half ounce of this to a glass full of seltzer or Perrier, you will be amazed at the taste. This is real ginger ale. And, if you want to add your favorite spirit like gin or Jack Daniels, you will never order a Gin & Ginger in a bar again.
Something that will take 15-30 minutes will cost you pennies as opposed to upward of $7 in the store. And here is how you use your syrups:
- Simple Syrup: 1 part hot water, 1 part sugar: use plain white sugar and use in anything, coffee, tea, Old Fashioned cocktail, etc. If you are not going to use it within a few weeks, a mere teaspoon of high-proof vodka (or even regular 80 proof vodka) will do.
- Rich Syrup: 2 parts sugar, 1 part hot water, obviously sweeter, but less volume, only true cocktail nerds and very serious mixologists will argue which to use.
- Turbinado Syrup: This is the brown “Sugar in the Raw” you see in fancy coffee houses like Starbucks, but you can easily buy it in supermarkets too. This is richer in molasses and is great for mixing in rum cocktails. And, if you will keep it for more than a few weeks, a teaspoon of overproof rum will preserve it for well over a month.
- Cinnamon Syrup: Definitely use a touch of overproof rum in this and use turbaned sugar to create. Use in anything you would see on a Polynesian cocktail menu such as Mai Tai, Scorpion, Singapore Sling, etc, etc, etc.
- Clove Syrup: This one will be great in hot tea of any kind, but also Hot Rum Toddy, hot apple cider, even with cocktails that call for Applejack, calvados, or apple brandy.
- Ginger Syrup: This goes really well with citrus juice based cocktails. The zing the fresh ginger adds to the cocktail really adds something new to the experience.
- Grenadine Syrup: Make real pomegranate syrup at home – sweet, delicious, ruby red.
- Honey Syrup: Perfect for those herbal cocktails, after all honey is made from bees that eat herbs and plants.