Whether you have a sweet tooth or simply need to balance out an earthy cocktail, simple syrup is an essential part of any bar. You can find various pre-made syrups and mixers on store shelves, but all you really need is a saucepan and some sugar. Once you have the basics down, flavors are only limited by your imagination.
Aptly named, simple syrup is easy to make and can last for up to three months refrigerated. Just boil equal parts sugar and water in a saucepan until the sugar dissolves and let it cool. You can also make simple syrup in a jar or container if you have some time to spare, but the resulting (thinner) syrup will have a shorter shelf life.
White sugar is the standard, but brown sugar will yield a more flavorful syrup. If you don’t have any brown sugar handy, you can raise the sugar to water ratio to 2:1 which is known as rich simple syrup. Want to make rich simple syrup with brown sugar? Call your doctor first.
Beyond plain simple syrups, there are endless infusions from lavender to almonds. They may require more prep time, but these palate pleasers can save future you a lot of muddling time. Before you start prepping your cumin syrup, however, get acquainted with these flavors.
There are two main ways to make an orange syrup: by letting orange peels/slices simmer in the simple syrup or creating an oleo saccharum (oil sugar) without heat. The latter produces a more potent flavor as the sugar draws out the oil from the orange peel. Oleo saccharum can be duplicated with other citrus fruits, but lemons and limes will take longer to express their oils.
(John McCarthy, Masa y Agave, NYC)
- 4 oranges
- 1 cup white sugar
- 1/2 cup water
Method: Using a vegetable peeler, remove the zest from the oranges. In a medium bowl, toss the zest with the sugar, cover, and let stand for 4 to 12 hours. Pour 1⁄2 cup boiling water into the bowl and stir until the sugar dissolves. Pour the oleo saccharum through a fine sieve into a jar and discard the orange zest. Yields: approx. 12 oz.
This syrup is hell-bent on making your mojitos and mint juleps easier to make. Light on the sugar, this syrup lets the mint take the lead, a valuable quality when you want something pre-made to taste fresh. Give your wrist a break and use less mint in the long run with this easy recipe.
Mint Simple Syrup
(Molly Watson, The Spruce, San Francisco)
- 1 cup water
- ½ cup sugar
- ½ cup fresh mint leaves
Method: In a small saucepan over medium-high heat, bring sugar and water just to a boil. Add mint leaves. Reduce the heat to maintain a simmer, without stirring, for about 10 minutes. Strain the syrup into a small metal bowl and let it sit until cooled. Yields: approx. 10 oz.
Ginger can take on spicy and earthy notes in certain drinks, but it’s most popular in sweet cocktails, especially in the form of ginger beer. Ginger and spiced rum go hand in hand, but it can also open up a mezcal.
Ginger Simple Syrup
(Dan Saltzstein, Saveur, New York)
- ¾ cup sugar
- ¾ cup water
- ¼ chopped peeled ginger
Method: Bring sugar, ginger, and ¾ cup water to a boil in a small saucepan, stirring to dissolve sugar. Remove from heat and let sit 20 minutes. Strain into a jar, cover, and chill. Yields: approx. 16 oz.
Though not too common in classic cocktails, matcha adds a splash of color and antioxidants to the many modern creations. The syrup takes the bitter edge off the matcha, but after a few days, the sweet mask will lift along with its striking color. For the best flavor, you should use this syrup as soon as possible. Whether you make a Matcha Martini or a comparatively subdued take on a Grasshopper is up to you.
Matcha Simple Syrup
(J. Fergus*, The Manual, Los Angeles)
- ½ cup water
- ½ cup sugar
- 2 tbsp. matcha powder
Method: Bring water to a boil and let cool for one minute. Combine sugar and matcha powder in a bowl. Slowly pour water into the bowl, stirring constantly to prevent lumps. Store in an airtight container.
*This is an adaptation of Ben Mims’ recipe in “Matcha: A Lifestyle Guide.”
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