Simple syrup is one of those must-have ingredients, for both the bar and the kitchen. Today, Joel MacCharles explores different ways to make simple syrup and shares some recipes to add interest to your holiday cocktails.
Simple syrup has long been known as a bartender’s best friend. If the term is new to you, know that it traditionally described a mixture of equal parts sugar and water (by volume). Simple syrup is a common ingredient in many cocktails to sweeten a drink or mix with citrus to smooth out the sour or boozy profile of other ingredients. It’s as easy to make as tea and its uses go well beyond the bar rail.
How To Use It
Although different cocktails call for different amounts of syrup, you can make easy cocktails by combining 1 ounce simple syrup with 1 ounce lemon or lime and 2 ounces of most booze (this works well with amaretto, whiskey, bourbon, rum and more).
Simple syrup has uses beyond the bar. Add it to carbonated water to make homemade versions of soda, use it to glaze meat (such as ham) when roasting, add it to iced coffee, tea or lemon juice to sweeten a summer beverage or add small amounts when cooking to sweeten a dish.
The Basic Recipe/Technique
To make simple syrup, combine 1 cup white sugar with 1 cup of water and simmer, stirring, until dissolved. Some people insist that simple syrup be heated just until everything is dissolved while others carefully simmer for a few minutes to thicken the syrup. I’m prone to do either and find the difference in results to be minimal unless you drink the two versions side-by-side to compare.
A 2:1 simple syrup is made by combining 1 cup of white sugar with half a cup of water and dissolving per above. By increasing the ratio of sugar you can use half the amount of simple syrup (for example, ½ ounce syrup, 1 ounce citrus and 2 ounces of the booze of your choice) and you’ll have the same sweetness with less water, which allows your drink to be relatively stronger in taste and alcohol percentage.
Simple syrup should be kept in the refrigerator where it will store for 10 to 30 days.
Variations on Sweetener
Although many people exclusively use white sugar for simple syrup, we mix it up in our kitchen — a lot. Our most common variation is to swap white sugar for brown sugar. I like the depths of its flavours and find brown sugar works well with brown booze (such as whisky and dark rum), while I use white sugar when mixing with clear booze (such as vodka or white rum).
You can use natural sweeteners such as agave, maple and honey by replacing the sugar with 50 percent of these liquids (i.e. ½ cup honey to 1 cup water for the equivalent sweetness of a typical simple syrup, and ½ cup honey to ½ cup water for the same sweetness of a 2:1 simple syrup made with sugar). Maple syrup is the hardest to work with because its flavour can be very dominant, but the others are easily interchangeable — unless you’re infusing other flavours, as we explain below.
Infusing is one of the seven types of preserving we're passionate about in our writing and our kitchen. It’s one of the easiest preserving methods and one that works fantastically when making simple syrup.
There are two methods of infusing flavor into simple syrup.
Cook ingredients (such as fruit or ginger) when dissolving the sugar. Allow the mixture to cool, strain and use. This is the quickest way to infuse though the flavours are generally a little more reserved than our second option.
Cold Infusing (Maceration)
Borrowing a technique from the world of jam and jelly making, we’ve found great results by letting fruit or fresh spices (such as the ginger recipe you’ll see below) mingle with sugar for 24 hours before making the simple syrup. I still cook the syrup to maximize flavour transfer, but the maceration will transfer more flavour than heat alone. This technique takes longer but the results are often worth the wait!
- 1 cup frozen or fresh cherries, pitted.
- 1 cup white sugar
- ½ cup water
- Cut cherries into quarters (this will help them release their juice).
- Mix cherries and sugar, cover and place in fridge for 24 hours stirring 2 or 3 times in that period.
- Combine cherry mixture and water in a saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Simmer for 3 minutes, cool and strain (pressing on the cherries to release their liquid).
- 1 pound (454 grams) ginger
- 1 cup brown sugar
- Grate ginger (no need to peel).
- Mix ginger and sugar. Cover and place in fridge. Leave for 24 hours, stirring 2 or 3 times in that period.
- Transfer ginger-mixture into a saucepan and simmer for 3 minutes. Stir to prevent burning and to ensure ginger is dissolved.
- Strain ginger solids from liquid. Squeeze the solids to release as much liquid as possible. You can use as-is or simmer to reduce liquid until 1 cup of liquid remains (alternatively if you have less than a cup of simple syrup you can add water until it reaches 1 cup).
- 1–2 dried chipotle peppers
- ½ cup honey
- 1 ¼ cup water
- Combine all ingredients in a saucepan and bring to a simmer for 5 minutes.
- Allow mixture to cool naturally, cover (without straining) and store in fridge. It will continue to develop flavour the longer the chipotle sits inside the syrup.
The Limit Is Your Imagination
Simple syrup can be as easy — or as complicated — as you’d like it to be. Make a winter blend by mixing cinnamon, honey and a small bit of cloves into your concoction, experiment by adding dried fruit to your simple syrup or go wild and smoke strawberries before macerating and creating a smoked strawberry simple syrup.
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A Bartender's Best Friend: Simple Syrup is written by Joel MacCharles of the blog Well Preserved. He is the co-author, along with Dana Harrison, of Batch: Over 200 Recipes, Tips & Techniques for a Well Preserved Kitchen. Follow Joel on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and Pinterest.