Photo by Martyn E. Jones
There are several brands of commercial syrups on the market but making your own is, well, simple. Here’s how.
You probably already know that basic simple syrup is a 1 : 1 mix of water and sugar slowly heated until the sugar dissolves. But using flavored syrups in your drinks can add a whole new dimension to any cocktail and is inexpensive, too.
Usually the flavoring is added as soon as the sugar dissolves. Allow the mixture to simmer very slowly until the liquid is reduced by about 10%. Stir and taste while simmering and adjust your seasonings as necessary. Take care not to boil the mix or reduce it too much as the sugar can crystalize and you really want the syrup to be smooth. If your syrup needs more time to adjust the flavors, then add a little extra water.
Don’t forget to strain the mix then let it cool before refrigerating. The basic syrup will last for months but the oils and other properties of fresh ingredients may speed up deterioration, so it’s a good idea to make small batches. Keep in mind also that many flavorings will color the syrup, which may change the look of your cocktails. That’s not necessarily bad. An ounce of sage syrup added to your gin and tonic will not only change the taste and texture but the drink will be a rather lovely pale, pale green.
There’s almost no end to the ingredients you can add to simple syrup. Here are just a few suggestions (based on 1 cup of basic syrup); don’t be afraid to experiment with ideas of your own, just start with small amounts – you can always add more:
Chocolate – 1/4 – 1/2 cup cocoa powder (preferably organic). This also works well with vanilla added
Mint, basil or sage – 6 to 10 large fresh leaves
Rosemary or thyme – 3 to 4 sprigs
Lavender – 1/4 cup food grade buds or 3 to 4 sprigs of leaves
Cloves – These can be very strong so begin with just a few
Cinnamon – 2 or 3 cinnamon sticks
Nutmeg, allspice, coriander,etc – You can mix and match all kinds of spices but, as with cloves, add just a little at a time
Citrus – Use orange, lemon or lime peel. The oils make a lovely syrup but be careful not to add any pith or your syrup will become, what else, pithy
Vanilla – 2 split vanilla beans or 1 tbsp vanilla extract
Ginger – 1/4 cup fresh chopped ginger (By the way, vanilla and ginger are really nice together)
Black pepper – 6 – 12 peppercorns, depending on how hot you like it
Habanero pepper – I don’t recommend more than 1/2 pepper to start with (and use rubber gloves). This syrup can be downright fiery
Pumpkin spice – 3 0r 4 tbsp of pumpkin puree (canned is fine) with about 1 tsp pumpkin spice. This is one syrup you don’t strain and you may need to add water to keep the desired consistency
Rose – This is a little different. Substitute food-grade rose water for 1/2 of the regular water. Dissolve the sugar in the rose water / water solution. Remove from heat immediately
Eucalyptus – 1 tbsp shredded eucalyptus leaves
Fruit – just about anything – berries, mango, pineapple, kiwi, figs…. but the fruit should be ripe and juicy