I was at my local Yuppie-Hippie market and saw that you can actually buy Simple Syrup for cocktails. Like, pre-made, with a label and everything. A beautifully designed 12-ounce bottle of the stuff will only set you back about $7.
Wait, SEVEN DOLLARS? For sugar water?
It’s really quite shocking that I don’t get thrown out of more grocery stores, the way I walk around loudly muttering about how ridiculous $7 simple syrup is and how it this is right up there with pre-made peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and how it’s not even organic simple syrup and how someone needs to yell from the rooftops that simple syrup is called simple syrup because it is totally, completely simple to make.
Welcome to my rooftop. Here’s your megaphone. Let’s make simple syrup.
Cocktails typically call for a little bit of sweetness. Sometimes this comes from sweet liqueurs, like Cointreau or St. Germaine, or from non-alcoholic syrups like Rose’s Lime Syrup. I’m a big fan of using homemade jams, jellies and preserves in cocktails to sweeten. But often, it’s good ol’ simple syrup that helps balance the booze and the bitter and the acid of a great cocktail.
Simple syrup has two ingredients: sugar, and water. That’s why it’s so simple. Typically, you don’t add sugar directly to a drink because it’s very hard to get sugar to dissolve in alcohol. So bartenders and cocktail fans pre-dissolve the sugar in water. The resulting syrup mixes easily with booze and flavorings, and the bartender doesn’t run the risk of shaking up a gritty drink.
Basic Simple Syrup
Basic simple syrup is a one-to-one ratio of sugar to water. Weight or volume honestly doesn’t matter that much. Volume’s easier for most US residents. A cup of water and a cup of sugar will do nicely. Bring the water and sugar together just to a boil and stir to make sure the sugar is fully dissolved in the water. Take the syrup off the heat, let it cool, pour into a mason jar and keep in the fridge more or less indefinitely.
Rich Simple Syrup
Sometimes you’ll want a more viscous simple syrup with a two-to-one ratio of sugar to water. Rich Syrup is what we typically work with here at the NW Edible Speakeasy, because it allows us to get the same amount of sweetness with less added water. This means the cocktails are slightly less diluted, which we tend to prefer.
For a two-to-one simple syrup, bring two cups sugar and one cup water just to a boil and stir well to combine. (A half batch is fine, too.) This amount of sugar makes a very saturated syrup so you really have to stir to get all that sugar to combine with the water. Let cool, stirring periodically, pour into a mason jar and keep in the fridge indefinitely.
Even Simpler Simple Syrup
If you aren’t adding extra flavors to your simple syrup (see below), you can make a straightforward one-to-one simple syrup by adding warm-ish tap water to the sugar and stirring or shaking like crazy. As long as the sugar fully dissolves you are good to go.
Don’t try this with a rich simple syrup however. Getting that extra portion of sugar into solution in the rich syrup requires bringing the syrup up to a boil.
What Sugar Should You Use?
White refined sugar gives the purest simple syrup but I make mine with an organic evaporated cane syrup sugar that retains more toasty caramel flavor and color. This does mean that my simple syrups aren’t clear – they have a light amber color to them, and this can slightly tint a cocktail, but I don’t mind.
You can also use demerara or brown sugar for even more caramel warmth in the sweetness of your simple syrup. Brown sugar simple syrup is fantastic with whiskey and apple or pear-brandy based cocktails.
Honey simple syrup is also lovely in situations where the distinct flavor of honey is desireable. I use a one-to-one honey simple syrup in my Bee Smoker cocktail and love the results. Pure maple syrup is already so dilute that it can be used straight, and is called for in certain traditional cocktails like the Nor’easter.
Simple syrups are a great, inexpensive way to play around with introducing herbal or background flavors to a cocktail. Those of you who follow my Cocktail of the Week series know that I’ve made fennel simple syrup, rosemary simple syrup, honey simple syrup – and those are just the ones that have made it to the blog in the last two months (you can see these in the title photo, above). You can add citrus zest, spices, fresh whole herbs, ginger, chilies, coffee or vanilla beans and more into a simple syrup.
To personalize a simple syrup, just think of steeping out the flavors you want, like when you make tea. Generally, I like to add my herbs or spices just after the water and sugar have come to a boil and been taken off the heat. I let the naturally cooling syrup draw out the flavors over the next 15 minutes to hour.
Sometimes, though, if I’m confident there aren’t a lot of astringent or bitter flavors to extract, or if I want a more aggressive extraction, I will add the spices when I first combine the sugar and water and allow them to come just up to the boil along with the sugar and water. Just be careful with this method with flavors that can get overly strong.
Flavored simple syrups can be made in very small quantities – a quarter-cup each water and sugar is good for a small batch- so you can try many different flavors.
Save Your Seven Bucks
That’s all there is to it. Simple syrup really is simple. Do it yourself, make it yourself, and save those $7 for something harder to DIY – like really good Scotch.
What variations on Simple Syrup do you like?1
There is no way I’d buy simple syrup! A wonderful post!
Since we’re a household of teetotalers, what else can simple syrup be used for?
If you have some on hand, you’re a squeeze of lemon and a bit of water away from lemonade. And if you have rosemary simple syrup, you’re a squeeze away from rosemary lemonade, which is lovely. Any time you’d sweeten a cold beverage (with or without booze) with sugar, simple syrup works better.
It’s great in iced coffee too – it’s always hard to get the sugar to dissolve in a cold drink!
Ouida Lampert says
It works wonderfully in iced tea, too. In the summer, a bit of mint does not go amiss.
It’s helpful for making sorbet too.
Cook rhubarb in simple sirup and then strain. You get pink collared rhubarb simple sirup good for pancakes, rhubarb mojitos etc. And the rhubarb pulp is rhubarb butter u can can it or just put it in jar and refrifgerate it.
I use it in fruit smoothies: simple syrup, yogurt, frozen fruit, blend.
You can add it to fizzy water for your own sodas. Rosemary soda is surprisingly good! Honey-ginger syrup is good in hot tea as well as soda, and you get the bonus of candied ginger from making it.
dr. Dave says
I enjoy reading your cocktail posts at this time of year. But why don’t more women appreciate Scotch?
Um…I’m gonna guess, because they are brainwashed by things like “Skinny Girl” cocktails and marshmallow flavored vodka into thinking a drink should taste like candy. Also probably the perception that only old rich white guys with smelly cigars and smoking jackets drink Scotch.
Pat M says
In my case, it’s because it tastes like I expect kerosene would. 🙂
I always get the weirdest looks when I order scotch or stouts when we go out. When I was younger, it was enough to make me not order them. Now, I really don’t give a flying rat what looks the staff gives me.
Thanks again Erica for a great post. Some of these might work for sweetening plain yogurt as well.
I use flavored smile syrup and carbonated water (from my soda stream) to make soda. I made candied fennel recently and strained away the fennel syrup. It was yummy as a soda and in a vodka cocktail I threw together. $7 is cerazytown!
I was thinking of doing the same thing I had some fennel sirup I made that fermented in the fridge it was a little to sweet to drink straight but either diluted with soda or maybe even just water would make natural fermented fennel soda.
I love making simple syrups! Our favourite is a thyme one, which I often mix with tonic water during the day for some thing refreshing and botanical. In the evening, in goes the gin – it mixes nicely with the botanicals in the alcohol giving a very herbal mixed drink. I use the rosemary one for that as well. Recently I made a ginger and honey syrup to simplify making a Pencillin.
I made a pregnant lady very happy at a Christmas party a few months back by introducing her to rosemary syrup and tonic – I think she was ready to scream if anyone gave her any more cranberry juice.
I work at Whole Foods, and I’m continually amazed at the stuff that people will buy. And not in a snobby, “what, you don’t bake your own bread?!” kind of way. More like, you are buying oranges from the salad bar at $8.49/ lb?
Hear, hear! Simple syrups are so easy and cheap to make at home, and so fun to play with! I usually do a 1:1 ratio, but doubling the sugar sounds like a good plan for future endeavors.
Does it need to be refrigerated? I like to keep flavored syrups out with the coffee machine to use without all that necessary stirring to dissolve. 😉
I would keep it in the fridge. Basic simple syrup will mold fairly quickly at room temp. Rich simple syrup will probably last a bit longer at room temperature, but I wouldn’t risk it.
We don’t drink alcohol at our house either (anymore), and I wondered if you might be inspired to come up with cool non-alcoholic drinks maybe once a month or every couple of months. The combinations of flavors that you come up with are amazing sounding–like the jellies/jams you have talked about in other posts. You know, in all that spare time you have in between your family, garden, blogging, conferences……. Anyway, I figured it couldn’t hurt to ask. =]
This is similar to making rock candy, only the water:sugar ratio goes up to 1:3+, water can be brought to a boil, and you need to “seed” the thread or skewer with some granulated sugar before suspending it over a jar that you partially fill with the supersaturated solution – fun experiment for the kids to see, too….
Lazy Gardens says
If you think simple syrup is scandalous … how about caramel coloring for nicely faked brown gravy?
It’s another easy DIY thing that gets overlooked in favor of “Kitchen Bouquet”.
I plan to make simply syrup and add fruit extracts to it to mix into homemade yogurt. Will that work? When do I add in the fruit extract?
I’ve made ginger syrup and candied ginger and it was wonderful. My next project is cinnamon simple syrup to go in coffee.
My brother is diabetic…so I was wondering if a simple syrup could be made with artificial sweeteners? This might also be an idea for those who are concerned with tooth decay & cavities or weight.
Ken Wells says
Thanks for the information about using organic cane sugar. I have been thinking that I have been doing something wrong as the Simple Syrup is never clear. All instructions say it will be clear when ready. It’s not clear!
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