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