A well-made cocktail just wouldn't be complete without a bit of sugar (not to mention, it's great in iced tea and other chilled drinks, too). Sweetness gives any cocktail a well-rounded character, ensuring it's not too bitter, too sour or just too strong. But you can't just add sugar to a drink by the spoonful -- it won't dissolve properly or incorporate well. That's when the simple syrup comes in -- it's a necessity for every bartender. And it's not something that has to be bought, because it's incredibly easy to make. Plus simple syrups need not be limited to just sugared water -- you can flavor them with almost anything. We're here to show you how it's done.
Finding The Perfect Ratio
A basic simple syrup is a 1:1 ratio of sugar and water. Basically, you combine the two ingredients in a small pot and heat to a simmer to dissolve. Chill it and you've got a simple syrup for sweetening cocktails and other drinks. Some bartenders prefer a sweeter syrup, which they've coined "rich simple syrup" -- it's a 2:1 sugar to water ratio. With it, you can use less syrup to get the desired sweetness. Another syrup you can try is a lightly sweetened kind, a 1:2 sugar to water ratio. It's especially great for sweetening iced teas, lemonades or soda water. Besides using white sugar, you can can also make a simple syrup with brown sugar or raw sugar to add a hint of molasses flavor to your drinks.
Experimenting With Flavor
A simple syrup doesn't have to stop there -- you can flavor it with herbs, fruits and even vegetables. You could even make a simple syrup flavored with rose petals if you really wanted to. Flavored syrups add a unique touch to drinks and they're a great way to reinterpret a classic cocktail with a new flavor. Try a Mojito made with basil-lime syrup or a Margarita made with orange-thyme syrup. See all the unique flavors we've come up with in the slideshow below. This is just the beginning -- you can get as crazy as you want with your simple syrups.
What simple syrup flavor would you create? Tell us below.
Mint and lemon are such a classic combination -- think of iced tea. It's a no fail simple syrup that works across the board. How to make it: Infuse a handful of mint leaves and the zest and juice of 2 lemons in your warm syrup mixture for about 20 minutes. Strain and chill before using. Try the simple syrup in iced teas, lemonade, Long Island Iced Tea, Mojito and more. Recipes to try it in: Iced Mint Green Tea Sparkling Mojito Prohibition Lemonade
Basil and lime make a very unique flavor pairing. It may sound like it's only good for savory applications, but really it works wonderfully well for sweetening cocktails and soda water. How to make it: Add a handful of basil leaves and the zest and juice of 3 limes to infuse in your warm simple syrup for about 20 minutes. Strain before chilling. Use the simple syrup in many different basic cocktail recipes or invent your own. Try it in a Margarita, Martini or even a Mojito made with basil instead of mint. Recipes to try it in: Thai Basil Mojito Emerald Gimlet Basil-Lime Daiquiri
Honey on its own is a delicious sweetener with a taste like nothing else. Pairing it with lavender accentuates the flavor and aroma. How to make it: You'll want to replace your sugar with honey when making the simple syrup. After the honey has dissolved and is still warm, add a handful of fresh lavender or 2 teaspoons dried. Strain and chill before using. Use the syrup in a number of cocktails, iced teas, sangrias or in soda water. Recipes to use it in: Honey Bea Cocktail Peach Cooler Mango-Peach Sangria Image courtesy of Ewan-M, Flickr.
Rhubarb offers a sweet and tangy flavor profile. It's great in a number of spring- and summer-themed drinks. How to make it: Cook 1 cup of chopped rhubarb with the sugar and water (aim for a 1:2 ratio of sugar to water) until it's very soft, about 15 minutes. Strain and chill until ready to use. Try the simple syrup in cocktails, like a daiquiri or Cosmopolitan, or use it to flavor soda water or iced tea. Recipes to try it in: Rhubarb Collins Image courtesy of Stewart, Flickr.
This may sound unusual but strawberries and balsamic vinegar are a natural pairing, especially in Italian desserts. Use white balsamic vinegar so the syrup doesn't turn brown. How to make it: Roast 1 pint of quartered strawberries tossed with 1 tablespoon of white balsamic vinegar in a 350-degree oven until very soft, about 15 minutes. Infuse the fruit mixture in your warm syrup for about 20 minutes. Strain and chill until ready to use. Use the simple syrup in a daiquiri, Champagne cocktail, sangria and punches. Recipes to try it in: Strawberry Margarita Pink Strawberry Champagne Image courtesy of quinn.anya, Flickr.
Thyme naturally has a citrusy flavor, making it the perfect pairing with sweet oranges. The herbal flavor of the simple syrup will come in handy for many cocktails. How to make it: Add a handful of thyme and the zest and juice of 1 large orange to your warm simple syrup. Let it infuse for 20 minutes. Strain and chill before using. Try the simple syrup in a Collins, Gimlet, Martini, sangria, iced tea and more. Recipes to try it in: Lemon-Orange Fizz White Sangria Image courtesy of quinn.anya, Flickr.
See also: Everything's Better With Bitters
Main image courtesy of Dinner Series, Flickr.