Lowering The Bar: The Sweet and Simple Truth About Syrup
Recently I was helping a friend come up with a cocktail of his wedding - he wanted something gin based, with lots of flavors of pine and other California rooted flavors (the cocktail that we talked about in our post on Batching and Bottling). I set off experimenting with different vermouths, teas, fresh infusion, etc. And while I was getting close to the flavors he wanted, the end result always tasted somehow not complete. Like something was too thin and hollow. Many of us who experiment with cocktail recipes know all too well the frustration of feeling like the cocktail is almost there - but somehow held back from being fully realized.
What made the difference? On a whim I replaced the 1/2 oz of simple syrup in the cocktail with Rich Demerara Syrup - and all of a sudden everything came together! I couldn’t believe it was that, well… simple. But when I talked to a few fellow mixing-loving friends, they opened my eyes to the diverse world of liquid sugar.
Without further ado, here’s the Bitters+Bottles guide to different types of syrup:
Simple Syrup: Very accurately named, simple syrup is just a 1 to 1 mixture of sugar and water, heated until the sugar dissolves and cooled. The most common way to add some sugar to your cocktail. It’s great when you want just the sweetness without altering the taste of your cocktail otherwise.
Example: Stirrings Simple Syrup
Rich Simple Syrup: Just the same as regular simple, but with a double amount of sugar for the same amount of water. More concentrated sweetness with less volume makes it a favorite for an Old Fashioned cocktail.
Demerara Syrup: Made like simple syrup but using demerara or turbinado sugar. Demerara sugar has some similarities to brown sugar but lacks the added molasses. It adds a bit of a warm, caramel like flavor to anything you add it to. It also exists in the Rich (2:1 ratio) variety. The profile of this one makes it a common favorite in tiki and tropical drinks.
Example: BG Reynolds Rich Demerara
Gum (Gomme) Syrup: Made like a rich simple syrup, but has added gum (or gomme) Arabic. This substance is a resin from the Acacia tree that acts as a emulsifier and stabilizer. This quality translates to any cocktail it’s used in, yielding a more blended and silkier feel. This quality makes it a real favorite in stirred cocktails.
Cane Syrup: Generally made from reduced sugar cane juice, people tend to describe the flavor of this one as being akin to chewing on some sugar cane. Expect a slightly grassy and sugary quality that makes it a perfect partner for Rhums Agricole.
Example: Petite Canne Cane Syrup
Syrups With Flavors Beyond Sugar:
Agave Syrup (or Nectar): Made in a similar fashion to cane syrup, this one carriers the flavor of the slightly vegetal agave plant with it. As a result it became a common favorite for tequila and mezcal cocktails.
Example: Dulce Vida Organic Agave Nectar
Maple Syrup: This one needs little explanation: tapped from the sap of maple trees (and sometimes barrel aged), the rich tasting syrup pairs well with American whiskies, for decidedly maple takes on classic cocktails like the Old Fashioned.
Example: WhistlePig Barrel Aged Maple Syrup
Orgeat: The most common question we get about this one is pronunciation! Or-zha-t is the most common we can settle one - where the t is almost silent. Whatever you call it, the flavor is the same: made like a simple syrup but with almonds and a little base spirit (though the final result is non-alcoholic). Called for in many classic tiki drinks like the Mai Tai .
Grenadine: Traditionally made from pomegranates, this is a tart and sweet syrup, that is equally pleasant simply with soda water and in a large variety of cocktails. The unique flavor makes it effective even in tiny amounts, like in the El Presidente.
Tonic Syrup: Syrup containing quinine, used to make your own tonic water/soda. It can vary in sweetness and bitterness, but is perfect for those who want to be more in control of what their gin and tonic tastes like.
Examples: Jack Rudy Classic Tonic Syrup | 3/4 OZ Tonic Syrup | Liber & Co Tonic Syrup
There are of course many other varieties that get infinitely more flavor loaded and complex. There are traditional syrups like Passion Fruit, Oleo Saccharum, or Falernum that are indispensable to many a cocktail recipe. But at the end of the day, they are more or less flavored versions of the syrups we illustrated above.