In cocktails, as in life, a little sweetness goes a long way. Yet, unlike in life, cocktails require that sweetness to be added in a way that will easily blend, not only with the alcohol but also with any other ingredients used. In other words, sweetness is, more often than not, found in the form of a syrup.
A well-made syrup can raise the profile of a cocktail: it can bring out flavours in base spirits, add flavours of its own and generally create a sense of balance.
While we might spend hours debating our choice of Gin, or looking for that specific unique liqueur, the workhorse of the cocktail bar, the syrups, can often end up as an afterthought. As such, we often feel that it is easier to buy commercial syrups, but really, nothing could be easier than making them yourself. Making your own syrups is not only quick and fun but can also spark a little flavour creativity, as there really is no fruit, spice or herb that you can’t infuse.
Before we get ahead of ourselves and dive down the rabbit hole of flavour possibilities, there are four basic syrups that every home bar should have. None of these recipes will take you more than 15 minutes to prepare, and most contain items already in your pantry.
So why not invite some friends over, heat up the stove and make these basic syrups that you can then try out in some of the cocktails suggested.
Simple Syrup is the mother of all syrups and allows an even distribution of sweetness without any gritty sugar crystals at the bottom of the glass. And while you can easily buy Simple Syrup (or Sugar Syrup), why not save yourself a few bob and make it yourself? It is, as the name implies, it is really simple to make. If you can boil water, you can make a Simple Syrup – it is, after all, just sugar and water … literally.
- 1 cup Sugar
- 1 cup Water
Combine the sugar and water in a small saucepan and stir over medium heat until the sugar is dissolved. Bring to a boil, then let simmer for a few minutes. When cool, transfer to a sealable bottle or jar. It will last for up to 2 weeks in the refrigerator.
Honey Syrup is a great way to add the sweetness you need with that floral flavour you crave to your favourite cocktails. Now Honey on its own is too thick to mix well with other ingredients (unless they are hot), so making it into a Syrup allows you to get all that honey goodness without the gloopiness. Be aware that different kinds of honey will impart slightly different flavours (depending on where the honey is from), so experiment with different types.
- 1 cup of honey
- 1 cup of water
Combine honey and water in a small saucepan over medium heat until sugar dissolves. Remove from heat, let cool to room temperature, and transfer to a clean glass jar. Cover and keep refrigerated for up to two weeks.
While Grenadine conjures images of bright red, thick and super-sweet syrups, that’s only because you’re not making it yourself. Homemade Grenadine is an entirely different animal from what you are probably used to seeing. Trust us when we say that the homemade version of Grenadine will show you a new side to this Pomegranate Syrup.
- 2 cups 100% unsweetened pomegranate juice (such as Pom Wonderful)
- 2 cups granulated sugar
- the juice of 1/2 a Lemon
Add Pomegranate juice to a saucepan, then add sugar and stir until dissolved, about 1 minute. Remove from heat and let cool. Pour into a lidded bottle or other sealable container and store in the refrigerator for up to a month.
Especially in winter, when the depth of flavour is important, Ginger Syrup can be a great alternative to plain Simple Syrup. It will add that sweetness and a warm, spicy flavour that can make your cocktails. It’s a syrup that takes a little longer to create than the rest, as it requires time for the Ginger pieces to steep, but it’s one of those projects that is well worth the time.
- 1 cup of sliced Ginger
- 1 cup of sugar
- 3/4 cup of water
Place sugar and water into a saucepan on medium heat, stirring until dissolved. Add ginger and bring the mixture to a light boil. Cover and allow to simmer for 15 minutes. Remove from heat and steep in a covered pan for an hour. Strain out the Ginger and pour it into a clean glass bottle, and store it in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.