Bitters may get the glory. Amari may be hot and trendy. Tinctures may bring all the fashionable bartenders to the yard. The workhorse of the cocktail modifier world, though, is still the humble syrup. Toiling on the back end of your cocktail, syrups can offer just enough sweet to balance out your savory while packing a powerful concentrated flavor punch.
Lauren Mote, co-proprietor of Bittered Sling Bitters and bar and beverage consultant for the Four Seasons Hotel Vancouver, recommends syrups when you need a quick hit of flavor for your cocktail that isn’t overpowering. While infusions can sometimes overpower a spirit’s natural flavors, or you don’t want the heavier depth of a bitters, Mote recommends breaking out the syrups in their place.
“Sometimes an infusion is too intense,” she says. “For example, adding a couple of slices of fresh chili to a cocktail for a little heat vs. adding three dried chilies to a bottle of tequila and infusing for three hours.”
The change in flavor and intensity (and in this case, heat) will change drastically.
For Mote’s part, she’s been utilizing syrups for years, including some more unique ones like the Coconut Water and Eucalyptus Syrup in the Cold Springs Cocktail.
Lauren Mote, bartender and co-owner of Bittered Sling, finds syrups to be a great way to add flavor without the intensity of an infusion. Photo by Issha Marie.
If you’re dying to get mixing with your own syrups, Mote recommends paying close attention to the quality level of the sugars/sweeteners and the water/liquid you use. High-quality base ingredients mean high quality results. As for flavor pairings, those are limited to your imagination alone. For beginners, though, Mote recommends starting with simple flavors, such as teas.
“Everyone knows how to brew a cup of tea,” she says. “Experiment with the flavors — whether black, white, yellow, rooibos or herbal — and mix that liquid with an equal portion of white sugar, i.e., in a 1:1 ratio.”
Mote recommends playing around with different types of ingredients in varying amounts to create the best syrup for a unique cocktail.
When you’re feeling a lot more comfortable, you can start playing around with different liquids and sweeteners as well. Mote herself has started not just replacing the water, but moving away from white sugar as the syrup’s sweetener. Note: you can improve the shelf life of your homemade syrup by adding a touch of neutral spirit (like vodka) or upping the sugar-to-water ratio to 2:1.
“I am trying not to heat as many ingredients now, so the full character of the raw product comes through,” she says, “whether it’s juiced strawberries with black pepper and honey, or mango juice with agave syrup and a splash of acid (slightly shrubby in style).”
What if you’re one of those bartenders out in rural areas where access to some of the more exotic ingredients aren’t available with a quick trip to the store? Thankfully companies like Monin provide some solid syrups at reasonable prices.
With several dozen to choose from, adventurous bartenders can play it safe with things like mint syrup, or go full adventurer with things like hickory smoke or chipotle pineapple syrup.
No matter whether you make it yourself or go the pre-made route, don’t leave syrups out of your next round of cocktails.
“Syrups are a great — and super fast — way to infuse flavor into a cocktail,” Mote says.
Looking for inspiration? Check out these nine recipes that utilize unexpected and creative house-made syrups as modifiers:
- Seasons of the Mist, a cocktail made at New York’s Seamstress that gives a fresh update to the New York Sour with a tart green apple puree, lemon, five-spice honey syrup, Benedictine, Laird’s Applejack, Bacardi Maestro and Riesling. Seamstress makes their own five-spice honey syrup with 1 teaspoon of Chinese five spice powder to 8 ounces honey syrup.
- Basil Rathbone, Doris Metropolitan’s award-winning cocktail from 2015’s Tales of the Toddy competition, pairs Basil-Hayden’s, Drambuie and sweet vermouth with an earthy, spicy walnut peppercorn syrup.
- 2 oz Basil Hayden’s whiskey
- 1/2 oz Drambuie
- 1/2 oz Martini and Rossi Sweet Vermouth
- 1/4 oz peppercorn walnut syrup (recipe below)
- For walnut-peppercorn syrup: Combine equal parts water, sugar, and whole walnuts on the stove; let simmer. After straining out the walnuts, muddle the roasted black peppercorns (1:1 ratio to the syrup; we put them in the oven spread on a baking sheet for about 10-15 minutes at 375-400 degrees) into the walnut simple, then fine-strain.
- Combine ingredients and stir. Garnish with a lemon twist.
- La Comida, a cocktail with a savory bent from Berlin’s famed Le Croco Bleu, created by bartender Phum Sila-Trakoon for this year’s Bacardi Legacy Global Finals. Sila-Trakoon uses homemade corn and red bean syrup to inspire memories of meals shared with loved ones.
- This Honeydew Punch includes lemongrass syrup, the perfect component in a produce-driven tequila punch that also includes melon, aloe, basil, mint and lime.
- One honeydew melon, peeled, quartered, seeded and divided
- 1/2 cup lemongrass syrup (recipe below)
- 1 cup aloe water
- 1/4 cup packed fresh mint
- 1/4 cup fresh basil
- 1/2 cup fresh lime juice
- 2 cups tequila
- To make lemongrass syrup:
- 1 cup water
- 1 cup honey
- 2 lemongrass stalks, sliced
- Combine the water, honey, and lemongrass in a small saucepan. Simmer over medium heat for 10 minutes, until the honey is dissolved. Remove from the heat and let cool to room temperature. Strain into a clean jar, cover, and keep refrigerated for up to 2 weeks.
- Cut three of the melon quarters into 1-inch chunks. Purée in a food processor until smooth. Strain the purée through a cheesecloth-lined sieve, and discard the solids. (You should have about 4 cups.) Using a 1-inch melon baller, scoop balls from remaining melon quarter, and reserve.
- Combine the melon purée, syrup, aloe water, mint, basil, and lime juice in a pitcher and refrigerate until cold, about 30 minutes. Add the tequila and ice to a pitcher, and divide among six to eight glasses. Garnish each with melon balls, mint sprigs, and lime wedges, and serve immediately.
- To make lemongrass syrup:
- The Debutante Daquiri, created by Jason Snopkoski of Williams and Graham, uses a makrut lime syrup to lend tartness to his riff on a daiquiri with Plantation Pineapple and Rhum Clement Canne Bleue.
- 2 oz Rhum Clement Canne Bleue
- 1 oz Plantation Pineapple
- 1.25 oz Makrut Lime Sirop
- 1.25 oz Lime Juice
- 1 oz Purfect Puree Coconut
- 3 dash Angostura bitters
- Create a makrut lime syrup by macerating 15 makrut lime leaves (a.k.a. kefir) and the peel of one lime in one cup of demerara sugar for 6 hours, shaking periodically. After 6 hours add one cup of hot water and shake thoroughly until sugar is dissolved, then strain and bottle.
- To make the drink combine all ingredients except bitters in a vita-mix blender along with approximately 7 cubes of kold draft or one heavy cup of pebble ice. Blend on power setting 5 for 30-40 seconds.
- Pour in collins glass, top with bitters, use lime wheel to spread and integrate bitters into top layer. Stick wheel on top as a garnish along with a straw and angostura bitters float.
- Warren Bobrow‘s Thai-Spiced Ginger Beer. Heads-up, this one involves a simple syrup that may or may not be legal in your area: it’s “medicated” by adding a cannabis infusion, which is then added to cane sugar-based ginger beer alongside spearmint tea, Art in the Age ROOT, and Jamaican Jerk bitters.
- 2 oz brewed spearmint tea, cooled
- 1 oz medicated simple syrup (recipe below)
- 6 oz non-alcoholic ginger beer (cane sugar-based)
- 1 oz Art in the Age ROOT
- 2 drop Bitter End Jamaican Jerk Bitters
- lemon zest ice cubes
- For Warren’s “medicated” simple syrup:
- 1 cup Raw Honey or Raw Sugar
- 1 cup Filtered Water
- 4 grams decarboxylated cannabis, in a tea ball or hemp tea bag
- Boil water, then add the raw honey or sugar to the water. Stir. Add the tea ball, stir, and keep at 160 degrees for 45 minutes, adding more water if necessary. Use within a few days in all your cocktails that require simple syrup.
- Fill a collins glass with the lemon zest ice cubes. Pour in the ginger beer, then add Art in the Age ROOT. Add the iced spearmint tea, then the medicated rich simple syrup.
- Stir gently. Finish with two drops of the Jamaican Jerk bitters. Garnish with either a cannabis flower or a sprig of thai basil. Serve with a couple long straws. Sip slowly, and wait at least an hour before you pour yourself another.
- For Warren’s “medicated” simple syrup:
- The Cold Springs Cocktail, developed by Lauren Mote, sounds like the kind of cocktail that’s good for your immune system: it combines coconut water and eucalyptus in a syrup, then adds gin, lemon juice and Bittered Sling’s own Lem-Marrakech bitters.
- 2 oz Hendrick’s Gin
- 1/2 oz Coconut Water & Eucalyptus Syrup
- 1/2 oz Lemon Juice
- 2 dash Bittered Sling Lem-Marrakech Bitters
- For Coconut Water and Eucalyptus Syrup steep 10g of eucalyptus tea in 400 mL of warm, pulp-free coconut water for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove the bits, fine strain, and add 400g white sugar. Stir until dissolved. Bottle in clean containers for up to 7-10 day refrigerated.
- Shake ingredients vigorously with ice for 7-10 seconds. Strain into an old fashioned glass filled with fresh ice.
- Hunted, a cocktail developed to support a bartender’s album release, is redolent with earthy notes of pine and rosemary joined by an Earl Grey tea syrup.
- 1.5 oz St. George Terrior Gin
- 1/2 oz Earl Grey simple syrup
- 1/2 oz Aperol
- 1/2 oz lemon juice
- 2 strawberries
- 2 sprigs of rosemary
- For Earl Grey Simple Syrup boil two cups of water. Add two Earl Grey tea bags and let steep for one minute. Remove tea bags and add one cup of sugar. Mix sugar until dissolved. Set aside and let cool until room temperature.
- Muddle the strawberries and rosemary in a cocktail shaker. Pour gin, simple syrup, Aperol and lemon juice into shaker. Add ice and shake for about 20 seconds. Double strain into a cocktail coupe. Garnish with a sprig of rosemary.
- This Cherry Collins uses a syrup made with British Columbia cherries, star anise, fennel and black peppercorn—another seasonal creation from Lauren Mote.
- 1.5 oz Bombay Sapphire Gin
- 0.75 oz lemon juice
- 0.75 oz Cherry-Star Anise Syrup
- 2 dash Bittered Sling Suius Cherry Bitters
- For Cherry-Star Anise Syrup:Add prepared cherries into a medium-sized heat-safe container with the star anise, fennel and black peppercorns. Meanwhile, in a saucepan, combine 500g white sugar and 500 mL water, and stir on low heat only until dissolved; add citric acid. Pour the dissolved simple syrup over the cherries and allow to cool slowly on the counter. Once cooled, cover with cheesecloth, close with a tight-fitting lid, and allow to steep in the refrigerator for at least 48 hours. Strain the liquid, add to sterilized bottles, name and date and replace to the fridge. Shelf life is 7-10 days refrigerated.
- Build ingredients in a Collins glass filled with ice, including Cherry Star Anise Syrup.
- Add gingerbeer, stir gently (swizzle) and serve with two pitted fresh Bing cherries on a pick.