Today we are going to discuss the proper methods of making various syrups for use in cocktails.
We will start out with a discussion of what a syrup actually is, how they are made, and their usages and shelf life. All syrups are exactly the same. They start off with a base of some sort of sugar with the addition of water and other substrates as necessary. However, before we dive into the exact methods behind this, I need to dispel a few fallacies and misconceptions about syrups.
All bar syrups need to be boiled before use. This is absolutely not true, in fact I would argue that the less you expose the syrup to temperature, the better the quality of the syrup will be for use in beverages. The reason for this is organic chemical structures in orientation and also has to do with how sugar reacts to heat. Have you noticed that if you continue to heat sugar above boiling point it will go through various stages and eventually will turn into taffy or even hard rock? Well that same process also takes place at lower temperatures just at a smaller increment. For instance if you take simple white sugar and mix it with an appropriate amount of water and then bring it to boil you will certainly get simple syrup. Unfortunately, you will also get a separation of the glucose and fructose bonds in excess of what one would expect and that sugar will undergo a certain amount of caramelization. This leads to a flavor that starts to taste more like candy and jam than it does pure sugar. While this may be effective for a certain cooking methodology, it certainly in most cases is not desirable for a fresh cocktail.
Syrups should be made at a 1 to 1 ratio meaning 1 cup of water to 1 cup of sugar. The first part of the statement is absolutely correct. Unless you are specifically making a double strength or triple strength syrup, the ratio should be 1 to 1 but not by volume. This is always done via weight. The reason is that one cup of sugar weighs less than 1 cup of water. If you use volume measurements, your sugar will be significantly under sweet and you will end up chasing yourself when trying to produce a balanced cocktail. Your cocktail will initially be low on sweet content causing you to add more sugar which adds more volume which adds more liquor and ultimately more sour or bitter. This causes an endless cycle of chasing your tail in order to produce a balance cocktail. Good for the patrons, bad for the cocktail bar. When treating mixology and cooking into a more exacting science, I would highly suggest purchasing a simple digital scale from a retailer or Amazon and utilizing it to its fullest potential. Once you have one, you will never go back. It has great efficacy in the making of cheese, dough, syrup, and many many other recipes that require exact ingredients.
Syrups have a shelf life of 1 to 2 weeks maximum and then must be thrown away. This again is somewhat true in that if you make a bar syrup or a simple syrup, especially ones that have fruit or vegetable in them, you should absolutely always keep it refrigerated and your lifespan will be the 1 to 2 week interval. However, there are many ways in which to extend the shelf life such as adding a small amount of neutral grain spirit (3% by weight), increasing the density of the sugar to water ratio, or even hot packing the syrup itself. I would not suggest the last method as it produces quite a jammy flavor, but it is an option for longer term storage.
Now that we have these out of the way, let's begin.
All syrups are made at a 1 to 1 ratio by weight. Whether you're using brown sugar, white sugar, honey, demerara, agave, or anything else between it should always be in that ratio for simple syrup. Shockingly, full double strength syrup you will produce at a 2 to 1 ratio. For the elusive triple syrup which would be included in a very select subset of cocktails and recipes, you would require a 3 to 1 ratio. Unfortunately that syrup cannot be dissolved without heat and in most likelihood will barely dissolve at that. Good for making rock candy though.. When we make simple syrup here at Botanist, we have preset weights for both water and sugar which we blend in order to speed the process up. On average we go through about 2 to 3 gallons of simple syrup base per week and being able to make this in volume with exact weights makes our jobs significantly easier. The only addition that I will add to this methodology is that honey is notorious for being difficult to hydrate in water. I would suggest using warm water in all cases but especially with honey. Try to make a cocktail sometime with straight honey and no matter how long you will shake it it will not go into solution at the cold temperature. Ask me how I know..
When it comes to making a fruit or berry syrup, the same ratio still applies. It is typically a 1:1:1 by weight ratio of all ingredients involved. But wait you say, doesn't fruit and other various ingredients contain an amount sugar as well? And I answer: you are absolutely correct. If you want to be technical and have a perfectly balanced base syrup you need yet another instrument called a refractometer so that you can tell the exact specific gravity of the solution and its approximate sugar concentration. While I do have the ability to do this, it is much more efficient for me to make a under sugared syrup to start and then bring it up to the appropriate sweetness by taste after the filtration process. But for those of you with massive amounts of the disposable income and way too much time on your hands the refractometer will give you the exact results that you desire.
One of the most common issues that I run into when making syrups with a fruit, citrus, berry, or any other flavor is how to produce a relatively clear syrup without the containment of seeds, rinds, or other flavors that would affect the syrup in both long and the short term. (Think tannin extraction forming bitterness or phenokytone/chlorophyll degradation into a brown mess) The best suggestion that I have and the way that I've made syrups for years is to blend the ingredients lightly, allow them to extract for 10 to 15 minutes and then run them through a series of strainers to filter out any particulate matter. Start with a medium mesh filter, then decrease the size of the subsequent filters. My last strain is always through a disposable nut bag I utilize to make cheese, nut milks, and other fine mesh strained food products. Do not take all of the particulate matter as well as the liquid and place it in the bag thinking that you are going to save yourself time. You will not. This will just make it so none of that syrup will be able to drain out and you will be stuck for the next 45 minutes attempting to squeeze every last precious drop through those very fine pores on the bags. Always strain ahead of time. Ask me again how I know..
Very rarely do I have off flavor issues with any sort of acidic substrate such as apples, berries, ginger, and other fruit-based products. However, when it comes to making herbal syrups such as mint syrup, rosemary syrup, lavender syrup etc., you will need to go one extra step before making a stable, bright tasting and appearing product. Let's use mint as our example at is as it is the most common syrup present. When making a mint syrup or any greens syrup it is incumbent upon you to first blanche the mint in boiling water for 10 to 15 seconds. Immediately cool it down in an ice bath for about five minutes. If you do this, it will set the phenokytones and chlorophylls and prevents oxidation of the particular substrate you are using. It will also produce a very bright syrup without the muddy overtones of making say a mint tea with some sugar in it. I've read multiple recipes online for making mint syrup that say to bring the simple syrup to a boil and then place the leaves in the syrup in order to extract the mint. If you are going to go this route just understand what is going to happen. What you will have is a very weak brown mint tea with a lot of sugar in it. You have not mechanically broken down the mint, you have only thermally and chemically extracted it into a solution that is already saturated with sugar. This will decrease your extraction ratios and the heat will instantly wilt the mint without any retention of its bright flavor. You can avoid this by blanching and then rapidly cooling the mint prior to blending the leaves, not the stems, and then straining off the particulate matter in the usual fashion.
The process is the same for every other herbal syrup that you can possibly imagine.
Almost always use a 1 to 1 ratio of sugar to water by WEIGHT in your syrups.
Do not raise your syrups up to boiling unless there is no other way to dissolve the sugar in the water. You can make a 2 to 1 syrup without ever heating the water up, it just takes more time.
When making additions to the syrup you should use a 1:1:1 ratio of substrate to sugar to water. Remember this is by weight! The most common mistake that people make is placing too little substrate in the syrup producing a simple sugar syrup with a hint of flavor.
When flavoring a syrup with a chlorophyll or vegetable or herb based substrate, always blanch and chill the greens before infusing the syrup in order to retain their properties appropriately.
For those of you wanting to keep your syrup longer at refrigerated temperatures I would suggest a 3% addition of 80 proof neutral grain spirit which will extend your shelf life out to approximately 4 to 6 weeks. (Please note that if you ever see any mold or any other growth on the inside of your syrup container, throw the whole batch out: it cannot be salvaged)
If you utilize these techniques you will make a well-balanced, excellent tasting, bright and flavorful syrup to use in cocktails, lemonades, mocktails, coffees, and any other culinary invention that you can come up with.
The Botanist Bar