Everyone uses it, everyone needs it, everyone knows how to make it.. Well, everyone thinks they do. It's literally the most utilized ingredient for all cocktails. It's wait for it....
What is simple syrup, how is it to be made, and how do we use it? Today we answer all of the questions
Simple syrup is just that. It's sugar and water. What type of sugar? Depends. What concentration? Depends. What do you use it for? Depends.. get the picture?
Base simple syrup is just that. The base recipe for all other syrups. It calls for a 1:1 ratio of sugar and water by WEIGHT not volume. Yes, get out the ole scale for this one. Make it once, mark the bottle with where the sugar and water fall for mixing and never use that scale again. It must however be by weight. Why? Well take the fact that 1 cup of water weighs 236.588 grams give or take, and one cup of sugar weighs approximately 200 grams. If you mix the two you are mixing a significantly less sweet syrup. This in turn throws off drink balance by making you add more simple to your cocktail, diluting it further with more water, and completing the spiral downward to more volume and less flavor. Save yourself the trouble and mix it by weight. I make mine at the Botanist in 4lb to 4lb increments to use the whole bag at once.
Myth 1: You have to boil or cook simple syrup to make it mix.
Truth: Nope.. 1:1 simple of any sugar that I know of will dissolve just fine with a little stirring and agitation. boiling or heating it simple modifies the fructose and glucose bonds and creates a different flavor and consistency. Don't believe me? Try boiling sugar for a while with water and see what happens to the taste when compared with simply mixing it. That's how we make candy folks. Candy flavors do not typically lend themselves favorably in old fashioneds or with any other liquor. Unless you are into flavored vodkas in which case I will have a whole blog post devoted to you coming soon.
Types of Sugars
White sugar is the most common and most used of all the sugars but why stop there? Demerara (crystalized raw sugar cane) is a great base for aged liquors. The slight molasses flavor imparts more nuance to the finished products. Brown simple adds even more of the molasses to the party and goes great in a Sazerac to complement the anise undertones. Honey Simple (note.. warm tap water to mix 1:1) is an amazing syrup and the principle player in the Bee's Knees pre-pro cocktail. Sky is the limit. Agave nectar for margs, sugar substitutes for those that hate themselves, even powdered sugar can find a home in more cream based drinks to stabilize that foam. You are limited only by your imagination and what is on the shelf at the local market.
Myth 2: Syrup lasts forever once you make it.
Truth: You have classically 2 weeks refrigerated. I have found that you have more like 4 or so before you have to toss it, and this can be extended by adding vodka to the finished product. Just remember to factor in the vodka weight to your liquid. The more backers you put in that syrup the shorter the lifespan. Berry or fruit syrups you will be lucky to get a week out of. Ginger even less. It loses its bite rapidly. I would say you are better to just muddle that fresh ginger into the syrup immediately unless you are batching out a ton of drinks. The cinnamons and other root/bark based syrups last pretty much the same as regular. If you see mold on your syrup.. you need to make more cocktails.
Last but not least, let's talk about double strength syrup. That is 2:1 sugar to water ratio. This is the staple of tiki drinks and some mixologists have taken to using it everywhere. The advantages: less liquid to disturb your beautifully balanced rum cocktail. Less turnover on the bar volume of syrup. You get to act all pretentious about your syrup game. The disadvantages: you must bring this one up to temperature or have 100 hours to waste waiting on it to dissolve. It is sooo easy to overshoot the sweetness and once it's in, you can't take it away. Lastly, that junior mixologist you are training doesn't know the difference and will send out old fashioned cotton candy drinks to the great dismay of the ghost of Pappy Van Winkle.
This being said, there is no substitute for double strength in classic tiki. It is as crucial as lime, pineapple, passion fruit, and the eye patch you wear for effect. So it pays to have a small bottle around. On the bright side, it lasts twice as long or more when compared with simple.
Simple syrup is crucial to every mixologist arsenal. It simply must be. What have we learned though?
1:1 by weight of sugar and water.
Don't bother heating the mixture unless you are making double strength.
Use all of the different sugars, experiment, make your own.
Never-ever, under any circumstances, buy pre-bottled simple syrup. I have brixed it, tasted it, tried to make it work, and it doesn't. Take the 30 seconds to make your own and avoid the ridiculous price and the enduring mocking that will most assuredly follow you if you buy simple.
You may now proceed.