Syrups are one of the quintessential components for any knowledgeable bartender. They are what give a drink its sugar, it's sweetness. They are what making drinking fun, and not like drinking medicine. There are many great sugars in the world at a bartender's disposal and I'm going to touch on the most common and most versatile of these syrups. Coming soon I will be doing a post on making some more advanced syrups and I hope you take those techniques and create something truly that is your own.
Simple syrup is the easiest and most common sweetener in cocktails today. Is very quite simply, sugar and water. The most common type found in America is equal parts sugar and water by volume, put over some heat to remove any impurities. This is commonly referred to as 1:1 simple syrup. Across the pond, they use a ratio of 2:1. This is called rich simple syrup by many. The added sugar acts as a preservative which helps the shelf life of the syrup before it goes off and starts accumulating mold. The reason we use syrups instead of accurately measuring granulated sugar is because sugar dissolves very slowly in cold environments like cocktails. No one wants a muddy puddle of raw sugar at the bottom of their drink. Simple syrups are typically made with plain white sugar, but they can also be made with brown sugar which is comprised of 3.5-6.5% molasses. Many bartenders have opted to use Demerara sugar, or Sugar in the Raw, made from crystallized sugar cane juice, which brings some notes or caramel and molasses.
For the record, a honey syrup is not the same as honey. Raw honey right from the bottle is far too dense to be incorporated in a cocktail. Even a hot toddy might not dissolve all of it. Again, we simply mix our raw honey equal parts with water, ideally with heat to remove impurities and help the shelf life. When you pick out a bottle of honey from the store try to make sure you invest in quality honey, not one from a little plastic bear. Pure honey can have citrus notes or even taste grainy. different styles like sage honey can be quite delicate while avocado honey is richer, almost buttery. I'm not saying you need eight different honey syrups, but be aware of how different kinds of honey can compliment different cocktails.
Maple syrup can be a very fun syrup to use in whiskey cocktails. Again we need to dilute it to make it functional for cocktails. It is made in the same style as honey syrup. Take maple syrup and add it to hot water in equal parts. Again, the stuff in the plastic log cabin isn't that great quality. Premium maple syrup is incredibly easy to find at your average farmers market and you can probably find some quality syrups at the supermarket, but it might take some experimentation and research to find the best quality. Some people think that Canadian or Vermont maple syrup is the best. This isn't necessarily true, it's just that climates with greatly changing seasons yield more sap as the seasons change. These regions thus produce more and get a name for being producers. I made maple syrup in my house with my father in Massachusetts since I was old enough to carry a bucket. and it tasted great. As a kid, I liked the plastic bottle of Log Cabin, but when I grew older I enjoyed the richer woodier flavor, especially with some whiskey. Dad's Hat has actually started aging maple syrup in their old whiskey barrels.
Agave nectar is actually the concentrated compound from which tequila and mezcal (mescal) is fermented and distilled. Most agave nectar comes from the blue agave, the agave used in all tequila production, but it can come from other species as well. Agave nectar, like honey and maple syrup, contains fructose, not the sucrose found in granulated sugar. Nutritionally they behave the exact same way. They are just broken down differently in the liver. Agave nectar is arguably the sweetest syrup you will find common behind the bar. Agave nectar can come in two varieties, light and dark. Light is fairly flavor neutral while the darker varieties can pick up flavors of caramel, and even some fruity pineapple notes. As always the plastic bottles you find in the average supermarket are very close to high fructose corn syrup but you can find less processed nectars if you look hard enough.
"Health - what my friends are always drinking to before they fall down."
- Phyllis Diller
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