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Cocktail Syrups Explained—When & Why to Use Different Sweeteners

cocktail syrups

Hey, ‘vodka soda’ folk, here’s some news: When we talk about ‘sweet’ and ‘cocktails’ together in 2022, we don’t mean this👇🏼

sweet cocktail

(A little more forgiveness for our ‘gin and soda’ friends 😏 )

Bartenders know that sweetness is an essential component of a cocktail. 

In fact, the term ‘cocktail’ was first defined in 1806 as having these 4 ingredients: 

  • Spirits
  • Sugar
  • Water
  • Bitters

(The DNA of an Old Fashioned)

There are multiple ways to sweeten a cocktail. Liqueurs are essentially alcoholic, flavored sweeteners. If using both, keep this in mind for signature cocktails so as not to oversweeten your drink!

Before we dive into tried and true cocktail syrups and when to use them, first let’s review…

Why do we need sugar in a cocktail? 🤔 

👉🏼 Creates balance (it counteracts acidity, bitterness, and/or the burn of the spirit)

👉🏼 Adds texture (AKA weight, body, or viscosity)

👉🏼 May add dilution or flavor (dependent on the type of sweetener used)

Cocktail Syrups and When to Use ’em

  • White granulated sugar (often as simple syrup**)
    • Clean, refined, fairly neutral
    • Great if you want the spirit and other supporting ingredients to shineE.g. Mojito, Sazerac, Tom Collins, Caipirinha
  • Demerara/Cane/Turbinado
    • Raw, deep molasses flavors
    • Best for bolstering brown spirits and adding lingering finish E.g. Old Fashioned, Daiquiri, Jungle Bird
  • Agave
    • Similar to honey in profile…slightly tangier and lighter
    • If it grows together, it goes together! E.g. Oaxacan Old Fashioned, Margarita, Paloma
  • Maple Syrup
    • Overwhelmingly sweet, intense finish
    • Use with caution
    • Not called for by any classic recipes, but great for spin-offs like a Smoked Old Fashioned
  • Honey
    • You can get straight neutral honey or a myriad of flavored variations (clover, lavender, dandelion, etc.)
    • Lighter than maple, but heavier than agave
    • Great in Bees Knees, Penicillin, Brown Derby

Did you know?! There are other bee products that can be used for cocktailing besides honey, like bee pollen, beeswax, and propolis—the glue bees use to seal their hives. (Which BTW might be really good for you.)

**How Simple is Simple Syrup?

Simple syrup is the most ubiquitous of the cocktail syrups. 1 part white sugar combined with 1 part hot water (from dispenser/coffee maker). That’s measured by volume, e.g. cups.

Related:  How to Become a Bartender that Any Bar in the World Will Hire (+ Free Script for Job Applicants)

Bob’s your uncle. 

But alas… you could get a little nerdier about it if you wanted… 🤓

It may be “more accurate to combine the same amount of weight to achieve a perfect (sweetness) level. (Water weighs a little more than its volume in ounces; sugar a little less.)” ~Epicurious.com

There’s also rich simple syrup, characterized by a 2:1 ratio and resulting in a more concentrated syrup.This comes in handy if you’re concerned about over dilution (likely from wet ice).

What’s good to avoid, and also unnecessary, is boiling the water and sugar, because you lose some water to evaporation, making your syrup unpredictably more concentrated. Here’s an article on why to take your simple syrup off the stove.

What’s good to do, is experiment with making flavored syrups! All of these are incredible vessels for infusions. Get creative and make some smoked hickory maple or a cinnamon cane syrup. 

Nathan Caudle

Nathan Caudle

Let us know what you think!

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