At first glance I might appear to be an exceedingly boring person. Upon closer inspection, however, I’m just painfully dull. For example, I’m fascinated with simple syrup and have spent the better part of my summer delving into various uses and creative variations. I know, I really should get a hobby, but my doctor says that my over-focus issues are treatable and that as long as I don’t cause harm to others, my fixations are to be expected.
With that said, my interest in the sweetener is purely intellectual. For generations simple syrup has been a workhorse behind the bar and crucial to the construction of such classics as the Old Fashioned, Irish Coffee, Caipirinha and Mojito. Its advantage when making cocktails is that unlike granulated sugar, simple syrup will immediately go into solution.
Equally important, simple syrup is irreplaceable when preparing fresh lime and lemon sour mixes, and with the earth’s axis now tilting toward making cocktails with only the freshest ingredients, scratch mixes have become more the norm.
This is simple syrup’s time to shine. While bottled sugar syrups are available commercially, it’s much more satisfying making it yourself with equal parts of boiling water and sugar. Creative options include substituting the granulated white sugar with guarapo (fresh sugar cane juice), agave nectar, brown, raw, or powdered sugar.
A growing trend among mixologists and bar chefs is creating proprietary simple syrups by infusing them with distinctive flavors. For example, PF Chang’s China Bistro promotes a sensational cocktail named the JASMINE GIMLET that derives its singular flavor in part from the use of jasmine syrup as a sweetener.
The BALMY SPRING is a signature drink at Sonoma’s Cyrus Restaurant. Created by bar chef guru Scott Beattie, the drink’s engaging personality in part is derived using cucumber flavored simple syrup. Another Cyrus specialty, the RHUBARBARELLA. is prepared with ginger/rhubarb simple syrup, chopped shiso leaves and candied rhubarb pieces.
The sour mix at Tommy’s Restaurant in San Francisco is sweetened with agave syrup, which is made using equal parts of agave nectar, bottled water and simple syrup. The mixture is heated slowly until all of the components have fully integrated. The agave syrup is one reason why the Margaritas at the famed tequilaria taste singularly delicious.
Simple syrup isn’t so simple anymore.
RECIPES EXCERPTED FROM
SECRETS REVEALED OF AMERICA’S GREATEST COCKTAILS
AGAVE SIMPLE SYRUP
Specialty of Tommy’s Mexican Restaurant
San Francisco, CA
1/3 part agave nectar
1/3 part bottled water
1/3 part simple syrup
Combine ingredients and bring to a slow heat as you would to make simple syrup. Once the liquids have combined, leave to cool. Do not bring to a boil. Agave nectar can be found in any Whole Foods or quality food store. Refrigerate in a glass container.
BRUGAL/PINEAPPLE SIMPLE SYRUP
Specialty of Bar Masa
New York, NY
2 pineapples peeled, cored, cut into 1-inch cubes
24 oz. sugar
2 liters Brugal Añejo Rum
Put sugar and pineapple into a 10-quart pot. Add the rum and simmer over low heat for 1 hour, stirring occasionally. Do not let mixture boil. Cool and strain the syrup through a cheesecloth or sieve.
Specialty of Cyrus Restaurant
3 stalks lemongrass
A few Kaffir lime leaves
2 cups sugar
2 cups water
Cut the whitish parts of the lemongrass stalks into thin rings. Discard remainder. Combine all ingredients, bring to a boil and simmer for about 15 minutes. Let cool. Do not remove lemongrass. Store in a glass container.
GREEN TEA SIMPLE SYRUP
Specialty of Savoy Restaurant
1/2 cup water
2 bags green tea
2 tbsp. honey
Boil the water and steep the tea bags for 5-10 minutes. Stir in the honey until dissolved. Refrigerate in a glass container.
LEMON/MINT SIMPLE SYRUP
Specialty of Brasserie Jo
4 cups water
4 cups sugar
6 lemons, sliced
Zest of 3 lemons
1 1/2 oz. fresh mint
Bring to a boil and simmer until reduced by one quarter. Cool and strain. Store in a sealed glass container.