Time to get some posts up. Simple syrup seemed like a good place to start. I saw this called for in numerous recipes. When I tried to track down how it was made, I found several recipes. The recipe you use can have an effect on the drink. Bartenders went to use syrup to avoid the problem of undissolved sugar crystals in a cold drink. The potential trade off is the water that the syrup brings. It dilutes the other drink constituents. You can manipulate this impact by how you mix your syrup. A lower concentration, say one cup sugar to one cup water, will add more water and bulk up the volume of a drink. A higher concentration, three sugar to one water, allows you to use less volume of syrup and preserve the flavors in you other drink constituents.
The most commonly called for recipe is equal parts sugar to water – measured as volume. That means a cup of sugar and a cup of water. That gives you about 1½ cups of liquid when you’re done. Dale DeGroof (a working bartender) recommends a variation of this in his latest book and in an instructional video. He suggest filling an empty bottle half way with sugar and then topping it off with water. At the lower concentration, the sugar dissolves more easily so you can make it up quickly. It’s easy to make up on the fly, no heating or planning required. The lesser concentration brings more water to the drink. This is good, he points out, because today’s large cocktail glasses need the volume to fill the glass.
A one-to-one syrup needs to be refrigerated. In a busy bar, you’ll use it up before it has time to go bad. At home, you should stick it in the fridge. Even then I wouldn’t keep it for more than a few days. I once pulled some out after a week and noticed some cloudy stuff in the bottle – yuck! Not in my drink. You can add some grain ethanol (Everclear) or vodka to act as a preservative. The best solution is just mix it up as you need it. The sugar dissolves fairly quickly in the water at room temperature.
At the other extreme, in The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks, David Embury calls for a three to one mix. It almost makes sense for the home bartender to go this route. You get a syrup that is concentrated enough to last on the shelf and also to have a sweetener that doesn’t water down the drink. I tried this. After about a week, I had large rock candy sugar crystals forming in the bottle. That means some of the sugar was coming out of solution, weakening the syrup and making it of inconsistent sweetness.
When I mix now, I use a 2:1 mix. I’m not tending bar so I have the time required to heat the water to help the sugar dissolve. I add the splash of ethanol and keep it in the fridge for a few weeks. I’ve used Darcy O’Neil’s (former chemist, current bartender) recipe from the first Journal of the American Cocktail issue:
3-½ cups granulated sugar
½ cup corn syrup
2 cups of water.
Dissolve the sugar in the water then add enough water to bring it up to 1 liter
With this you’ll have a solution tht gives one teaspoon of sugar for each teaspoon of liquid measured. It is sweet and seems to keep for several weeks in the fridge. You’ll have 96 calories (6 tsp of sugar) in an ounce. One caveat, I have only found corn syrup with vanilla flavoring added. I’m still looking for some without.
There are several commercial simple syrup versions on the market. I have one from Stirrings. The label indicates that this is a cane sugar syrup with some lactic acid (preservative?) and doesn’t need to be refrigerated. It appears to be a one-to-one mix with 50 calories in an ounce. At around $4.50 for 12 ounces, it seems like a luxury. I also have a bottle of Fee Brothers “Rock Candy Syrup.” No nutritional information on the label, but it looks thicker and the label indicates that it should be substituted measure for measure for granular sugar. I suppose that makes it a 2:1 syrup like the recipe above. Price was a little more than the Stirrings. The problem is, there is this white flocculent material suspended in the liquid. I don’t want to open it to see what it is.
The 2:1 mix is my standard now. It also lends itself nicely to making flavored syrups, which I’ll comment on in future posts.