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What Makes Simple Syrup Simple?

Everything. From its ingredients to its straightforward recipe, simple syrup might be the least complicated item on a bar. But its role in your favorite drinks is incredibly important. For classic cocktails like the Daiquiri or the Ramos Gin Fizz, sugar balances the sourness and alcoholic bite of the other ingredients.

Although the original recipes of many drinks call for superfine sugar, substituting simple syrup reduces the amount of undissolved sugar remaining in the finished drink. There’s another key benefit as well: Since the solubility of any substance decreases with temperature, using syrup also simplifies mixing drinks with chilled ingredients.

It’s also simple to make. By definition, it’s a 1:1 ratio of sugar to water. At room temperature, this ratio falls short of the saturation point of sucrose (sugar) in water, which is around 2000 g/L. This limit opens up two possible ways of making simple syrup. If you’ve got free time, combine equal parts sugar and water in a sterilized glass container at room temperature. Shake occasionally, and in about 15-20 minutes you’ll have simple syrup. The alternative is to heat the mixture and stir until the sugar is completely dissolved.

Each method has its pros and cons: The room temperature technique results in more viscous syrup since the sucrose hasn’t been broken down by heat. Though the thickness adds a silkier texture to cocktails, it may also reduce the syrup’s shelf life. On the other hand, making simple syrup on the stove can kill some of the bacteria and microbes that occur naturally in the mixture. In theory, this process should extend its longevity.

Preventing spoilage otherwise requires a little bit of creativity. If you’re OK with boiling your syrup, add a pinch of cream of tartar or a dash of lemon juice and let simmer for longer than normal. Both the acid and heat speed up the reaction between sucrose and water in a process known as hydrolysis. This process breaks the sucrose down into two simple sugar molecules: fructose and glucose.The resulting syrup is slightly sweeter than simple syrup, so you may have to readjust your favorite recipes accordingly.

Another way to stabilize sugar syrup is to add a little bit of vodka or other neutral spirit. Depending on the size of your batch, adding between a teaspoon and an ounce should inhibit growth of anything undesirable. Yet another is to make rich simple syrup by using a 2:1 ratio of sugar to water. As a saturated solution, this ratio should yield a sweeter syrup that is less likely to spoil due to its decreased water content.

Hit the Lab

After your syrup’s finished, it’s time for some experimentation. Back in the 1880s, Henry Ramos created this drink in his New Orleans bar. It quickly became so popular that Ramos always had at least ten bartenders behind the bar every night to fill the demand.

Ramos Gin Fizz

1 dash orange water (Don’t skip or substitute.)
1 egg white
.5 oz lemon juice
.5 oz lime juice
.5 oz simple syrup
1 oz heavy cream
2 oz gin

Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker and shake vigorously for one to two minutes. Strain into a chilled Collins glass and top with a splash of club soda.

Image credit: Mary Katherine Morris Photography

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What's the Right Way to Make a Sazerac?
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iStock

If you pronounce New Orleans "New Or-leens," or if you can’t get enough of those Big Ass Beers sold on Bourbon Street, you’re probably not actually from New Orleans. But if you’re feeling adventurous and missing the Big Easy, a Sazerac might be just what the doctor ordered. 

‘Tails and Stories

A few hundred years ago, you might have actually gotten a doctor’s order for a Sazerac. One of the drink's origin stories claims that it was invented by New Orleans apothecary Antoine Amedie Peychaud. According to this tale, Mr. Peychaud mixed up the drink with his eponymous bitters and served it in an egg coupe in his shop. 

A more likely origin story states that the drink was invented by a different New Orleans resident (though in the same neighborhood). Around 1850, Sewell T. Taylor sold his bar to Aaron Bird and went into the import business. One of his products happened to be Sazerac-de-Forge et Fils brandy. While Taylor was importing, Bird renamed his bar the Sazerac House and began serving a house cocktail that featured Taylor’s brandy and, as the story goes, bitters made by his neighborhood apothecary, Mr. Peychaud.

In the 1870s and 1880s, Europe's grape crops were decimated by an infestation of American aphids. In just four years, French wine production was cut by 67 percent, and even the most dedicated cognac drinkers switched to whiskey. For New Orleans, that meant switching to rye whiskey that was shipped to the city down the Ohio River and through the Mississippi. Thomas Handy, who owned the Sazerac Bar during that time period, likely switched the drink's main ingredient. This take on the signature cocktail is the one that found its way into the 1908 edition of The World's Drinks and How To Mix Them, with the recipe calling for "good whiskey," not Sazerac cognac. 

The origins of the Sazerac’s name is vague. It’s possible that it was a nod to the fact that it was the bar's house cocktail, but it’s also possible that it’s a reference to the brand of brandy. In those days, “cocktail” referred to a specific alcoholic drink format. As put forth by The Balance and Columbian Repository in 1806, a “cock-tail” is “a stimulating liquor composed of spirits of any kind, sugar, water, and bitters.” If you wanted this type of drink with whiskey in it, you would ask for a Whiskey Cocktail. If you wanted Sazerac brandy (until the aphid plague, at least), you'd ask for a Sazerac cocktail.

Hit the Lab

Sazerac Recipe:

2 dashes Peychaud's bitters
.25 oz simple syrup (or a sugar cube)
2 oz good rye whiskey (use the good stuff)
lemon peel for garnish

Place the sugar cube into an absinthe-rinsed rocks glass. Dash the bitters onto the cube and muddle. Add whiskey and one large ice cube and stir to combine. Garnish with a lemon twist.

Original image
Flickr User Janice Waltzer // CC BY 2.0
What’s the Right Way to Make a Caipirinha?
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Flickr User Janice Waltzer // CC BY 2.0

The Rio Olympics start in just a few weeks, and all eyes are on Brazil. To celebrate, we decided to focus on the country’s most famous cocktail creation: the Caipirinha.

In form, the Caipirinha is pretty much a Brazilian Daiquiri. It’s made from sugar, lime, and cachaça. Cachaça could be considered a cousin to rum, but it is altogether unique. While most rum is made from molasses, cachaça is made from fresh sugarcane juice.

Unlike rum, which can be made anywhere, cachaça can only be made in Brazil. Though it’s often sold unaged, it is usually matured in woods that are native to Brazil, like peanut and balm. As with wine, beer, and whiskey, different kinds of wood affect the product inside differently.

The classifications of cachaça aren’t based on the type of cask in which it’s aged. It can get a bit confusing: Spirit that is not stored in wood or is kept in stainless steel vats before it’s bottled is often called branca (white). But cachaça aged in wood that doesn’t color the liquor may also be labeled as branca. This category goes under several other names, including prata (silver) and clássica (classic).

Cachaça that’s stored or aged in wood is usually labeled as amarela (yellow), in reference to its color. These may also be labeled as ouro (gold). Envelhecida (aged) cachaça, a subtype of amarela, is a bit more involved: it’s considered aged if more than 50 percent of the content of the bottle has been aged for at least a year in a barrel that’s 700 liters or smaller.

Cachaça is the “third most produced distilled drink in the world,” according to Alcohol In Latin America: A Social and Cultural History. Though more than 5000 brands existed in 2008, it was relatively ignored outside of Brazil until the recent resurgence of craft cocktails. In fact, until 2013, it had to be labeled “Brazilian rum” to be imported into the U.S. As a result, it’s often mistaken by many people for being a type of rum.

Unfortunately, we don’t really know anything definite about the origins of the Caipirinha. Like the Mojito and the Old Fashioned, the formula was perhaps first used in folk medicine. Carlos Lima, the executive director of IBRAC (the Brazilian Institute of Cachaça) told Casa e Jardim that a mix of lime, garlic, and honey with a pour of cachaça was probably used in São Paulo around 1918 as a remedy for the Spanish Flu.

As the story goes, someone eventually decided to skip the garlic and honey. Then, to balance the acidity of the lime, sugar was added. Over time, the drink spread into bars, ice entered the equation, and it became the Caipirinha we know today.

HIT THE LAB

Like the Mojito, the classic Caipirinha recipe is quite simple, but it’s also been the subject of many, many variations. We’ve included the International Bartenders Association (IBA) recipe as well as a modern take on the drink.

Caipirinha
Modified from the IBA website.

2 ounces Cachaça
1/2 of a lime
1 tablespoon sugar

Muddle lime and sugar in an Old Fashioned glass. Fill with ice and pour cachaça over it. Stir and enjoy.

Prata B. (Puerto Rico Asta Ah Brazil)
Recipe by Luis Ramos, bar manager of Bourbon and Branch in San Francisco.

1 3/4 ounces Avua Prata Cachaça
3/4 ounce lime juice
3/4 ounce pineapple gomme syrup
1/2 ounce Pedro Ximenez sherry
1/4 ounce Punt e Mes
Grated nutmeg, lime zest, lime wheel for garnish

Combine all ingredients in a Collins glass. Add crushed ice and stir until glass frosts. Top glass with grated nutmeg, lime zest, and lime wheel.

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