CLOSE
Original image
Cameron Carnes

How To Make Flavored Cocktail Syrups

Original image
Cameron Carnes

With cocktails, even some of the simplest flavor combinations can be combined for a whole new effect. If you’re willing to put in the time and risk making a mess in the kitchen, you can create some syrups that will add pizzazz to your next signature cocktail.

Flavor Saver

Like with most cocktail-related things, there are quite a few different ways to make syrups. However, many flavor and aromatic compounds are delicate and will break apart when exposed to heat. Others aren’t water soluble, which means that they won’t be transferred if the ingredient is put in water for the syrup.

Luckily, there are a few ways to get around these difficulties. One such method is to combine your flavorful ingredients (like citrus zest, ginger root or thin cucumber slices) and sugar in a sealable plastic bag. Let it rest for several hours, and let the ingredients liquefy. The resulting liquid is called an oleo sacchrum, and was traditionally used as the base for punch. It can be quite thick, so to thin it out, add a bit of water to the bag and squeeze until dissolved.

It would appear that, in most of these cases, osmosis—the tendency of a fluid to pass from areas of high concentration to areas of low concentration—is the science at play (it’s a bit more complicated with the citrus oils, but it follows a similar process). By adding sugar and sealing the ingredients together, sugar draws out the liquid and taste compounds. If contained in a sealed area, all of the delicious aromatics and flavor molecules are preserved.

This approach is especially good for ingredients like ginger. Uncooked ginger contains gingerol, a spicy taste molecule. If the root is exposed to heat, gingerol degrades into zingerone—not so spicy—and shogaol, which gives ginger tea its recognizable burn.

Unfortunately, this approach to syrups does have its downside. Though it doesn’t take much prep time, it’s not as shelf-stable as a syrup that’s been heated. To prevent spoilage, refrigerate after completing the syrup.

Hot Stuff

The more traditional way of making simple syrup is to heat water and sugar in a pan. Boiling the mixture breaks the sucrose (sugar) down into fructose and glucose, two simple sugar molecules. The resulting syrup is slightly sweeter than what you may be used to, so adjust your recipes as needed.

However, you can also make syrup by combining a 1:1 ratio of sugar and other liquid in a sterilized glass container and shaking it periodically. For fruit juices and similar liquids, this approach doesn’t destroy the aromatics or flavor compounds. But like the oleo sacchrum method, cold batching doesn’t kill off bacteria or other nastiness that might be lurking inside your container. As a result, your syrup may not last as long.

Hit The Lab

If you’ve ever bought grocery store grenadine, you’ve probably been profoundly disappointed to find that it was just red sugar water. But traditionally, it was pomegranate-flavored, adding a subtle tartness and deep flavor to the drink that complimented its sweetness.

The availability of Pom and other pomegranate juices makes this syrup easy to make. Some recipes suggest nuking the juice until only about half is left. Other, simpler recipes call for equal parts Pom and sugar and 1 tsp of vodka. To combine, measure all three ingredients into a sterilized glass jar. Shake until no sugar remains on the bottom. Set on a countertop out of direct sunlight, and shake every 45 minutes or so until no sugar settles to the bottom.

One of my favorite cocktails to make with grenadine is the Ward Eight. Essentially, this cocktail is just a whiskey sour made with grenadine instead of simple syrup, but the substitution adds a pleasant earthiness that the original lacks.

As one of the only classic Boston cocktails, its devotees are smitten with their own recipes. In fact, during the 1940s a New York Sun writer put out a call for readers to submit their recipes for the cocktail. He received more than 500 replies. So, if this recipe doesn’t pique your fancy, tweak it until it does.

Ward 8

1 tsp - .75 oz grenadine (to taste)
1/2 oz lemon juice
3/4 oz orange juice
2 oz whiskey (rye or bourbon will work)
Lemon wheel for garnish

Combine all ingredients in a shaker tin. Add ice and shake vigorously for 15-20 seconds or until cooled. Strain into a chilled coupe glass and garnish with the lemon wheel.

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

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios