How To Make Flavored Cocktail Syrups

Cameron Carnes
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.

Why Choosing the Second Cheapest Wine on the Menu Isn't Such a Good Idea

iStock.com/kupicoo
iStock.com/kupicoo

For those whose knowledge of wine is limited to whatever lessons they picked up while watching Sideways, it can be tempting to order a glass of the second-cheapest vino on the menu at bars and restaurants. According to this line of reasoning, you don't want to look cheap by choosing the least expensive wine—but at the same time, it doesn't make sense to order a pricey vintage red if you're not the kind of wine enthusiast who confidently throws around terms like "mouth-feel" and "hints of oak" and would therefore understand and appreciate the difference in quality.

Although this wine hack is widely observed, the Skimm points out why it isn't such a sound method. For one, restaurants are well aware of this customer habit and might even use it to their advantage by taking a bottle they're looking to get rid of and placing it in the second-cheapest slot. That could mean that you're getting a not-so-great bottle of wine and may have been better off ordering the cheapest one on the list.

"I can confirm that restaurants will occasionally reprice a wine that they need to move to make it the second-cheapest spot on the menu," sommelier Kirsten Vicenza tells Atlas Obscura. "It sells!"

And then there are the markups. According to Wine Enthusiast, the cheapest wines tend to have the highest markups, so while your bill may be lower than if you had ordered a top-tier wine, you're also getting the lowest value. The magazine recommends ordering a wine somewhere in the middle—perhaps the third or fourth cheapest wine—to get more bang for your buck.

This isn't a "hard and fast rule," though, as VinePair notes. Sommeliers will sometimes lower the price of a lesser-known wine to encourage customers to try it. If you're unsure what to order, it never hurts to ask for a recommendation.

[h/t Skimm]

How Much a Pint of Beer Will Cost You Around the World

Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images
Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images

After updating your passport and packing your suitcase, there's one last thing you should check before going on vacation: How much will a pint of beer cost at your destination?

Just as food and lodging varies in price from country to country, so does beer. To make sure you're prepared for whatever you find on beer menus abroad, The Wall Street Journal has compiled the average cost of a pint of beer in major cities around the world, using data from the travel site OMIO's Beer Price Index.

According to this data, Hong Kong is home to the most expensive brews, with bar patrons shelling out an average of $10.86 per pint in the city. Beer prices don't look much better in the U.S., where the average pint of beer at a bar costs $8.97 in both Miami and New York.

To find cheap beer, you need to head to Eastern Europe or South Asia. A pint costs an average of just $2.22 at bars in Bratislava, Slovakia, the cheapest of any of the cities the WSJ looked at. In Delhi, India, you can get a pint for $2.31, and in Kiev, Ukraine, you can find one for $2.36.

If you're factoring beer prices into your future vacation plans, check out the five most expensive pints and five least expensive pints by city below. And for a different way to look at international beer prices, here's how much beer you can get for $1 around the world.

Cities With the Most Expensive Pints of Beer

1. Hong Kong: $10.86
2. Geneva, Switzerland: $10.77
3. Tel Aviv, Israel: $9.53
4. New York City: $8.97
5. Miami: $8.97

Cities With the Cheapest Pints of Beer

1. Bratislava, Slovakia: $2.22
2. Delhi, India: $2.31
3. Kiev, Ukraine: $2.36
4. Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam: $2.58
5. Kraków, Poland: $2.70

[h/t The Wall Street Journal]

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