Part One in a Four Part Series called The Glorious Recipe.
One of the most common elements in modern cocktails is the smoothing and sometimes insipid sweet element. Learning different methods for sweetening cocktails and how to make your own syrup is an essential step to being able to make quality drinks for your guests when you are entertaining. Here are a few to get you started:
The most basic if the sweet family of ingredients. Simply take equal parts white sugar and water and combine. There is much debate over the merits of hold vs. cold, but I have experimented and am yet to find a difference. I generally take 500 gms of sugar and add it to a pot of boiling water, that I have measured out to 500 mls (bless the metric system.) Take the pan off the heat when you add the sugar, and after about ten minutes and a couple of stirs the liquid should be free of sugar crystals. Bottled, it can be kept under refrigeration indefinitely, but you will most likely blow through the 800 odd mls that result from this recipes in two or three nights of irresponsible entertaining.
Demerara and Brown sugars, plus the new low GI cane crystals can be used, with differences in the way the final product will taste.
A note on infusion. Perhaps my single greatest revelation in mixing my own drinks at home was infusing the simple syrup with the flavors of fresh fruits, herbs and spices. Material should be chopped to small, but not obsessive slices or cubes and left to sit for an hour or more. Adding heat will speed the process but can add a stewed or caramelized note to the flavor that is not always welcome in your finished beverage. Personal favorites of mine are Lemon/Lime, made with peel and juice of each fruit; Ginger, with the skin left on to save both time and sanity; Lemongrass, with the stalks chopped and roughly smashed; Fresh Apple, I have found Fuji’s work particularly well; & Fresh Fig, which is surley one of the foods of the gods. (or god, depending on your stance.) The key here is experimentation, and remembering to remove the organic material with a sieve.
While most modern recipes consider gomme and syrup the same thing, they are in fact somewhat different. Gomme is made by combing a paste made from equal parts Gum Arabic and water with a 2:1 (less sweet) version of the simple syrup above. Gum Arabic comes from unhealthy trees in the Sudan, it was used in the past to adhere ink to newsprint and is one of the constitute ingredients of jelly babies. It can be found at specialty food stores.
The principle reason for adding Gum Arabic was to stop the sugar in the syrup from crystalizing with the lack of cold storage. It did have a side effect of adding a silkiness to a mixed drink, something now achieved by the addition of raw egg, making gomme the vegan alternative I suppose. Probably only made for notoriety rather than necessity.
Equal parts so hot right now and reviled because of the uneconomic nature of having said syrup slowly crystallizing on the rack, Agave Syrup is a low GI alternative to using Simple Syrup. The product is made from the Agave Plant, or more specifically, it’s core, ‘sweet cactus juice’ would probably be quite an accurate description of its provenance. Agave Syrup does carry a little hint of the sawdusty note found in Tequila, but a Tommy’s Margarita, which is made with this stuff, is possibly the nicest, smoothest, most incredible drinkable elixir I have ever laid my lips on.
Basically the reason America is fat, corn syrup is great at making things sweet, and ridiculously cheap to produce. It can be found flavouring everything from your Coke to your Cheetos. It should never sweeten your drink.
Essentially the cane sugar syrup that is used to make Agricole rum. Can be used to great effect, especially if you can buy a bottle of both the Rhum and the syrup it came from. Tikilicious!
Are acceptable, but are generally not used in bars due to the pesky nature of the complex chemicals and the way the streak up glassware, even when its put through a high temperature cycle.
Are basically syrups with some booze added.