Cocktail

The Wonder Syrup for Better Drinks, Every Time

Our resident bartender, Elliott Clark, shows us how to amp up just about every beverage with a couple simple (wink wink) ingredients.

Photo by Elliott Clark of Apartment Bartender

Apartment Bartender is a column by Elliott Clark, Food52's Resident Bartender and an avid at-home cocktail enthusiast. Elliott's here to help us bring our favorite bar-worthy sips home—and with his spot-on guidance and expert tips, you'll soon be stirring, shaking, and garnishing like a pro.


Making your own syrups at home is one of the easiest and best ways to infuse more flavor into your cocktails, especially if you’re not ready to invest in stocking your home bar with a bunch of liqueurs.

Fruit syrups. Tea Syrups. Spiced syrups. The possibilities for what you can make are endless. But before we dive into three of my favorite syrups to keep on hand, it’s important we quickly cover a few common types you should know about.


The Basics

Simple Syrup

Simple syrup is literally just sugar water. 

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Top Comment:
“I love the idea of the tea and the pineapple syrup. Do you think I can sub tequila for the mezcal in that one? I have been obsessed with making a rhubarb rose syrup this summer and I use it in a gin and tonic with Fevertree’s Mediterranean tonic and The Botanist Gin as well as in a margarita. SO good!”
— JulieS
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Traditional simple syrup is made from one part water to one part sugar. White granulated sugar is the standard sweetener used for simple syrup.

Measuring might be the most complicated part of making this recipe. Measuring by volume is most common, which is simply measuring one cup of water with a liquid measuring cup and one cup of sugar with a dry measuring cup. The second way to measure your ingredients is by weight, which is more precise (if only by a fraction). If you don’t have a kitchen scale, and to keep it easy, use the first method.

Rich Simple Syrup

Rich simple syrup is a common simple syrup variation. Instead of the traditional one part sugar to one part water, it calls for two parts sugar to one part water (2:1). The process of making it is exactly the same as above. Many bartenders and home cocktail enthusiasts prefer to use rich simple syrup because of the syrup's thicker texture, which can add a little more body and texture to a cocktail.

Demerara syrup

Demerara sugar is often confused with brown sugar, but they're not quite the same thing. Demerara sugar is a light brown, partially refined sugar that adds really nice toffee and caramel notes to a cocktail. The way to make a Demerara syrup is the same process as regular simple syrup (are you starting to see how easy it is to make syrup?). It pairs really well in spirit-forward cocktails like old fashioneds, sazeracs, and other drinks containing aged spirits.

I have a few other honorable mentions you should keep on hand: Agave nectar, organic maple syrup, as well as honey to make a honey syrup (which is just two parts honey to one part warm water).


Spruced-Up Syrups

Any one of the above syrups will allow you to mix up a variety of cocktails. However, it's just as easy to mix up flavored syrups to spruce up every drink under the sun. You'll just need sugar and one additional ingredient—brewed tea, fruit juice, or spice-infused water. Seriously!

To show you how simple (no pun intended) infused syrups are, I'm including a few ideas for some of my favorite summery blends below, plus a cocktail idea for each. You'll find pineapple syrup, plus a pineapple mezcal sour recipe; peach-cinnamon syrup, plus a peach-cinnamon old fashioned recipe, and green tea syrup, plus a green tea Tom Collins recipe.

Pineapple Syrup

Pineapple syrup is my favorite type of syrup to keep on hand. It’s full of flavor, and so versatile in how it pairs well with all spirits, most citrus, and works all year round.

To make pineapple syrup, you'll just need fresh pineapple (or good-quality pineapple juice) and white granulated sugar. In a medium saucepan, combine equal parts fresh pineapple juice to white granulated sugar on low to medium heat (I did one cup to one cup). Warm the liquid mixture to dissolve the sugar, but do not bring to a boil. Strain the syrup through a fine mesh strainer to remove any solids and store the syrup in a glass jar in the refrigerator for up to one week.

Pineapple Mezcal Sour

  • 2 oz mezcal
  • 3/4 oz pineapple syrup
  • 3/4 oz fresh lime juice

Combine all ingredients into a cocktail shaker, add ice, and shake to chill. Strain the drink into a coupe glass, and garnish with a pineapple leaf.


Peach-Cinnamon Syrup

This syrup crosses the boundaries of summer and fall. Peach is such a vibrant flavor that meshes well with all spirits, especially aged spirits like bourbon. The cinnamon helps to incorporate warming spices that elevate any cocktail you use this with.

In a medium saucepan, combine 1 cup of water, two sliced up peaches, and 3-4 broken up cinnamon sticks. Bring the mixture to a light simmer to bring out the cinnamon, and to release the juices from the peaches. Add in 1 cup of white granulated sugar on low to medium heat, and gently stir to dissolve. Remove from the heat and allow the syrup to cool. Strain the syrup through a fine mesh strainer to remove any solids and store the syrup in a glass jar in the refrigerator for up to one week.

Peach-Cinnamon Old Fashioned

  • 2 oz bourbon whiskey
  • 1/4 oz Peach-cinnamon syrup
  • 2 dashes Angostura bitters

Combine all ingredients into a mixing glass, and stir with ice. Strain the cocktail into a rocks glass over ice, and garnish with a peach slice and cinnamon stick.


Green Tea Syrup

Tea-based syrups come with a lot of floral and herbal notes that pair really well with botanical spirits like gin. This green tea syrup is subtle, but provides a layer of depth to a cocktail that’ll have you or your guests repeatedly sipping the cocktail looking to pinpoint the flavor.

You can use a green tea bag, or loose leaf green tea. First, brew one cup of green tea, and then combine with one cup of white granulated sugar. Stir to dissolve the sugar, then store in a glass jar in the refrigerator up to two weeks.

Green Tea Tom Collins

  • 2 oz gin or vodka
  • 3/4 oz green tea syrup
  • 3/4 oz fresh lemon juice
  • 2 oz soda water

Combine all ingredients, except for the soda water, into a cocktail shaker. Add ice and shake to chill. Strain the drink into a Collins glass over ice, and top with soda water. Garnish with a rosemary sprig and lemon peel.


Keep in mind these syrups are not limited to the combinations I've listed above. For any fruit syrup (not just pineapple!), just sub the in fruit juice you like best. If the fruit isn’t easily juiced, lightly simmer it in a few tablespoons of water to extract the juices before combining with equal parts sugar. For the tea syrups, you’re not limited to green tea; earl grey or jasmine tea are great alternatives. The same goes for incorporating spices into your syrups—you can go with other spices such as star anise, black peppercorns, and more.

Last, when it comes to cocktail syrups, I hope I've shown you how straightforward it is to make your own at home. That being said, there are quite a few brands out creating really quality syrups that could come in handy if, say, you’re batching cocktails for a large group (Liber & Co. and Reàl Cocktail Ingredients are two of my favorite brands).

Otherwise, I’d say focus on expanding the range of syrups you make and watch how diverse your cocktails at home become!

What would you put in your dream cocktail syrup? Let us know in the comments.

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • jpriddy
    jpriddy
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Elliott Clark, also known as the Apartment Bartender, is a well-respected tastemaker, cocktail creator, spirits writer, and photographer in the spirits industry. What started out as a hobby for making cocktails at home has developed into a full-blown career that takes Elliott all over the world mixing drinks for some of the world’s most notable brands, and making the world of spirits more accessible to the at-home cocktail enthusiast.

13 Comments

jpriddy October 9, 2020
just fyi: Two to one honey/water makes a very sweet syrup. By volume, honey has more sugar than granulated sugar and it will not recrystallize, which is a plus. Add water merely to aid in dissolving the sweetness in a drink.
 
ellicia October 8, 2020
If, at times, you are lazy like me, adding a shot of Southern Comfort will work just fine.
 
Mosie September 24, 2020
Is there a chai recipe I can make that’s low on clove and a touch higher on cardamom?
 
Annie September 23, 2020
When I make my candied citrus rinds I save the unused simple syrup from that process. It usually is a combination of orange/lemon/lime. Wonderful with a Mescal cocktail.
 
FrugalCat August 1, 2020
I make simple syrup with turbinado sugar. Great in margaritas or bourbon drinks. I guess it would be similar to demerara syrup?
 
JulieS August 1, 2020
Thank you for the inspiration! I love the idea of the tea and the pineapple syrup. Do you think I can sub tequila for the mezcal in that one?
I have been obsessed with making a rhubarb rose syrup this summer and I use it in a gin and tonic with Fevertree’s Mediterranean tonic and The Botanist Gin as well as in a margarita. SO good!
 
Author Comment
Apartment B. August 1, 2020
Hey! Yep, feel free to sub out the mezcal for tequila. The cocktail would be great with any spirit of your choosing :) also, the botanist is one of my favorite gins, way to mix with the good stuff!
 
Victoria M. November 14, 2020
Wow, this sounds incredible. Care to share the recipe? Rhubarb can be pretty dang tart and I have tons of rose hips in my garden right now!
 
LauraH July 31, 2020
Thank you for this article! I've had so much fun this summer making flavored syrups to pair with various teas, so reading this gave me further inspiration. I've been mostly making blueberry syrup, but just made strawberry-raspberry. I think I'll mix the strawberry-raspberry syrup with chilled hibiscus tea today. My favorite combination so far is blueberry syrup with black tea blends with notes of bergamot, vanilla and lavender. I do prefer thicker syrups, as you say in your post; they just add a little extra “oomph”. I never add alcohol only because these are my workday treats, but I think a simple syrup paired with a Russian black tea blend (flavored with notes of orange, cloves and cinnamon) and bourbon would be lovely. Thanks for the inspiration.
 
Author Comment
Apartment B. July 31, 2020
Hey! Thanks for note! That raspberry-strawberry syrup mixed with the hibiscus tea sounds like a dream! You’re giving me inspo for more summer drinks :) hope you have a great weekend!
 
Deborah D. July 31, 2020
Coconut
 
Jacob K. July 29, 2020
I've been making simple syrups for a while, do you find that the quality gets worse after two weeks? I've kept various syrups or cordials for weeks, if not a month or more. I see you are saying yours last for 1-2 weeks.
 
Author Comment
Apartment B. July 29, 2020
Hey Jacob, thanks for the question! Most of my syrups don't last past a week, simply because I use them up. As with anything though, you're going to lose quality over an extended period of time. However, simple syrup (especially rich simple) should last longer than two weeks, sometimes up to a month), but I say two weeks just to be safe. I say one week for fruit syrups because citrus and fruit tend to expire sooner, but the sugar content tends to preserve it longer. I'd say two weeks max on fruit syrups (but that's my experience). Also, this is why I usually make small quantities of syrup (1-2 cups usually) to avoid making too much and not using it up. Happy to send along some more resources on syrup if need be - just shoot me a DM on instagram! Cheers man!