Simple Syrup – The Step-by-Step Guide

Simple syrup is, perhaps, the most basic and commonly used syrup employed in making craft cocktails. It adds the touch of sweetness that helps create balance and depth in the taste of many drinks. While you may see recipes that list synthetic “sweet and sour” mixes among their ingredients to sweeten the cocktail, the best craft cocktails, both classic and new, call for simple syrup to add sweet, non-alcoholic complexity and taste. 

Why a syrup and not just straight up sugar? Simple syrup is much easier to use than granulated sugar – it mixes better and, since it’s a liquid, its measurements are more aligned with the rest of the ingredients in any drink. It’s also surprisingly easy to make. While we covered Mint Simple Syrup before, I thought I’d put together a relatively comprehensive description on how to make several types of sugar syrup including regular simple syrup, rich simple syrup, spiced simple syrup and, once again with feeling, mint simple syrup.

The process of making these sweeteners is, as the name implies, simple. It’s also much faster than you may expect. Basically, 10 minutes of invested time will give you enough simple syrup to make dozens of drinks.

Regular Simple Syrup

What You’ll Need to Make Regular Simple Syrup

  • 12 liquid ounces of filtered water
  • 12 liquid ounces of granulated sugar (Liquid ounces? See explanation below)
  • A stove
  • A small-medium sized pot
  • A spoon to stir the syrup
  • A sealable storage container – a Mason jar or similar is perfect

When a recipe calls for simple syrup, it’s generally referring to regular simple syrup or 1:1 simple syrup – 1 part granulated sugar to 1 part filtered water. The first time you make it, you might question if that means a solid measurement for the sugar (weight) and a liquid measurement (volume) for the water. Again, the concept of simple comes into play. Both measurements are volume. Pour equal amounts of sugar and water into measuring cups. In the photo below, you see 12 ounces of sugar and 12 ounces of water.

Note: you may want to consider the size of the container you’ll be storing the syrup in when done. 12 ounces of sugar and 12 ounces of water does not make 24 ounces of simple syrup. The resulting volume in this case is more like 14 ounces.

Simple Syrup

Once you’ve measured your ingredients, pour the water in small pot and heat with medium heat.

Simple SyrupBring the water to a gentle boil.

Simple SyrupAdd the sugar you measured in the first step.

Simple Syrup

Simmer the mixture while stirring frequently. The sugar will dissolve fairly quickly.

Simple Syrup

Once the sugar has dissolved, heat and stir for another minute or two then turn off the heat and set aside for a few minutes so the mixture can cool to a safe-to-handle level. When it’s cool enough to handle and won’t melt or shatter your storage container, pour the syrup into your container and seal. Refrigerate the container and start mixin’ drinks.

Making Simple Syrup without Heat

Alternately, you can make your syrups without heat. Sucrose (granulated sugar) dissolves by itself at room temperature with a little stirring/shaking. Unlike in the heated version, the sucrose doesn’t completely break down with motion. As such, it creates a thicker syrup which, to me, tastes a bit sweeter than its cooked cousin. Keep in mind that when you make your simple syrup this way, it will likely not keep longer than about a week. As with making heated syrup at lower temperatures, adding a small amount (1/4 ounce) of vodka or lemon juice makes it last a little longer. 

Rich Simple Syrup

Rich simple syrup is prepared the same way as regular simple syrup except the ratio of sugar to water increases. Generally speaking, most recipes that use rich simple syrup call for 2 parts of sugar to 1 part water. So, twice as much sugar as water. Again, use liquid measurements and follow the directions for regular simple syrup above.

You’ll note that it takes longer for the sugar to dissolve in the water. Be patient, and try to refrain from blasting the mixture with heat to speed up the process. You don’t want to boil away all your water.

The result, of course, is a thicker and sweeter syrup often used in Tiki recipes and to balance tart ingredients in specialty drinks.

Special Simple Syrups

There are a few other common sugar syrups called for in cocktails. Among the most popular of these are spiced simple syrup and mint simple syrup.

Simple Syrup

Spiced Simple Syrup

What You’ll Need to Make Spiced Simple Syrup

  • 12 liquid ounces of filtered water
  • 12 liquid ounces of granulated sugar
  • 1/2 a vanilla bean, split along its length
  • 3 Cinnamon Sticks broken into large pieces
  • 1 dozen whole cloves
  • A stove
  • A small-medium sized pot
  • A spoon to stir the syrup
  • A sealable storage container – a Mason jar or similar is perfect

Simple Syrup

Prepare regular simple syrup according to the recipe above. Once all the sugar has dissolved, add the Cinnamon, vanilla and cloves.

Simple Syrup

Let the mixture simmer for a few minutes using the heat to extract the flavors from the solid ingredients.

Remove the syrup from heat, allowing it to cool to the point it’s safe to work with. Then, as with regular simple syrup, decant into your storage container with all the solid ingredients – do not filter them out. They will continue to flavor the syrup while it’s in storage. Seal the container and refrigerate when you’re not using it.

Spiced simple syrup is often used in Tiki drinks as well as seasonal holiday cocktails and punches. That’s got you thinking about what you’ll make with it, right?

Mint Simple Syrup

What You’ll Need to Make Mint Simple Syrup

  • 12 liquid ounces of filtered water
  • 12 liquid ounces of granulated sugar
  • About 2 dozen medium-size mint leaves
  • A stove
  • A small-medium sized pot
  • A spoon to stir the syrup
  • A muddler to press the leaves (optional, you can use the spoon if that’s what you’ve got available)
  • Fine strainer
  • A sealable storage container – a Mason jar or similar is perfect

Prepare regular simple syrup as described above. Once the sugar has dissolved, add the mint leaves to the mixture. Unlike the photo below, DO NOT include the stems. The stems and veins of the leaves contain chlorophyll, which is bitter and would, obviously, defeat the purpose of the syrup.

Simple Syrup

Gently press the mint leaves against the bottom of the pot to release their minty goodness. Try to not break the veins in the leaves for the reason above. Rock the muddler back and forth over each leaf. No need for too much pressure or to slam the poor leaf into the bottom of the pot.

After you have muddled each leaf once or twice, continue to simmer the mixture for another minute or two. Then, remove the pot from the heat and let cool until it’s safe to handle. Filter out the mint leaves with the strainer as you pour the mixture into your storage container. Refrigerate the syrup when not in use.

Storage and Use

There are people who find that homemade simple syrups don’t keep very long. I have never had a problem with the longevity of homemade syrups. Those who know me will joke that’s because I use them up so quickly, but the reality is that I use the right amount of heat in the process.

If you’re not too gentle with the heat, the cooking process should kill much of the bacteria in the syrup. Also, if you place the syrup into its storage container while it’s still hot, the bacteria and microbes in the container should be greatly eliminated as well. You don’t have to use intense heat and boil off all the water, but you need to make sure you’re working with boiling water. Also, you should store your syrups in the fridge to keep unwanted elements at bay. I have no problem keeping simple syrup for a couple of months with this process. 

Dave, who lives in Colorado, theorizes that the lower boiling point of water at higher altitude may curb some of the self-sterilizing effects of the preparation above. This will result in a shorter shelf life of your simple syrup if you live far above sea level. A ¼ ounce of vodka or lemon juice added to your syrup at the end of the process can extend its life a bit if you are making yours in the mountains.

Regardless which variety of syrup you make, it’s best to store in a sealed container and refrigerate it. The problem with this is that it’s often difficult to measure out small amounts – many recipes call for only ¼ oz of syrup. To deal with this, I keep a small amount of syrup in squeeze bottle that makes mixing drinks with the syrup very easy. Every few days, I pour some of the syrup into these containers which I also refrigerate. They are especially helpful when I’m mixing up the evening’s third round of drinks.

Simple Syrup

Guest Post from a Pro: Strong International Specialty Spirits

A glass of wine is nice, and nothing beats an ice cold beer, but for those times when you’d like to celebrate with something a little stronger, consider some of these unique, potent liquors to create a cocktail you won’t soon forget. That is, as long as you enjoy in moderation! Our list of powerful beverages offers tastes from all around the globe, plus some more familiar indulgences. Use caution when shooting these straight, or better yet, mix up some creative combinations in a tall highball glass with plenty of ice.

#1 Absinthe

The infamous “Green Fairy” starts out our list, clocking it at around 120 proof. Created in Switzerland, this blend of fermented grain and aromatic herbs (including the powerful, and sometimes illegal, wormwood) comes with a cool serving style all its own. The basic method involves pouring your absinthe into a small glass, then slowly pouring cold water over a cube of sugar before stirring up the cloudy mixture. If you want to score some extra points for authenticity and showmanship, light the sugar cube on fire first, and let the caramelized sugar drip down into the glass before you add in the water. However you prepare it, you’ll end up with a milky green opaque drink that tastes like something out of a Hemingway novel. For those of you out there who like adding cool tools to your bar, you can find absinthe spoons, glasses, and fountains online and in any store where quality bar ware is sold.

#2 Arak

Like Absinthe’s middle eastern cousin, Arak is another anise flavored liquor that turns cloudy when mixed and offers an opportunity for ritual and rowdiness. Traditionally made and served in a handful of eastern Mediterranean countries, including Lebanon and Syria, Arak is made from fermented and distilled grapes, then mixed with anise for its unique flavor. Enjoy a small glass as a feisty aperitif after enjoying hummus and grape leaves, and treat your guests to this unique, slightly sweet moonshine of the East.

#3 Baijiu

Served like sake, but packing a vodka punch, this Chinese liquor is made from fermented and distilled grains in a similar fashion to spirits like whiskey. Instead of wheat however, Baijiu is produced using sorghum, a kind of grass that has become more popular as a flour alternative, as well as thr foundation to several powerful Asian sippables. Serve Baijiu at room temperature in small glasses designed for shooting it straight down, or play around with cocktail recipes and swap out vodka for a pour of either flavored or unflavored Baijiu.

#4 Kaoliang

Another sorghum derived liquor, Kaoliang hails from Taiwan and is even stronger than its Chinese cousin. Also referred to as sorghum wine, Kaoliang is typically commercially available at around 110 proof. The drink is also popular in China and Korea, and is usually enjoyed in a simple shot straight down the hatch. Feel free to experiment by mixing up Kaoliang martinis or adding spicy or sweet elements. The toasty grain taste is distinctive, and several high end varieties are available, but even a basic serving of Kaoling will blend nicely with a little fresh citrus and/or sparking water.

#5 Mezcal

The perfect booze alternative for when you’re ready to give margarita night a rest, Mezcal is a strong, smoky export from Mexico made from the hearty leaves of the maguey plant. With a heady flavor that lends itself perfectly to mixing up craft cocktails, try swapping out Mezcal in any of your favorite tequila recipes. For something different, try pairing it with a few dashes of bitters to bring out the interesting, complex flavors for a drink that will require slow, thoughtful sips.

#6 Ogogoro

Hailing from West African countries like Nigeria, Ogogoro is made from the fermented sap of palm trees and is often compared to gin. This liquor is a strong and exciting addition to any adventurous home bar, but use caution when purchasing as news of contaminated Ogogoro sites has recently turned many locals off from the stuff.

#7 Palinka

A Hungarian fruit brandy may sound like a sweet sip for your great-grandmother, but Palinka’s powerful plums weighs in at around 110 proof. This Hungarian drink is distilled using any local fruits, but plums are usually the main ingredient. Serve Palinka at just slightly below room temperature. Anything colder and you’ll miss the fragrant, fruity nose, so skip the ice and pour it out like you would port, in a small glass that allows room for your nose to sniff and, well, attempt to enjoy this brawny booze.

#8 Poitin

Finally, any list of high octane alcohols wouldn’t be complete without an entry from Ireland. And no, we’re not talking about whiskey! Poitin has long been a tradition of Irish moonshiners; in fact, the name comes from the Gaelic word for “pot.” Once made from mashing grains and/or potatoes in a single pot before distilling, Poitin is now mass produced at the legal level of 65% alcohol. Try a sip to say you did it, then stick to Guinness unless you want to start seeing rainbows and pots of gold!

About the Author

Melissa Hardman is Chief staff writer for The Vine Daily at showcasing creative editorial & news of the Wine & Beer biz. Melissa was raised in the wine business and loves life’s hardcore culinary eats. Not only is she a renegade in the kitchen, she can shamelessly concoct mind blowing cocktails with ingredients du jour.

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