Sweetening the Mix

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Photograph from on jmilles Flickr

When it comes to sweetening a drink, many times sugar alone just won't hack it.

The current issue of Imbibe includes a short article I wrote about one of the alternative sweeteners being rediscovered by bartenders: maple syrup. Yeah, I know, many people find the idea of mixing their Log Cabin with their Grey Goose absolutely revolting, but pure maple syrup mixed with a rich brown spirit, such as bourbon, dark rum or apple brandy, is capable of bringing much more flavor and character to a drink than a spoonful of sugar ever could.

While maple syrup has been showing up in a drinks in Boston, New York and San Francisco, agave nectar is another alternative sweetener that's developing a fan base among bartenders. Recently it's been mixed with tequila and mezcal in a Oaxaca Old Fashioned at Death & Co. in New York, and in a combination of Venezuelan rum, cherry brandy and fresh citrus at Zig Zag Café in Seattle.

The floral-shirted bartenders at tiki bars have long known that an unexpected sweetener can bring a lot of magic to a drink. At Forbidden Island in Alameda, California, honey has joined maple syrup and a battery of house-made syrups to lend an air of sweet mystery to the bar's exotic drinks.

And then there's a whole array of sugar-related sweeteners: rich demerara syrups, invert sugar syrups, caramel syrup—all bringing traces of their unique flavor along with sweetness to the finished drink. (Though molasses, which appeared in a handful of chest-thumping drinks in the early years of the republic, thankfully has yet to make a reappearance.)

Have you explored different ways of adding a little character to your drinks through creative sweeteners? Let's hear it.

About the author: Paul Clarke blogs about cocktails at The Cocktail Chronicles and writes regularly on spirits and cocktails for Imbibe magazine. He lives in Seattle, where he works as a writer and magazine editor.

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