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Cocktail 101: How to Make and Use Flavored Simple Syrup

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[Photographs: Michael Dietsch]

Classic simple syrup is a essential ingredient to have around, but at times you might want something a little more interesting. Perhaps you want to add a subtle flavor component to a cocktail or maybe you want to highlight your spirit with a complementary spicy note. Flavored simple syrups come in handy here.

How to Flavor Simple Syrup

Flavored syrups start from the same base as simple syrups: a solution of sugar in water. To make a flavored syrup, you add a flavoring element while the sugar and water are cooking. When the syrup is flavored enough for your taste, remove from heat. Strain out solids before bottling. That's all—you don't need a recipe.

When deciding what flavors to add, a number of possibilities present themselves. Fruit, for one, is a no-brainer. Citrus zest is a great addition to a simple syrup, and a citrusy syrup is quite versatile, enhancing cocktails made from just about any base spirit. (It's also a good sweetener for iced tea!)

Berry-flavored syrups are delicious, and are especially good in non-alcoholic cocktails. Herbed syrups also spring quickly to mind. A mint syrup is handy to have on hand, for example, when you want a minty cocktail but don't want to deal with muddling mint into each drink.

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But what about spices or peppers?

Spice It Up

Spicy syrups provide a great opportunity for a home bartender to show off some creativity. For a cocktail party a few years ago, I made a rum punch spiked with ginger-cardamom syrup, for example. To make the ginger-cardamom syrup, I grated the ginger and cracked open the cardamom pods before adding them to the sugar and water. (You could also discard the pods and just use the seeds.) This syrup is also wonderful with lime juice and sparkling water as a non-alcoholic cocktail.

At her blog Spice and Ice, cocktail writer Kara Newman describes a sparkling peppery pear cocktail that uses a peppercorn-infused simple syrup. Delicious!

Pairing Syrups and Spirits

Some flavored syrups pair well with many spirits, whereas others are more persnickety. Citrus flavors are among the most versatile, and you'd have luck pairing them with anything from neutral vodka to smoky mezcal.

Ginger syrup is excellent with rum, and it's a strong contender for tiki drinks such as the Aloha A-Loh-A. But ginger also marries well to the smoky flavors in scotch, as in the classic drink, the Mamie Taylor.

Then there are combinations that you read about and think, only a professional would come up with that. Take, for example, the Delhi Daisy, a concoction by Misty Kalkofen of Boston's Drink. Curry simple syrup enlivens a drink made of tequila and elderflower. Sounds excellent, actually.

About the Author: Michael Dietsch writes A Dash of Bitters. He is an accidental bartender, boozologist, and spice cadet. He lives with a spirited female and crazy felines in Providence.

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