When it comes to making cocktails, one of the easiest ways to create different and unique drinks is to use flavored syrups. Of course, you can buy flavored syrups, but the kind you find in the grocery store are usually just a combination of high fructose corn syrup, food coloring, and artificial flavors. Why spend money on something like that when making syrups at home is easy, generally costs less, and you wind with something that tastes amazing?
The basic syrup used in cocktails is called simple syrup. It’s usually made with an equal ratio of water to sugar. Since sugar is water soluble, just combine the two ingredients in a bottle and shake. Let sit at room temperature for 20-30 minutes, then put in the fridge. Easy peasy.
To get flavored syrup, combine equal parts sugar and water, along with whatever flavoring ingredient you want to use, in a small pot. Bring to a boil, simmer about 5 minutes, then remove from heat. Once the syrup’s cool, strain out the solids and bottle. You can do this with practically any edible you have in your house, especially fruit. Or you can use spices, herbs, edible flowers, or any combination thereof. A few examples:
- Syrup flavored with clementines can be used in this very fancy-looking clementine, whiskey, and wine cocktail.
- Lavender honey syrup is delightful added to a dry, sparkling wine, or a virgin lemonade.
- Cinnamon syrup adds a great kick to tropical drinks, or can fire up an old fashioned.
You can also make well-known syrups like grenadine and orgeat at home. Both of these classic cocktail syrups are perfect examples of why making syrup at home is better than buying them in a store. Traditionally, grenadine was made with pomegranate juice (the word for pomegranate in French is grenade—and yes, that’s also the root of the English word grenade, because those seeds get freaking everywhere). Today, the ingredients in a typical bottle of store-bought grenadine are HFCS and neon pink food coloring. Not only does this not have the tart sweetness of traditional grenadine, it has no health benefits whatsoever.
Making your own grenadine is ridiculously easy. I already covered how to do it in my Think Pink! post, and included four pink cocktails to make with your homemade grenadine once you’re finished.
Orgeat (pronounced or-szah, because French) is a rich almond-flavored syrup usually found in tropical drinks. This is another syrup that’s usually 1. expensive, and 2. filled with HFCS and artificial flavoring. Orgeat’s a little more difficult to make than grenadine, but if you enjoy the taste of almonds, making this syrup from scratch will be more than worth the effort.
The main challenge with this recipe is finding orange flower water—you might have to go to a special market or order it online. Fortunately a little orange flower water goes a long way, and you can even add a few drops to your homemade grenadine to give it a bit more dimension.
Homemade Orgeat (adapted from Craft Cocktails at Home’s Blasphemously Easy Recipe for the Best Homemade Orgeat):
In a bottle, combine:
- 1 cup almond milk (make sure whatever brand you use lists almonds as the first ingredient)
- 7 tbsp sugar (I recommend adding this to the almond milk a tablespoon at a time and tasting as you go, since nearly all almond milk brands already have sugar added)
- 1/8 tsp almond extract
- 1/16th tsp or 4 drops orange blossom water
And that’s it! You now have some seriously fancy-pants and delicious orgeat to mix up a Japanese cocktail or a Mai Tai. And don’t forget you don’t need cocktails to use your homemade syrups—you can also add flavored syrups to water, club soda, coffee, or any other drink that wants a bit of added sweetness and flavor.
Syrups have a relatively short shelf life, so take Shannon’s great advice and add a spoonful of vodka to each bottle of syrup and keep in a tightly-closed container in the fridge. That should extend the shelf life by several weeks.
Do you have any favorite syrup flavors? Share ‘em in the comments!
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