The cocktail is not the simplest form of alcoholic beverage. Above it on the rung of simplicity are the On the Rocks, and the Neat to say the least. The definition of cocktail has been bandied about in my household almost as long as I’ve been doing this. Mostly because in my aspirations to cocktail snobbery I have denigrated the practice of adding sodas or colas to drinks as a method of claiming cocktail status. I’ll go into it in a lot more detail some other time but the basic idea that Rum + cola is not a cocktail but with the addition of lime juice it suddenly transmutes into the acceptable Cuba Libre has been the subject of more than one late night debate.
The cocktail itself blossoms in complexity above the line of simple mixed drink and now encompasses everything from the punch to the crusta to the fizz. Getting into those hallowed categories would take most of a night so I bring myself to the point. No matter how simple the cocktail you attempt to make there will inevitably be a need for some form of mixer. That mixer, be it sour mix, pina colada or margarita will contain some form of sweetener. If you’re buying it off a shelf then 9 times out of ten that sweetener is going to be some form of corn syrup. The new trend in skinny cocktail mixers means that more and more you’re going to see the addition of artificial sweeteners like aspartame and Phenylalanine.
All of that can be avoided. Making your own mixers could not possibly be simpler and for the drinker who insists on quality fresh ingredients the results could not be more excellent.
As the first of my series of attempts to put bottled mixers back on the shelf I give you the Mother Sauce of them all. Simple syrup is the magical application of sugar and water.
The recipe for this magic elixir is even easier. 1 part sugar to 1 part water.
For my test batch tonight I went with the remains of a box of bakers sugar which amounted to just over a third of a cup. I measured out a third of a cup of water and laid out my project.
In a small saucepan you bring the water to a boil, add the sugar and stir constantly until the sugar dissolves.
At this point you are faced with an interesting choice. The syrup is going to remain liquid at this point even if you remove a good portion of the water. The longer you leave it on the boil the more of the water you remove. At some point the mixture of water and sugar is going to crystalize and seize up but you have some flexibility in how long you keep it going. The longer you wait, the thicker the syrup becomes. Personally I like mine a bit runny since it’s going to dry out as it ages and this will give it a bit more shelf life but play with your time until you get something that works for your taste.
We’re not making caramels here so don’t worry about it too much, just keep stirring until you’re ready to pull it off the heat. Once you do, allow the syrup to cool for a bit before you use it or bottle it.
For my own uses I have these lovely squeeze bottles which I can cap or seal as needed and they work wonders for serving small portions. Our third cup is slightly reduced here but will serve for a few cocktails over the next few days. The yield from this batch was about 2.25 – 2.5 oz of syrup depending on how long you left it on the stove. That’s usually enough for 1-2 drinks so 1/3 of a cup of sugar looks like a good single serving batch.
Now since this is really just sugar in a liquid it will go bad at some point if you just leave it sitting around. Refrigeration can postpone that giving you up to three weeks, but the addition of a couple of ounces of vodka to the bottle will keep most things from growing in there long enough for you to run out the bottle.
The beauty of this is that it takes almost no time at all to make. I had this much done in the time it took me to snap the photos and I could easily have done 3-6 times as much in the same span.
If you do add vodka just remember that you did so before you start making mocktails for the kids.
Once you have your syrup here is a fairly simple thing you can do with it.
2 oz Simple Syrup
8 oz Club Soda
Pitt and quarter the cherries, add them to the bottom of a collins glass. Add Syrup and muddle in the bottom of the glass. Add club soda to fill glass. You’ve just made the best possible italian soda without having to buy a $12 bottle of torani cherry syrup.
Seasonal fruit is best, and as with any italian soda you can add a splash of heavy cream if you like it that way.
Special thanks to Jess Hartley for asking me to start doing this feature, expect many more as I explore the various mixers and syrups.