Update: Beer Syrup

beer syrupJust an update to my previous post about Porter Beer Syrup.  A Widmer Brewing rep dropped off a couple of 6 packs of Upheaval IPA as a tip in the tasting room and we needed the fridge space.  So, I took three bottles home and attempted to use the beer syrup process.

The initial result is a lot darker that I would have thought.  Upheaval is a pretty dark IPA already but this was almost as dark as the porter before I added the sugar.  Flavor has more bitterness than the porter but this is to be expected from the more hoppy IPA.  With an IBU of 85 /100 I’m expecting this to be more than a bit bitter even after adding sugar.

After it cooled down I was able to tap a bit and try it with a number of samples.  Overall on its own there is a lot of bitter flavor behind the hoppy nature of the IPA.

I took some of the syrup and made a pretty basic old fashioned.  I took the opportunity to try out my rejigger and my silipint at the same time.  The rejigger is a three chamber cap that simplifies the cocktail process somewhat.  In this case I used bourbon in the main chamber, IPA syrup in the second largest and lemon juice in the smallest.

The resulting old fashioned was a little on the strong side given the 2oz of bourbon and I think in retrospect I would have used slightly more syrup and less lemon.  Overall the hops from the IPA added some very good flavors to the bourbon.  I can see why hopped whiskey is becoming a thing.

Much like the porter cocktails I made the beer syrup adds a lot of complexity that would be tricky to obtain through spices or other flavors.  I’m now tempted to try with brandywine, cider or a good pilsner.

Make Your Own: Grenadine

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Further efforts in my loving quest to bring everyone the benefits of self-produced mixers abound.

Aside from fruit juice one of the most popular mixers for various cocktails is Grenadine.  Many of you may not be familiar with this mixer, I know because I’ve had at least three people say “What’s Grenadine” when I mention working on this article.

 

 

 

Grenadine comes from the french word Grenade, which means pomegranate.  Pomegranate is actually a concatenation of the words for apple and seeds.  Long way to go linguistically to get to this one but at least it makes sense.  Grenadine is a syrup made principally of pomegranate juice and sugar.

 

 

What is shocking is the quantity of grenadine brands on the market that don’t actually contain pomegranate juice.  Most of them are water, corn syrup and red dye.  This rather bland conversion has taken place over a number of years.  The quantity and potency of the red dye has grown somewhat more important than the flavor and you will find grenadine in a number of drinks where presentation paramount but where you might not expect pomegranate flavor to be important.

 

 

 

 

 

The revival of cocktail culture has caused a resurgence of good grenadine on the market.  Fee brothers and Stirrings both make an excellent bottled version.  Fee brothers is about $11 for 4oz.  The stirrings can be had for about $6 for 12oz.  From personal experience the stirrings is not very thick.  It’s plenty sweet and has a good flavor but it’s watery.  It is made from pomegranate concentrate, “natural flavors”, and is colored with “fruit and vegetable juice”.  If you look on the back of the bottle it actually says 30% juice, which means that the rest is probably water.

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I’ve never been steered wrong with a fee brothers product but still, $2.75 an ounce is a bit more than I’d like to pay.

Now unlike many of my previous MYO’s this is one that I can’t 100% recommend.  The primary reason for that is that one of the principal ingredients is only marginally useful outside of this one instance and can be a bit expensive.

Grenadine:
1 – 16oz bottle Pom Wonderful (pomegranate Juice) [$4]
1 cup baker’s sugar [$0.75]
1-2 dashes Orange Flower Water [$0.32]

The last ingredient here, despite being one of the smallest is the tricky one.  Orange flower water is an alcohol based tincture of orange blossoms.  I looked into this carefully because it would normally be a simple matter to make some of my own an avoid a trip to the store.  But it appears that the type of blossoms used in most orange flower water products are Seville oranges or some other verity, and there do not appear to be any places where one can buy orange blossoms, either fresh or dried.

 

Further it appears that the extract is actually removed from the blossoms via distillation process.  Which requires a still and the wherewithal to use it.

 

Lacking ingredients and equipment we are left with the option to buy.  The brand that I was able to find quickly was Nielsen-Massey Orange Blossom Water which runs $8 for 2 oz.  A dash is about a 1/6 tsp or 1/48th of an ounce so we’re using about $0.32 worth for this run.

Orange flower water comes in a lot of different types.  Again Fee brothers offers 4oz for $10, many other brands are out there but I’m not familiar enough with the companies to speak with any authority.  I’ve seen brands that run about a dollar an ounce but who knows what kind of quality you’re going to see.  I’ve heard tell of expensive small batch versions but wasn’t able to find any links or prices.

Much like simple syrup you’ll want to start by adding the liquid to a saucepan.  I recommend something a bit deeper as you’re using a lot more liquid.  Start a medium heat and slowly add the sugar, stirring to allow it to dissolve.

Heat the juice up to a boil, then cover and simmer for about 20 minutes.  You can use a spoon dipped into the syrup to see how thick it’s getting, just look how well the back of the spoon is coated.  As the water boils off it will become thicker, but keep in mind that while hot it will be thinner than it is once cool so leave it a bit looser than you want it to finish.

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Once you’ve got the consistency you want, remove it from the heat and allow it to cool.  Pour the syrup into a carafe, jug, flask, or squeeze bottle.  Add the orange flower water, seal tightly and shake well.  Then chill.

You’re going to wind up with slightly less than 16 oz of total syrup for a bit more than $5.  Fee brothers would cost you over $40 for a similar amount.

Like all the syrups we have made so far this one has a shorter shelf life than what you’ll get in the store.  You can keep this for a couple of weeks in the fridge, longer if you add a few tablespoons of vodka to the bottle.

Properly thick this stuff is great on ice cream, Italian soda, yogurt, tea, oatmeal and numerous cocktails.  The orange flower water is right up front and at first you’ll think it’s going to be bitter.  The sweetness is actually more from the pomegranate juice which is both rich and not cloying.

Fancy drinks to follow.

Make Your Own: Basic Syrups

If you’ve looked at some of my Make Your Own articles you’ll have seen my take on simple syrup.

The beauty of the simple syrup recipe is that not only is it the easiest mixer to make but it also has the flexibility to work with virtually any form of sweetener.

IMG_0494My most recent exploration took the form of a 5 syrup run.  Basic simple syrup had already been done but I wanted to check the flavors on some of the other stuff out there to see how they compare.

In the picture here you can see the five finished products.  Bottom up they are Double Simple, Brown Simple, Turbinado Simple, Agave Simple and Clover Honey Simple.

In each case I followed a similar process to my original simple syrup test, using about 1/3 of a cup of each of the sweeteners.

Some things to keep in mind.  When you’re using fancy sugar, make sure you get the actual cane sugar.  Some brown sugars are beet sugar with caramel color and molasses added which is not the same thing as real brown sugar.

Some of the more liquid ingredients like agave nectar or honey don’t need quite as much water, but when you’re dealing with such small amounts it is hard to adjust so letting it cook slightly longer will allow the water to boil out and reach the right syrup texture.

As you can see, each of these gives a different color.  What you can’t see is that the flavors of each are very very different despite at least three of them all coming from the same source.

 

Bakers sugar is normal sugar with slightly smaller crystals so that it dissolves faster into liquids.  It’s still made in the same manner as regular table sugar there is just a finer control used in the drying process to make the crystals form faster and avoid clumping.  For the batch I made here Double Simple is a 2:1 ratio of sugar to water.  The 2/3 of a cup I used here dissolved almost immediately and took only seconds to boil.  The result is a richer, much sweeter and slightly thicker syrup than basic simple.  This is useful in stronger drinks where you need to bring the sweet more quickly or small drinks where you don’t have the luxury of adding 3+ oz of syrup to the drink.

Brown Sugar is actually normal table sugar that has been fully processed out to the white form you normally see, and then portions of the molasses which is extracted from the sugar cane juice is re-added.  The amount added gives the brown sugar the notation of light or dark.  As I mentioned above, there are several cheap brands that use beet sugar and then add molasses.  They’re pretty easy to spot as most of their competitors say Cane Sugar all over the wrapper.  Brown sugar is slightly easier to use than molasses as it is considerably diluted by the combination with white sugar.

Turbinado Sugar is the form of sugar before the molasses is extracted in the first place.  Generally called Sugar in the Raw when you find it on the shelf, you can buy great bags of it from the more selective grocers.  It is more expensive as it’s not the kind of thing people generally use but you won’t use much of it at a time so a big bag can go a long way.  The crystals are larger, a bit more like kosher salt, and have a dirty appearance from the molasses still clinging to them.  They still dissolve fairly quickly but they do have a tendency to foam so stir carefully.

Agave Nectar is the sap of the agave plant.  Not actually a cactus, the agave is a wild growing cousin of the artichoke.  It can take most of a decade to flower and it only does so once per plant, so the plant stores up sap for years before making that one ultimate flower.  Wild agaves are generally clipped right as they start to send up their flower stalk which causes the base to swell, the plant can then be hacked down and tapped like a maple tree allowing the nectar to run for weeks before the plant expires.  This nectar is considerably sweeter than sugar or honey.  It is a fairly runny liquid, so after adding the water allow it to boil off for quite a while.

Honey – I feel almost silly talking about honey but there is something worth noting here.  There are varying degrees of pure honey on the market.  Some honey is adulterated with water, corn syrup or even coloring.  In some specific instances honey of different types is blended and sold as higher value honey.  There apparently aren’t a great deal of laws restricting the labeling on “pure honey” or “local honey”.  Even experts are in disagreement of how to easily test honey without screening it for pollen content.  As with anything I do, I try for real ingredients.  There are a lot of local honey producers in the area and a trip to one of the many farmers markets can find one easily.  Be a bit picky, and don’t always trust a higher price to mean a better quality.

IMG_0492For the batches I made above I needed to do some quick turn around.  If you’re making one syrup alone this isn’t really necessary but it can help a lot.

You don’t want to put hot syrup right into the fridge, and depending on how you plan to store it you might not want to put it right into the tupperware either.

In my case, I used two pyrex bowls.  One larger sized with some ice and water in it, and the second smaller one clean and dry.

After you put your sugar and water into the pan, mix thoroughly until it has all dissolved and then allow the mix to boil rapidly for about 15-30 seconds.  Longer if you’re using a liquid sweetener.  Then remove the pan from the heat and allow it to cool for another minute before transferring it to the cooling bowl.

This should move the syrup to room temp quickly and allow you to bottle it for storage.

As before, a 1/3 cup will give you a couple of ounces of usable syrup.  Generally enough to taste and experiment with to see if it’s worth making again.

Make Your Own: Simple Syrup

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.

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In a small saucepan you bring the water to a boil, add the sugar and stir constantly until the sugar dissolves.

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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.

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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.

Basic Soda:

1-4 Cherries
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.