Back in October I was invited to be part of a panel tasting syrups for Imbibe magazine, for a piece which ran in the November issue. There was a lot of talk from the bartenders around the table about how much better homemade syrups are than those available commercially and they’re so right. I know I have the luxury of having a kitchen next door to my drinking room and only need to produce a small amount of any one syrup to satisfy my home drinking needs, but it makes me wonder why more people aren’t making their own?
Now I have been making syrups for use at home for a couple of years and am of the opinion that the results far outweigh the small amount of effort involved, so when a couple of friends came to stay over the weekend and expressed an interest in my homemade ingredients I saw a perfect excuse to get out the saucepans and sugar, grab a few ingredients and do an impromptu ‘master class’ on making your own sweeteners.
Simon and Caro are regular guests at maison b&t and I’ve successfully managed to encourage them to shake and stir their own cocktais at home, furnishing them with tools and books here and there; but even so, I was surprised at how quickly they grasped the idea of syrups and how inspired they to start creating their own flavours. I guess that it was an easy concept for them to grasp because they’re food lovers, so my gut feel that making homemade syrups and infusions might be a good stepping stone to get foodies thinking seriously about making cocktails at home, proved to be right.
I know it seems pretty simple, especially to all the bartenders reading this who play with balancing flavours all the time, but I think cocktails can be pretty intimidating to a lot of people who only ever see them from the other side of the bar. So taking simple drinks like a Daiquiri or Caipirinha and showing a ‘cocktail virgin’ how easy it is to add new flavours through the use of a homemade syrup is a no-brainer really, for both trainee and trainer!
So with all of that in mind, here are a few thoughts and guidelines for all those budding cocktail enthusiasts out there, who want to give it a go at home. And to all those bartenders who already make their own; don’t be shy – share your tips and favourites here and help everyone to have a better drinking experience!
A syrup should be sweet - so let’s start with a basic rule of using a 2 to 1 ratio of sugar to water. I use this as a base guideline for all of mine and it works pretty well for me.
Flavour is key - as you are usually only using 10 – 15 ml of syrup to sweeten a drink, the flavour will need to be quite intense if it’s going to stand up to all the other ingredients in a cocktail. Don’t be shy, add plenty of flavour!
Stabilise your syrups – once you have gone to the effort of making a new flavour the last thing you want is for it to go off, so add a small splash of vodka (preferably 50% abv) just to keep it stable over a period of time.
Small but often – just make what you need instead of making litres
of the stuff, the fresher it is the better your finished drinks will be. I have purchased a case of 250 ml bottles over the internet that are perfect for my home use.
Experiment – don’t be afraid to raid the spice cabinet, herb garden or pay a visit to Neal’s Yard to pick up dried flowers, barks and obscure herbs and spices. You can be as creative as you like here, so have fun.
Weigh your ingredients – if you make a great syrup but haven’t made a note of the amount of each ingredient you may never be able to replicate it and that would be a real shame!
Go fresh – if you are using fruits or peels, the fresher they are the fresher the finished product will taste.
Add depth – it’s all well and good to make a raspberry syrup, but by adding a little dried orange peel and a touch of cinnamon you end up with a finished product that adds depth to a drink.
So here are a few ideas for syrups and a couple of recipes that we came up with after our cooking session:
ROSE AND CARDAMOM GOMME
250 ml caster sugar
125 ml water
10 cardamom pods (muddled to release the seeds)
10g dried rose petals
Add all ingredients to a saucepan over a medium heat and stir constantly until it comes to a boil. Strain into a bottle and allow to cool and stabalise with 15 ml of vodka
ROSE OF INDIA DAIQUIRI
50 ml white rum
25 ml fresh lime juice
15 ml rose and cardamom gomme
Put all ingredients into a shaker with plenty of cubed or cracked ice and shake hard. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with a couple of cardamom pods and an orange twist
SPICY HIBISCUS SYRUP
250 ml caster sugar
125 ml water
8g dried hibiscus flowers
2" piece of cinnamon stick
4 black pepper corns
2g dried orange peel
Add all ingredients to a saucepan over a medium heat and stir constantly until it reaches a boil. Strain into a bottle and allow to cool before adding 15 ml of vodka to stabalise.
HIBISCUS AND CINNAMON CRUSTA
50 ml bourbon
20 ml fresh lemon juice
10 ml spicy hibiscus syrup
Put all ingredients into a shaker and fill with cubed or cracked ice. Shake well and strain into a rocks glass that has been prepared with a cinnamon sugar rim and a long lemon peel and plenty of crushed ice.
So now it’s your turn… tell us your favourite syrup and the drinks you have made with it!