by Josh Seaburg
An easy way to add versatility to your home bar is to switch out sweeteners. Cocktails operate on a straightforward ratio of ingredients. Just as base spirits can be changed, so too can sweetening agents.
Simple syrup is the most straightforward cocktail ingredient and is made by combing equal parts sugar and water, which is stirred until dissolved. A white-sugar simple syrup is critical to any cocktail bar. Balanced with citrus, it softens harsh acid flavors and keeps for months when refrigerated.
Rich syrup is the term for a 2-to-1 ratio of sugar to water. Unlike simple syrup, it requires heat to dissolve. Be careful not to boil, however; this risks evaporating too much water and upsetting the balance. Rich syrups are useful in cocktails like an old-fashioned, where a teaspoon provides all the sweetness necessary without adding too much dilution.
Turning fresh fruit into a syrup is an amazing way to preserve flavors longer. Different fruits have different sugar content. The physical structure of fruit also results in different methods. But fruit syrups add a delicious dimension to cocktails like sours and Collinses.
For softer fruits (berries and stone fruits), the simplest method is often the easiest. Avoid cooking these syrups to maintain the brightness of flavor. Remember, tropical fruits often have firmer flesh but are still rich in sugar. These syrups require some coaxing to pull out the flavor.
Stone fruit/berry syrup recipe:
1 pound fresh fruit, washed, pits/stems removed
16 ounces simple syrup
Combine fruit and syrup in a blender and blend until fruit is fully dissolved. Strain through a fine mesh strainer, making sure to remove all particulate. This syrup will keep for 30 days refrigerated.
Suggested fruit: all manner of berries, cherries, nectarines, peaches
2 ounces clear spirit (vodka, gin, rum, etc.)
½ ounce fresh lemon juice
½ ounce fresh lime juice
¾ ounce syrup
Combine all ingredients in a shaker tin. Add ice and shake. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass.
Tropical fruit syrup recipe:
1 pound fruit, chopped, skins and seeds removed
About 1 ½ cups sugar (adjust to taste)
2 cups water
Combine fruit and sugar in a covered bowl and let rest for at least 15 minutes or up to a few hours. The sugar will pull juices from the fruit and begin to dissolve. Transfer contents to a pot and add water. Bring contents just to a boil, stirring often. As soon as the liquid reaches a boil, remove from heat and allow to cool to room temperature in the pot. After it has cooled, strain the contents and adjust the sweetness with rich syrup if needed. The fruit can be dehydrated in a low temperature oven for a tasty garnish.
Suggested fruit: pineapple, mango, papaya
2 ounces white rum, tequila or singani
¾ ounce lemon or lime juice
¾ ounce tropical fruit syrup
Combine all ingredients in a shaker tin. Add ice and shake hard. Strain into a Collins glass over fresh ice. Top with sparkling water and garnish with candied fruit.
Honey, maple and agave make compelling sweetener substitutes, provided you’re careful to ensure that the flavors work with the rest of the drink. Because of the more-viscous nature of these syrups, it’s advisable to dilute them with water. This makes it easier to pour and ensures that you won’t leave any behind in your jigger or shaker.
Except for agave-nectar syrup, which is 1 part agave to 1 part warm water, these syrups are made through a 2-to-1 ratio of honey or maple syrup to warm water. Each combination is then stirred until dissolved.
2 ounces aged spirit (rum, whiskey, tequila)
½ ounce syrup of choice
2 dashes Angostura bitters
Combine all ingredients in a mixing glass. Add ice and stir for about 30 seconds. Strain into a rocks glass over fresh ice and garnish with a citrus twist.
Josh Seaburg has established several award-winning bar programs and a series of innovative pop-ups, highlighting elaborate cocktails and food from local chefs.