A Guide to Some Things Sweet + Sticky

Sweetness is a fundamental augmentation to most every cocktail. It balances the bitter, calms the bite, deepens the texture, and makes the tummy go yummy. The Whys and Hows I will leave to much smarter people (as you can discover for yourself through the Further Reading section at the bottom of this page). But for our purposes here, you only need to know two things.

 

The FIRST is that sweetness in the form of a diluted syrup is your best friend when it comes to functionality in your home bar. Dissolving sugar directly into your drink takes time and is inconsistent, and trying to access just a tiny gloop of honey is a pain. A syrup you can quickly access and easily pour can change your entire experience of cocktail crafting. The SECOND thing you should know is that not all methods of achieving this perfect syrup are equal. Consistency matters. Controlling the variables matters. Anything this fundamental should require more attention than heating eye-balled ingredients in a microwave.

This page details how to make a Simple Syrup using the two most preferred methods: via a Blender (i.e. the Best + Fastest) and a Stovetop (the Runner-Up). Additional notes for Agave and Honey syrups are also provided at the end.

Image by CHUTTERSNAP

BUT FIRST, A QUICK NOTE ABOUT MEASURING YOUR INGREDIENTS

The largest contributing variable to achieving consistent levels of sweetness (i.e. how to make your favorite cocktails have the same sweetness every time) is DENSITY.

Granulated sugar, brown sugar, demerara sugar, honey, agave, and water: they each differ in density. This is why measuring your ingredients BY WEIGHT will always produce much more consistent results than measuring by volume. Not only is measuring by volume too susceptible to human error but the thicker, stickier ingredients, such as honey, are difficult to transfer in whole from the measuring device to the blender or pot.

 

A small investment in a digital kitchen scale will help your cocktail game tremendously. Just look for one with a TARE function and the ability to read in grams.

ANOTHER QUICK NOTE: YOUR SYRUP RECIPE RATIOS

Just as important as the method you use to measure your syrup ingredients is the ratio of basic sugars (i.e. sucrose, fructose) to water.

If there is too much dilution, the syrup will spoil in a matter of days. But if there isn't enough, the syrup will solidify. The happiest syrups have a sugar content between 50% TO 66%. Again, this is by weight. For the purposes of this post, the recipes provided will aim for a dilution of 50 percent. But as we know, different sweeteners have different densities. So while a Simple Syrup can be made with a 1:1 ratio of granulated sugar to water (simple, yes?), in order to substitute a granulated sugar syrup out with a syrup produced from a different sweetener (e.g. honey or agave), these other syrups will require different ratios to reach the same dilution of water to basic sugars.

Image by Ludde Lorentz

NOW, ON TO OUR WITCH'S BREW!

 

THE BLENDER METHOD

(i.e. the Best + Fastest Method)

By far, the simplest method of making simple syrups is via a blender, and you don't need a fancy $400 one. Even bottom-line blenders should produce enough wattage to mix and dissolve sweeteners into a liquid.

WHAT YOU WILL NEED

Granulated Sugar...................................................250 grams

Filtered Water...........................................................250 grams

Vodka (optional)...........................................................1/8 ounce

Blender

Digital Kitchen Scale

16-ounce Storage Container with an Airtight Lid

Sharpie + Masking Tape

(or some other form of label-making)

Yields: ~ 16 ounces

THE METHOD

1. Place the blender (minus the base) onto your kitchen scale and turn it ON. Alternatively, if your scale is already ON, place the blender on it, then press the TARE button. This will reset the weight being measured to ZERO.

2. Measure out your sweetener by pouring it directly into the blender. It's okay if you go over or fall short a bit, just make sure to take note of the final weight so you can match the weight of your water.

3. Press the TARE button to once again reset the weight to Zero.

4. Measure out your water, trying to match the same weight as your sweetener.

5. Secure the lid and blend on HIGH for 30 seconds to 1 minute. Lower wattage blenders may need a bit more time.

6. Remove the lid and let the syrup sit for a few minutes to let all the air bubbles settle. It may look hazy for a bit.

7. If you expect to need your syrup to last for more than 30 days, add 1/8 ounce of Vodka.

8. Transfer the syrup to your storage container and secure the airtight lid. Stick a piece of masking tape on the container and label it by the syrup name and the expected expiration date: 6 months with Vodka, 30 days without.

9. Store in the refrigerator and check for any signs of spoilage before each use.

 

(i.e. the Runner-Up Method)

THE STOVETOP METHOD

If you don't have access to a blender, a simple pot + stove combo is an acceptable alternative. I often use this method when I'm infusing the syrup with fruits, spices, or herbs. However, there are some drawbacks to this method.

 

First, it can take up to 5 times longer to produce your syrup. Second, your syrup will not be available for immediate use, as it will be much too hot to work with. And third, the loss of water due to evaporation will affect the dilution of your final product. Without knowing a number of variables, such as surface area and rate of heat exchange, it's impossible to accurately make up for this loss.

 

This being said, as long as you keep a steady watch on your brew, you should be able to easily stay within the 50 to 66 percent dilution window that's ideal for syrups.

WHAT YOU WILL NEED

Granulated Sugar...................................................250 grams

Filtered Water...........................................................250 grams

Vodka (optional)...........................................................1/8 ounce

Two-Quart Saucepan

Digital Kitchen Scale

Spoon

16-ounce Storage Container with an Airtight Lid

Sharpie + Masking Tape

(or some other form of label-making)

Yields: ~ 12 ounces

THE METHOD

1. Place the pot onto your kitchen scale and turn it ON. Alternatively, if your scale is already ON, place the pot on it, then press the TARE button. This will reset the weight being measured to ZERO.

6. Wait until the sugar has fully dissolved and the syrup is clear. This usually takes a minute or two once it has reached a soft boil. 

7. Take the syrup off the heat and allow it to cool slightly, but do not exceed two hours.

2. Measure out your sweetener by pouring it directly into the pot. It's okay if you go over or fall short a bit, just make sure to take note of the final weight so you can match the weight of your water.

3. Press the TARE button to once again reset the weight to Zero.

4. Measure out your water, trying to match the same weight as your sweetener.

5. Place the pot over MEDIUM-HIGH heat and allow the ingredients to heat up, stirring occasionally.

8. If you expect to need your syrup to last for more than 30 days, add 1/8 ounce of Vodka.

9. Transfer the syrup to your storage container and secure the airtight lid. Stick a piece of masking tape on the container and label it by the syrup name and the expected expiration date: 6 months with Vodka, 30 days without.

10. Store in the refrigerator and check for any signs of spoilage before each use.

Image by Drew Beamer

AN ADDITIONAL NOTE ON AGAVE + HONEY SYRUPS

There are a number of wonderfully viscous nectars out there that can kick cocktails up another notch. Agave and Honey are the most common among the straight-forward classics. 

However, with their sticky goodness comes the risk of unbalancing your perfect concoctions due to that tricky thing mentioned earlier: DENSITY. Again, this means our ratio of liquid to sweetener must change in order to interchange your syrups between cocktails in equal measure.

But there is an attractive quality of making syrups with these nectars: they are quick as hell to make.

Image by Christina Branco
 

WHAT YOU WILL NEED - Agave Syrup

Agave Nectar............................................................300 grams

Warm Filtered Water...........................................150 grams

Vodka (optional)...........................................................1/8 ounce

Digital Kitchen Scale

16-ounce Storage Container with an Airtight Lid

Sharpie + Masking Tape

(or some other form of label-making)

WHAT YOU WILL NEED - Honey Syrup

Raw Honey................................................................300 grams

Warm Filtered Water...........................................192 grams

Vodka (optional)...........................................................1/8 ounce

Digital Kitchen Scale

16-ounce Storage Container with an Airtight Lid

Sharpie + Masking Tape

(or some other form of label-making)

THE METHOD - For Both

Add the water and sweetener to the storage container, screw on the air-tight lid, and shake vigorously for 10-20 seconds. If you expect to need your syrup to last for more than 30 days, add the Vodka. Stick a piece of masking tape on the container and label it by the syrup name and the expected expiration date: 6 months with Vodka, 30 days without. Store in the refrigerator, checking for any signs of spoilage before each use.

AND THAT THERE'S THE BASICS

With these syrups at the ready, you will have key ingredients to hundreds of different cocktails and the knowledge to build a large repertoire of sweet + sticky goodness.

If you have any questions along your syrup journey, hit me up via the chatbox. And for those looking for that extra insight and wisdom, I recommend these Further Readings:

LIQUID INTELLIGENCE

Written by Dave Arnold

THE SCIENCE OF SWEETNESS IN COCKTAILS

Written by Derek Brown