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The Ultimate Cocktail Syrup?

Updated: Mar 29



The humble sugar syrup is just as much of a bartender sidekick as any other common technique or tool in the bartenders arsenal. It is always there to help balance the cocktail when required & to boost those specific flavours in the cocktail. Here we explore the possibilities of of sugar syrup & suggest what could possibly be the ultimate sugar syrup.

We encourage for you guys to test this recipe & let us know your thoughts about the final results!

Breaking it Down:

In the end the common sugar syrup is either 1:1 or 2:1 sugar & water by WEIGHT (it is important that when making syrup to ALWAYS use scales & measure your ingredients). In this specific recipe we call for 2:1 sugar syrup template as we believe that less dilution of the final cocktail the better it is for flavour retention.

So lets explore the basic formula of what a sugar syrup is - water & sugar.

The next question is what is the purpose of sugar syrup in a cocktail? It is useful for balance of a daiquiri or an old fashioned, boosting the sweet flavours of certain bitters e.g.

So the purpose is - making things taste better! So if we take this into account then is the simple ‘simple syrup’ the tool for the job? Is there a cocktail syrup that we can create that will fulfil the criteria of making all cocktails it is used in taste better?

Sugar:

There are many types of sugars out there - white, brown, turbinado, demerara e.g. also of course you can get into the science of what sugar is itself & look into glucose, sucrose, dextrose e.g.

For the complete guide on sugar made from sugarcane:

1. Granulated Sugar

Granulated sugar is a highly refined, multi-purpose sugar. It's also sometimes called refined, table, or white sugar. When people talk about "sugar," this is usually what they're talking about. Granulated sugar is made from sugarcane and sugar beets. In this case we’ll assume cane.


2. Cane Sugar

Unlike granulated sugar, which comes from sugarcane or sugar beets, cane sugar is produced solely from sugarcane and is minimally processed. It also has a slightly larger grain, darker color & is more expensive.


3. Demerara Sugar

Demerara sugar is a variety of raw cane sugar that is minimally refined. It has large grains with an amber color and a natural, subtle molasses flavor.


4. Turbinado Sugar

Turbinado is another type of minimally refined raw cane sugar. This sugar variety has large, medium-brown crystals, and is often mistaken for standard brown sugar because of its color, although it's not the same thing. Turbinado sugar has a delicate caramel flavor.


5. Muscovado Sugar

Also referred to as Barbados sugar, muscovado sugar is a variety of unrefined cane sugar in which the molasses isn't removed. It comes in dark and light varieties, and has a sticky, wet, sandy texture with a rich, complex flavor. While muscovado sugar can be used as a substitute for brown sugar, its flavor is much stronger.


6. Brown Sugar (Light or Dark)

Like its lighter counterpart, dark brown sugar is refined white sugar with molasses added in. The flavour varies depending on the amount of molasses added in.


As we delve deeper into the intricacies of the sugars that we could use in our cocktail syrup a trend emerges. It feels like naturally you’d like to pair the style of the sugar more with the spirit style you’re pairing it with. For lighter spirits such as Tequila & Gin it would be better to use white sugar or the lightest variety of the sugar as to not cloud the fresh flavours of the spirits.

Our purpose:

So for the sake of the ‘ultimate cocktail syrup’ I’ve decided to go with creating the best possible syrup for light spirits. I want to take my daiquiris, margaritas e.g. to the next level & is there any possible way to have the a multi-purpose syrup that would enhance flavours across the board for light spirits?

When faced with a problem or when it doubt the easiest thing is to hit the books because chances are a bartender somewhere out there has most definitely done is before you. The book we found that really explored this was “Drinking the Devils Acre” by Duggan McDonnel.


In his book he suggests his “Proper Cocktail Syrup” that he developed over the years that he uses as a one-stop shop for all his drinks that brighten up both dark spirited Sazerac’s as well as brighten up Daiquiris. The recipe for his syrup is as such:

“Proper Cocktail Syrup” by Duggan McDonnell

2.1 Litres of Water

1.4kg Granulated Sugar

220g Light Brown Sugar

220g Turbinado Sugar

Peel of 2 Lemons

Peel of 1 Orange

2 Teaspoons of Salt

120ml Silver Rum

60ml Cream Sherry

Method:

In a large saucepan, heat the water over medium heat to just under a boil. Add the three sugars and stir to mix well. Turn the heat to low, add the citrus peels and salt, and stir just until the sugars are fully dissolved. Remove from the heat and let steep for 1 hour.

Strain through a fine-mesh sieve into a large bowl and discard the citrus peels. Add the rum and sherry and stir to mix thoroughly. Transfer to bottles, cap tightly, and store in the refrigerator for up to 3 months.

Makes about 4 L

Verdict:

This makes an almost black tar like syrup in colour with lots of rich flavour that I had tried out in some classic cocktails as the Old Fashioned. It works wonders for boosting the flavour of the bourbon & really adding a new dimension to the cocktail.

BUT…

I found this syrup to completely ruin any drinks visually that aren’t in the ‘brown’ spectrum of the colour map. Daiquiris are brown, Margaritas are brown & EVERYTHING IS BROWN like dog who can only see in Sepia.


So I found this to be quite a restrictive recipe even if flavour wise it definitely something I’d go for. Bartenders will argue that the addition of Rum or Sherry for fortifying the syrup is bad but I’ve tested the recipe in a cocktail on unsuspecting bartenders & when they don’t know the ingredients while focussing only on the flavour it is a resounding ‘YES’ from all parties.

Search for the ‘Ultimate Cocktail Syrup’:

So by taking the McDonnell recipe as a template in its philosophy of using the basic cocktail syrup as a flavour booster WHILE still being visually appealing I started playing with different sugar ratios, fortifying agents, peels & methods of cooking. In the end I believe I ended up with a recipe that works perfect for cocktails with white spirits without changing the colour(much).

The difference between my version & the original is the addition of 3 key ingredients that I believe are a key is boosting flavour of all cocktails with white spirits:


Salt:

Salt is used as a universal flavour improver because at low concentrations it will reduce bitterness, but increase sweet, sour and umami, which is desirable for sweet recipes. But at higher concentrations it suppresses sweetness and enhances umami, which is good for savoury things.


Gum Arabic:

Gum syrup is simple syrup with gum Arabic added to provide texture & gum arabic doesn't have much flavor on its own. It is an all natural resin harvested from the Acacia tree. Jerry Thomas used Gum syrup in many of his recipes in favour of just sugar syrup.


MSG(Monosodium Glutamate) aka UMAMI:

Wikipedia says - Monosodium glutamate is the sodium salt of glutamic acid, one of the most abundant naturally occurring non-essential amino acids. Glutamic acid is found naturally in tomatoes, grapes, cheese, mushrooms and other foods.

I add these 3 ingredients because to boost all the other flavours of the cocktail. Simple syrup is usually a very 1-dimensional conversation in a drink such as a daiquiri but with the addition of these 3 new ingredients to the above formula a classic Daiquiris side by side comparison this ‘Serious White Spirit Cocktail Syrup’ beats the other hands down.

‘Serious’ White Spirit Cocktail Syrup by Danil Nevsky:

2kg of Water

1.7kg Caster White Sugar

300g Raw Cane Sugar

400g Gum Arabic

Peel of 2 Lemons

Peel of 1 Orange

10g Salt

10g MSG

100ml Fino Sherry

50ml White Puerto Rican Rum

Method:

In a large saucepan, add water & powdered gum arabic then heat to just under a boil. Once you turn the heat to low, stir the mixture thoroughly until the gum arabic is fully dissolved. Then skim off the foam and proceed to add the two sugars and stir to mix well. Turn the heat to low, add the citrus peels, salt, MSG & stir just until the everything is fully dissolved. Remove from the heat and let steep for 1 hour.

Strain through a fine-mesh sieve into a large bowl and discard the citrus peels. Add the rum and sherry and stir to mix thoroughly. Transfer to bottles, cap tightly, and store in the refrigerator until I’m not sure how long yet.


Notes:

Be careful with the addition of salt & MSG or trying to add more than the suggested amounts. Too much MSG can cause side-effects as well as leaving a ‘metallic’ after taste in the mouth that is detectable in the cocktail even in small amounts,