The Ultimate Guide to Cocktail Syrups: Part One

Home-made, custom cocktail syrups are one of those special ingredients that can completely transform a drink. Whether it’s basic simple syrup, demerara syrup, a fun seasonal flavor combination syrup like lavender strawberry, or a classic like grenadine, you can easily make it and enjoy it at home! Don’t be intimidated by lengthy recipes requiring lots of prep and cooking time. The reality is that many cocktail syrups don’t even need to be heated at all, and whipping them up is quick and actually really fun.

Part Two: Fruit, Herb, & Tea Syrups
Part Three: Orgeat, Spice, and Advanced Cocktail Syrups

If you can think up a fun flavor or flavor combination, it can probably be made into a cocktail syrup. In this three part guide, I’ll give you the tools to know how to make a cocktail syrup from just about anything, with guidelines and tips to help take away the guesswork. Over the years, I’ve made probably hundreds of cocktail syrups, and now I’m distilling everything I’ve learned from lots of trial and error into this handy guide. If you use these tips when making your next cocktail syrup, share it and tag me on Instagram!

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A small batch of quick simple syrup for cocktails.

Let’s get started by breaking down our cocktail syrups by category, starting with the basics. Then we’ll branch out into more complex syrups in Part Two and Part Three and discuss ideas and inspiration for making your own unique DIY syrups.

Simple Syrup

Simple syrup is super simple! It’s just a mixture of equal parts sugar and water. I’m always surprised by how over-complicated many internet simple syrup recipes are…Endless boiling and then of course endless waiting for it to cool, transferring to another container, etc. The cool thing about sugar is that it dissolves pretty readily in liquid. It dissolves much more quickly in hot liquids, but with a little agitation, it dissolves even in cold water in just a few minutes.

There is no real need to cook your simple syrup. If you’re doing it so that the syrup lasts longer, consider storing your simple syrup in the freezer. It won’t freeze and will last up to a year! I personally enjoy just making small batches of my cocktail syrups because I’m always making new ones (and I run out of mason jars quickly).

Why should I not cook my simple syrup?

The main issue with cooking any syrup made with water is that the water inevitably boils off, concentrating the syrup, and changing the level of sweetness. If you’re looking to make a reliable simple syrup that will taste the same each time you make it (meaning your cocktails will be reliable as well), I don’t recommend boiling for long periods of time. However, if you still prefer to cook your syrup, I recommend using a ratio of 2 parts water and 1 part sugar and boil until it reduces by half. This way, you’ll end up with a 1:1 simple syrup that will also theoretically last a really long time in the fridge.

How to make simple syrup

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I’m pretty terrible at judging visually whether a liquid has reduced by half or not, so I go for the easiest, quickest simple syrup method: measure, stir, store. 

Yes, it’s really that easy! Simply measure equal parts water and sugar, add them to a jar or other container that you plan to store the syrup in, and stir until the sugar has dissolved. Depending on the size of your batch, it really only takes a couple of minutes.

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I’m a multi-tasker in the kitchen, so I usually make a batch while I’m doing other things. I’ll stir, go wash a couple glasses, come back and give it another stir. Within a few minutes, I have a nice, room temperature syrup that I can use immediately in a drink. By making simple syrup by this method, it will always taste the same, and always be the same level of sweetness. This means that if I use ¾ ounce of that simple syrup in a Daiquiri, it’s going to taste exactly the same today as it will tomorrow.

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A classic Daiquiri made with simple syrup, rum, and lime juice.

Consistency is key

Consistency of ingredients and measurements are key elements to making quality cocktails at home, so make sure your syrup recipes are predictable! The level of sourness of your citrus is much harder to control, but your syrups are something you can control. I make my simple syrup in small batches of half cup or whole cup measures, which gets used up pretty quickly. If you’re making larger batches, keep an eye on the syrup after a couple weeks for any signs of cloudiness, which is often the first sign it’s gone bad.

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How to store cocktail syrups

Store all of your syrups in covered containers (cute swing-top bottles, mason jars, whatever you like) in the refrigerator. I like to recommend an across-the-board shelf life of “up to two weeks”, but the reality is that’s on the very safe side. Many syrups I’ve made have lasted for a month, maybe longer. It all depends on the ingredients. Simple syrup will last the longest, while syrups made with fresh fruits won’t last nearly as long.

Tip: Make any syrup last longer in the fridge by adding an ounce or two of grain alcohol or vodka. Or, add a lot of liquor and turn your syrup into a liqueur! Check out my Lilac Liqueur recipe here.

Pro Tip: You can also store your simple syrups in the freezer for a shelf life of up to a year. Unless your freezer is very, very cold, simple syrup should not freeze. Just make sure that you store them in plastic, rather than glass containers. 

So let’s review our 2 Minute Simple Syrup Recipe:

  1. Measure equal parts water and white sugar.
  2. Add to a mason jar.
  3. Stir until the sugar has dissolved.
  4. Store in the refrigerator.
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Rich Simple Syrup

Some prefer to make rich simple syrup instead standard simple syrup. Rich simple syrup is a mixture of 2 parts sugar and 1 part water. As a result, this syrup is two times as sweet as regular simple syrup, meaning that when substituting in a recipe calling for basic simple syrup, you will want to use half as much. A big plus of rich simple syrup is that it lasts a really long time in the fridge, thanks to its super high sugar content! Personally, I find myself using simple syrup in quarter ounce measurements fairly frequently, so rich simple becomes a bit too hard for me to measure and mix with.

Now that we have the simple syrup basics down, let’s make some other equally simple syrups: demerara syrup and honey syrup.

Demerara Syrup

Demerara sugar is a less refined brown sugar with a mild molasses flavor. It’s less processed than standard brown sugar, and its flavor works beautifully in cocktails that use brown spirits like aged rums or whiskies. Demerara syrup is an excellent sweetener in Old Fashioneds and also in Juleps. Try it in a Rum Mint Julep!

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An aged Rum Mint Julep made with demerara syrup, rum, mint, and bitters.
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Demerara simple syrup

The process for making demerara syrup is exactly the same as making simple syrup – the only catch is that because of its large crystal size, it can take considerably longer to dissolve. As a result, I like to make my demerara syrup with warm water to speed up the process.

Honey Syrup

Honey syrup is simply honey that’s been loosened with an equal measure of water, making it easier to mix into liquids. If you’ve ever tried to add straight honey to an icy cold drink, you know how it hardens up and refuses to dissolve. By making honey syrup, you can incorporate that wonderful honey flavor into your drink seamlessly. Honey syrup is used in many great cocktails like the classic Bees Knees and this Saffron Honey Rum Old Fashioned. To make honey syrup, combine equal parts honey and water and stir until the honey has dissolved (a minute or so). Store in a covered container in the refrigerator.

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Saffron Honey Rum Old Fashioned made with a saffron honey syrup, rum, and bitters.

Agave Syrup

Agave syrup is a commercially produced syrup made from a variety of agave species. No need to DIY anything here, agave syrup is something you can pick up at any grocery store, and it’s usually fairly inexpensive. Agave syrup is a key ingredient in the modern classic tequila cocktail, Tommy’s Margarita. Many contemporary margarita recipes call for agave syrup, so it’s a great sweetener to have on hand if you’re a tequila or mezcal fan.

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Tommy’s Margarita made with agave syrup, tequila, and lime juice.

Now that we’ve mastered the basics of cocktail syrups, let’s try some more advanced recipes with fruits and herbs in Part Two!

The Ultimate Guide to Cocktail Syrups: Part Two: Flavored Syrups with Fruit, Herbs, & Teas

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