The Simplicity of Simple Syrup

Simple syrup is a staple bartending ingredient. Here we examine four types of simple syrup that work well for whiskey cocktails.

Sugar has been used in cocktails for over 100 years. Classics like the Old-Fashioned and the Sazerac traditionally call for a sugar cube. The sugar cube works fine but I prefer using simple syrup because it dissolves better and is easy to use in a multitude of cocktails.

Traditional simple syrup is simple (see what they did there). It’s nothing more than a combination of water and sugar. Below are the classic ratios along with demerara simple syrup, honey syrup, and the not-so-simple old-fashioned simple syrup.

1:1 and 2:1 Simple Syrups

A 1:1 sugar and water mixture is the most common simple syrup. The 2:1 (sugar to water) is often referred to as rich simple syrup. Start by making a few of your favorite cocktails with the 1:1 and then experiment with the 2:1 to see how it compares. The 2:1 ratio often gives the cocktail a better mouth feel and less is needed since it’s richer. It also lasts longer before spoiling.

There are two ways to make the 1:1 ratio.

  • Add the water, sugar, and stir (or shake hard) until the sugar dissolves.
  • Heat the mixture in a small saucepan over medium heat and stir until dissolved. Do not let it boil.

For the 2:1, heat is definitely the preferred method.

After the syrup cools, store in a clean glass jar. There are two options for preserving the liquid.

  • Put the syrup into the fridge and it will last about two weeks.
  • If you don’t want to store in the refrigerator, add a splash of vodka and it will last four to six weeks.

Demerara Simple Syrup

The demerara simple syrup has hints of molasses and is richer than the classic simple syrup. Turbinado and muscovado sugars will taste similar. This 1:1 ratio syrup works really well in dark spirits like rum, brandy, and whiskey. Try it in the classic Old-Fashioned or Sazerac.

The demerara crystals are large so it’s nearly impossible to make without heating on the stove over medium heat. A splash of vodka here also helps with preservation.

Honey Syrup

Honey syrup also works great in brown spirits and adds a depth of flavor along with floral notes. It’s thicker than traditional simple syrup and lends a nice viscosity in cocktails.

Honey is difficult to mix into drinks so it’s important to dilute it. To make honey syrup, pour your ratio of warm water and honey into a container and stir. A 1:1 ratio will make a mild honey syrup. Try it along with 2:1 and even 3:1 to see which combination you like best.

As with most cocktail ingredients, the higher quality the product, the better the outcome. Try a local craft honey instead of the little plastic bear found in grocery stores. This syrup can also be preserved by adding vodka.

Three great cocktails that can be made with the honey simple syrup are:

  • Brown Derby (grapefruit juice, bourbon, honey syrup)
  • Lazy Bear (Jamaican rum, rye, honey syrup, lime juice, barrel aged bitters)
  • The Gold Rush (bourbon, lemon juice, honey syrup)

Old-Fashioned Simple Syrup

Now it’s time to get creative. The Old-Fashioned simple syrup was invented by Jamie Boudreau of Canon in Seattle. This recipe is not simple but it is delicious. It’s a key ingredient in his iconic Cubed Old-Fashioned cocktail (which I’ll share on Friday) but also works well in a traditional Old-Fashioned. This recipe substitutes water in place of bourbon. 

Here is the recipe:

  • 110 mL turbinado sugar
  • 40 mL Maker's 46 (I used Woodford Reserve and it worked great)
  • 20 mL Angostura Bitters

Add all ingredients into a saucepan over medium heat. Stir continually until all the sugar has dissolved. Let cool and store in an airtight, glass container. Because this syrup already has alcohol in it, adding vodka for preservation is unnecessary. If the solution crystallizes while cooling, try adding a little more bourbon and stirring again.

These are by no means your only options for simple syrup. There are literally hundreds of variations of the classic simple syrup. Knowing the basics allows you to expand your cocktail repertoire and is an easy way to begin creating a well stocked bar.