It’s fun to make stuff for your bar from scratch. And while the home mixologist can and should purchase many secondary ingredients (syrups, bitters, etc.) pre-made, there is one ingredient that should absolutely be made from scratch: Simple Syrup. One can purchase it, and I’m sure lots of ill-informed people do, but I’m here to make sure you don’t, saving you a lot of money over the years you’ll be mixing drinks.
There’s a reason Simple Syrup is called simple syrup: it’s absurdly simple. Measure equal parts sugar and water in a saucepan and heat gently, stirring until the mixture is clear. (The microwave can work as well, you just have to be careful heating water in there – disasters can ensue). Variations include other sweeteners such as honey, agave, demerara sugar, or brown sugar at a 1:1 ratio, or rich simple syrup at a 2:1 ratio. Your basic Simple Syrup (AKA “Simple”) is the most commonly used, as white sugar dissolves very easily and forms a crystal clear syrup that won’t affect the color of your drinks.
Decant the syrup into a clean glass container that’s easy to pour from – I use empty maple syrup containers or jam jars – and store it in the fridge for up to 30 days. (It’s a good idea to label each batch with the date). Rich syrup, with a 2:1 sugar to water ratio, can keep longer, thanks to its higher sugar concentration. When I see clear filaments of mold floating in the syrup, I trash it and start over.
It takes literally 5 minutes to make Simple Syrup, but it should be cool before adding it to a drink. This is the only problem with making it to order. Hot simple syrup will melt your ice and overly dilute your drink. Check your syrup stock right as you start getting ready to mix a drink or entertain, so if you are working in “just in time fashion” you can maximize the syrup’s cooling time. Also, heat it gently, only as much as it required to get the sugar into solution. If the syrup is still warm, add it to your shaker or mixing glass last.
Friends don’t let friends buy Simple Syrup
In short, don’t click on this link!
Science Note: Volume of Solutions
1 cup of sugar dissolved into 1 cup of water takes a lot less volume than 2 cups. First of all, there is space between the grains of sugar that some water can fill up, but more importantly, the process of dissolving the sugar changes how the molecules interact in a way that lets them pack more tightly. It’s apparently really hard to predict how the volume will change when you put something in solution – it just depends on what the solute and solvents actually are. See this explanation, one of many online. But 1 cup of sugar and 1 cup of water fills up a 1.5 cup jam jar pretty precisely.
- cup white sugar
- cup water
- Gently heat sugar and water, stirring until solution is clear
- Decant into clean glass jar
- Refrigerate. Will keep for several weeks. Discard when clear mold filaments begin to emerge or after 1 month. Simple!