Basics: Make your own simple syrup. Please.

I used to work at a liquor store, and I was continually amused at how often I would see people buying bottles of simple syrup. As they were content to pay $7.99 for a 12-ounce bottle, I wanted to scream “It’s just sugar water!”

That probably wouldn’t fall under best retail practices, but still. You can make homemade simple syrup in under 10 minutes. Blindfolded. One hand tied behind your back. You don’t even really need a heat source.

Since a good Old Fashioned is probably our favorite cocktail here at SSS HQ, it didn’t take us long to start making our own simple syrups. They have become a big part of mixology, allowing a little creativity by infusing new flavors into our drinks. And yeah, I said “syrups,” plural, because once you’ve made the basic variety, you’ll start riffing on that to bring in different flavors.

Making homemade simple syrup

Simple syrup is, coincidentally, so simple to make. Put a saucepan on the stove over medium heat. Add 1/2 cup of filtered water and 1/2 cup of white refined sugar (pure cane sugar is strongly recommended). Stir occasionally until the sugar is dissolved, then put it in a Mason jar or other container. Wait until it cools before using it. 

Alternate method: Add equal parts of filtered water and sugar to a Mason jar, then microwave it (without the metal lid) for one minute. (For bigger jars, go longer, until it begins to boil.) Remove the jar, put the lid on it and shake it occasionally until the sugar is dissolved. 

Alternate method #2: If you are using regular white cane sugar (as opposed to something with a larger crystal) you can just add the ingredients to a Mason jar and shake it. Set it on the kitchen counter and shake it again every time you go by. Eventually it will dissolve. (This is the aforementioned no-heat method.)

About steeping: Many of the variations below require steeping various ingredients in the syrup to impart their flavor. Different ingredients take longer to steep; mint will lend its flavor and color quickly, whereas black pepper and other spices will surely take longer. It’s best to taste your infusions daily until they are where you want them to be and strain them before they get too strong.

Longevity: Homemade simple syrup will keep for weeks in the fridge. (You can also add a half ounce of vodka; that is not enough to taste but enough to ward off bacteria and make the syrup last longer.) If your syrup starts getting cloudy, you will soon start seeing mold, so it’s time to cut bait and make a new batch. I usually make batches that are 1/2 cup each of sugar/water, so they get used up pretty quickly.

Homemade simple syrup variations

The best thing about homemade simple syrup is that you didn’t spend $8 for something you can make for pennies at home. The second-best thing is you can get crazy with the variations.

bacon fat steeping in maple simple syrup.
Bacon fat steeping in maple simple syrup. As David Chang would call it, “ugly delicious.”

To illustrate, some family members were having breakfast at our house, and we were remembering the rounds of old fashioneds the night before as we cooked our bacon and eggs. Divine inspiration descended upon us: Why not make a maple simple syrup, then steep it with the bacon fat we were producing? Then we would chill the mixture, strain off the solidified bacon fat and discard it. The experiment was a success, producing a syrup redolent of bacon, with a bit of saltiness that really enhanced our next batch of old fashioneds.

Here are a few other variations you should definitely try. Unless otherwise noted, assume that the sugar/water ratio is 1:1.

Demerara simple syrup: Demerara sugar has a complex flavor of caramel and toffee and really works well with whiskey-based cocktails. 

Honey simple syrup: Essential in Bee’s Knees and other cocktails that want a hint of honey.

Molasses simple syrup: Add two tablespoons of blackstrap molasses for a nice southern twist.

Cinnamon simple syrup: Add a cinnamon stick to the syrup and leave it until it’s infused to your taste. We tend to just leave it in there until the syrup is gone.

Agave simple syrup: Great for tequila and/or mescal concoctions.

Maple simple syrup: Just another flavor twist that fits well with some cocktails.

Black pepper simple syrup: Simmer the syrup for half an hour with a tablespoon of whole peppercorns. Leave the peppercorns in the finished syrup for several days or until it’s peppery enough for your taste.

Mint simple syrup: Simmer the syrup with 1/2 cup mint leaves. Let the syrup steep for 30 minutes to an hour before straining into the jar. This comes out a nice green color and is great in mojitos and mint juleps.

Cardamom simple syrup: This brings a warm, spicy exotic note to your cocktail. Add 12 lightly crushed cardamom pods to the syrup and let steep overnight or longer, depending on your taste. Strain the mixture into the jar and refrigerate. 

Ginger simple syrup: Peel about a 2- or 3-inch piece and slice it into coin-sized pieces. Add to the syrup as you’re simmering, and steep in a container overnight or longer. Strain before using.

Old fashioned made with homemade simple syrup
Here is one good use of your homemade simple syrup: the Old Fashioned.

This concludes your simple syrup primer. So don’t let us catch you buying that overpriced sugar water at the liquor store.

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