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Syrups & Flavorings

This photo demonstrates how easy it is to make delicious homemade syrups for use in cocktails and cooking. (© annete/123RF photo)

It’s easy to make delicious homemade syrups for use in cocktails and cooking.

This is where mixology meets bartending. This article guides you through different syrups like; orgeat, falernum, sweet and sour, flower waters, honey, agave, coconut creams and more. You’ll also find a fast and easy way, to make your own grenadine, and berry syrups.

Introduction to Mixology

This article introduces several types of syrups, sweeteners and flavorings. All of them can be found online, or in specialty grocery stores.

This article also introduces you to mixology, where you start creating your own syrups and flavorings. They are not only healthier for you than the commercial ones, they taste better too.

In commercial syrups, almost all the natural ingredients, including the sugar, have been replaced. The labels list things like high fructose corn syrup, artificial coloring and synthetic imitation flavors, which were designed in a laboratory to ‘taste like’ the real thing. If that wasn’t bad enough, to extend shelf life and freshness, they often add several chemical preservatives.

It’s no wonder that there’s a revolution toward craft cocktails, all natural organic ingredients, and mixology at home. People are fed up. They’re finally saying no, to the mass produced chemical bombs with unknown long term health effects. Then they are literally shocked, when they find out how easy it is to make their own syrups at home.

The flavoring comes from extracts. Some of the more popular ones are almond, vanilla, anise, coconut and mint. If you buy good extracts, as in 100% organic, or all natural ingredients, with no colors, additives or preservatives, your ‘home made’ replacement syrups and will taste better than the originals, guaranteed.

For example, here’s the list of ingredients on the Gaya Pure Vanilla Extract from Papantla Mexico, where vanilla was first discovered; vanilla bean extract, alcohol 35%, sugar and purified water. That sure sounds a lot better than fructose, synthetic vanillin and artificial color doesn’t it? The taste of Gaya makes it perfect for making syrups and liqueurs.

For making small quantities of these tinctures, the extracts are measured in drops. To get the drops use a pipette, dropper bottle, or a syringe from the pharmacy, which is used for measuring and delivering children’s medicine. You could also check winemaking shops, because they often have high end gear like dropper bottles, flasks and graduated cylinders.

If you choose to scale up these recipes and make a standard 26 oz (750 ml) bottle at a time, you can do that, and still end up with an excellent product. Just be sure to use it up quickly and keep them in the fridge, because there is a trade off. Products without chemicals, synthetic flavorings and preservatives spoil easily, but in return you get the ultimate in gastronomy, aroma and freshness.


Homemade Grenadine

Stay away from anything in the soda isle that’s marketed as grenadine. Those chemical fructose bombs are little more than artificial flavor, artificial color, high fructose corn syrup and preservatives.

You can make your own grenadine with a product called POM Wonderful. It’s a pomegranate juice from concentrate, which can be found in almost every produce isle. Mix it in equal amounts with 2-1 heavy syrup. That will give you a 1-1 grenadine that’s bright red in color, which retains its fresh flavor.

Make only as much as you need for the next day or two. If you need to preserve it, add a tablespoon of vodka per cup (8 oz) of grenadine. That will help it keep from spoiling for a couple of weeks. If you need to preserve it further, add 1 gram (a pinch) of ascorbic acid (unflavored vitamin C) from a specialty, or vitamin store, per cup of grenadine.

  • 4 oz  (120 ml) cooled 2-1 syrup
  • 4 oz (120 ml) Pom wonderful
  • 1 tbs (.5 oz / 18ml) Vodka

Mix together gently and store in the fridge. Makes 8 oz (240 ml) of home made grenadine.

If you don’t have time to whip up a batch of POM grenadine, head to a specialty grocer, or a superstore with isles dedicated to different regions. Look in the Middle East or North African food sections for Pomegranate Molasses.

The only ingredients listed on the label should be concentrated pomegranate juice, sugar, water and citric acid, which is found naturally in all citrus fruit. There shouldn’t be any fake colors, fructose, or preservatives. Dilute this to 1/2 strength using hot water and let it cool before using.

Although the pomegranate molasses makes a good tasting grenadine, it gives the drinks a rather dull copper, or brownish color. It’s not a big deal if you’re mixing the grenadine with dark ingredients, but if mixing with clear ingredients like gin, or vodka, the drinks will lack the bright red pop of home made POM grenadine. 

A third way to make grenadine, is to follow the simple syrup recipe, but use POM Wonderful instead of water. The result is better than any ‘grenadine like’ product in the soda isle and it’s still bright red, but the flavor will be dull and taste more like a raisin than pomegranate after heating the POM juice. So stick with the first method, mixing cold POM with cooled 2-1 heavy syrup, if you want the best flavor and color.


Homemade Berry Syrups

Raspberry, Blackberry, Blueberry, Strawberry

It’s easy to make your own berry syrups and liqueurs for use in cocktails. The flavor is always best with fresh ingredients that are in season, but frozen works almost as well. This recipe will make 3/4 cup (180 ml) or so of syrup, depending on how much gets lost in the filtering process. Feel free to scale it up to suit your needs.

  • 1/2 pint berries (6 oz or 170 g by weight)
  • 1/2 cup hot water (4 oz or 120 ml by volume)
  • 1 oz rich 2-1 simple syrup (30 ml by volume)

Put the berries in a small pot. Pour the boiling hot water over the berries and mash them slightly with a fork. Then simmer on medium low heat for 10 minutes. If simmering fresh strawberries, it might take a minute or two of cooking before they can be mashed.

Once the mixture has cooked, it’s time to filter out the fruit and seeds. It will need to be filtered a total of three times.

The first filtration is through a single mesh tea strainer. Carefully pour the entire contents of the pan into the strainer and let the juice collect in a measuring cup. Push on the mashed fruit lightly with a fork, to extract as much juice as possible.

The second filter is a double mesh strainer. Except this time, don’t use any force. Just let gravity do the work. Do small amounts at a time. When the strainer plugs, toss the pulp and do a little more, until all the juice has passed through.

The third and final filter is through a paper coffee filter into a glass measuring cup. Hopefully you have a spare cone type filter around, so your syrup doesn’t end up with a hint of coffee flavor.

Once the filtering is done, the final step is to add the rich simple syrup to the berry juice while it’s still warm. Stir the mixture slightly to dissolve the simple syrup into the juice. Now bottle the fresh berry syrup into a sterilized container and refrigerate for up to two weeks. If you add a tablespoon of vodka, it will last up to four weeks.

If you want to take the berry syrup to the next level, it’s easy to make great tasting liqueur from it. See the article, “How to Make Homemade Liqueurs.”


Homemade Orgeat Syrup

Orgeat is a very sweet, milky looking, almond flavored syrup. It may contain cane sugar, orange water, rose water, vanilla, and other flavorings in addition to the bitter almond base. It can also be made from fruit pits like apricot and other drupes, which have a strong resemblance to almond in flavor.

Originally orgeat was made with barely as a sweetener and thickening agent. The barley has disappeared and most commercial preparations now use xanthan gum in addition to sugar to create the right consistency.

The aroma is much like a good marzipan, almond paste, or amaretto without the booze. The flavor is strong almond with dark caramel, almost like a molasses cookie. It also features a bit of zing from a citrus element, but it’s hard to identify if its orange, rose hip, or some other citrus.

If you can find B.G. Reynolds syrups, they are definitely worth a try. If you can’t get a hold of them, a passable orgeat substitute is 12 drops (.25 ml) pure organic almond extract, 4 drops of Angostura Orange Bitters, per ounce (30 ml) of 1-1 simple syrup.


Falernum Syrup

Falernum was originally a spiced dark rum liqueur from Barbados. It all but vanished after the Tiki craze, leaving no supplier to America. People either had to make their own, or substitute Orgeat, because the recipes were kept secret.

These days there are dozens of recipes on the internet. There are also a few suppliers of falernum syrups, but the ‘real’ ones made with alcohol are almost impossible to find. The syrups range widely in flavor, because the real stuff hasn’t been tasted by most people in the last 50 years.

Good falernum syrup needs to be rich with the scent, and flavors of, almond, lime, ginger and clove. Most are missing the clove element and end up tasting like kid’s sweet and sour candies.

Diluting several commercial products in a taste test with 20% water reveals a combination of ginger ale, cream soda and lime with a touch of spice. It’s rather like a cream soda, or tutti frutti with a strong citrus element.

The only real remedy is to buy several, have a taste test with friends and stick with the one you like best. Two good ones to start with would be B. G. Reynolds Falernum and John D. Taylor’s Velvet Falernum.


Sweet and Sour Mix

In some old recipe books, you’ll see something called sweet and sour mix. It also goes by the names of sour mix, or just sweet and sour. Depending on the author, it could be store bought powder, liquid, or something they made up themselves.

Sweet and sour is just lemon juice, water and simple syrup, so there’s no need to make it ahead of time. Use 2 parts lemon juice to 1 part simple syrup. The water will come from the ice in the cocktail.

If you do want to make sweet and sour ahead of time, use 1 part simple syrup, 1 part filtered water and 2 parts fresh squeed lemon juice instead. Keep it in the fridge until you are ready to use it.

Roses Lime Juice

Roses Lime is a concentrated lime juice with a very distinct flavor. It has no alcohol content and can be found in just about any supermarket in the soda isle. In addition to lime, several other flavors are available, but only the lime is used in cocktails.

It has the distinction of being the first bottled, concentrated, fruit drink, dating back to 1867. Its high sugar content acted as a preservative, which allowed lime juice containing precious, scurvy preventing Vitamin C, to be taken on British Navy ships as they sailed the world.

These days Roses Lime has high fructose corn syrup and other ingredients that were never in the original recipe. The only popular drink that uses it is the Gimlet. The store bought syrup can be replaced with a 1-1 ratio of simple syrup to fresh lime juice, but do get the syrup at least once, so you can try a ‘proper’ Gimlet.

Orange Flower Water

Orange flower, or orange blossom water, is a distillate that’s made from bitter orange flower blossoms. It is used both as a perfume and a food additive.

Its heavy orange perfume is most often used in baking and cooking. The only popular cocktail that uses it is the Ramos Fizz. You can find it in specialty food stores.

Rose Flower Water

Rose water – like orange water – is a distillate made from flowers. It is used in perfumes, cooking, baking and in skin care products.

There aren’t any popular cocktails that use it, but it can be useful in making your own Creme de Violette for Aviation cocktails. Just one drop of flower water per ounce of home made vanilla syrup will do it.

Other than faking violette, or using it as a room freshener, you won’t find many uses for rose water. You can find it at health stores and specialty food stores.

Honey

Honey is one of the oldest foods known to mankind. It has always been highly prized and sought after as a sweetener, medicine and for making an early form of beer known as mead.

Since honey is essentially regurgitated flower nectar, it’s strongly affected by what the bees ate. The flavors range from strong, woody, medicinal Manuka, to the mild and delicate clover honey. For hot drinks and cocktails, it’s better to stick with mild flavored honey, unless you intend for the honey character to dominate the drink,


Agave Syrup

The blue agave plant produces the same nectar that’s used to make tequila. Depending on the variety, it can have strong flavor characteristics, so like honey, it’s usually the milder flavored ones that get used in cocktails.

It’s not a popular ingredient for mixing drinks, but is gaining popularity with the general public, as an all purpose sweetener. Its quick to dissolve and perceived as being healthier than sugar, but in reality it’s very high in naturally occurring fructose.

Berry (Superfine) Sugar

Berry sugar, also known as caster, or superfine, is the same as regular table sugar, except that it’s a finer grind. It’s just good old sucrose, which goes by many names like cane sugar, beet sugar, table sugar, or just plain sugar.

The finer grind of berry sugar makes it easier to dissolve when muddling fruit rinds, so there’s no grit left in the bottom of the glass. It sticks to the rim better for sugar rimmed drinks. It also dissolves easier in water when making simple syrup. All of these combined make it the sugar of choice for home mixologists.

Coconut Cream & Milk

Coconut syrup, cream, or milk, isn’t the clear juice, or water in the middle of young green coconuts. It’s made by pressing the grated white flesh of mature brown coconuts. It can have a fat content of 20-25%, most of which is saturated fat, which explains the rich, thick, mouthfeel.

Fresh coconut milk can be hard to find, unless you live in a tropical area. Most of the coconut milk in North America will be either pasteurized in gable top cartons, or found in cans in the Asian isle of the supermarket.

You could buy fresh coconuts and juice them in a masticating juicer, but there’s probably 1,000 things you’d rather do, like go see the dentist during the football game. Plus, there’s only a couple of popular cocktails that use the stuff.

To fake coconut milk use regular bar cream, or the skinny 10% fat variety. Then add a couple of drops of real, as in not imitation, pure organic coconut extract. That way the cocktail will keep the mouthfeel of the fat and have a fresh coconut flavor, that’s hard to tell from the real deal, once mixed with pineapple, rum and everything else.


 

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