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How to Make Simple Syrup

This photo demonstrates the importance of weighing sugar for simple syrup, to get consistent quality and sweetness in a production environment like a cocktail bar. (© foto4inet/123RF photo)

Weigh the sugar to get consistent quality in simple syrup.

Simple syrup is just sugar and water, so why is it so complicated? It depends on the type of sugar, the water to sugar ratio, and the measuring devices, which vary by country. This article and recipe will guide you towards better simple syrup.

Making Simple Syrup

The most common syrup used in cocktails and baking is simple syrup. It’s just sugar and water. Since it only takes five minutes to melt the sugar in hot water, every baker, bartender, mixologist and cocktail enthusiast makes their own.

If you buy pre-made simple syrup at the store, it will contain all sorts of chemicals and preservatives, which put unwanted flavors into your drinks. So it’s better to buy table sugar, or berry sugar, and whip up a batch when you need it.

The syrup recipes here on Cocktail Buff are a 1-1 ratio. Meaning 1 part sugar to 1 part hot water. That’s 8 oz of sugar by weight, and 1 cup hot water by volume.

It’s important to note that liquid and dry goods use different measuring cups. If you have a digital kitchen scale, it can be used to measure the table sugar instead.

Now here comes a twist. I suggest using berry sugar instead of table sugar. It is identical to table sugar in composition. Depending on where you live, it might be sold as super fine sugar, or caster sugar. They are all sucrose. The only difference is the grind.

Powdered sugar, often referred to as icing sugar, is still sucrose, but it’s a super fine grind. It’s used to dust cakes, doughnuts and waffles with a very fine powder. You don’t want that for cocktails, so be sure to check the label on the sugar bag before buying it.

The reason I prefer berry sugar for cocktails, is because the finer grind dissolves more quickly than table sugar. It muddles better. It also sticks to the rim of glassware better, when a recipe calls for a sugar rimmed glass.

The best thing about berry sugar, is that a made in USA liquid measuring cup of the stuff weighs exactly 8 ounces (227 g). That means you don’t need a kitchen scale, or dry measuring cup, to measure it. The same glass measuring cup used to measure the water, can also be used to measure the sugar.

Sorry, but this “one measuring cup trick” doesn’t work with ordinary table sugar. You either need a dry measuring cup or a scale. That’s because table sugar in a liquid measuring cup weighs only 7 ounces. Its bigger grind takes up more volume in the cup, meaning less weight. The result is a syrup that’s not as sweet.

So long story short, if using table sugar, use the liquid measuring cup for water, and either a dry measuring cup, or scale for the sugar. If using berry, caster, or superfine sugar, use the liquid measuring cup for both sugar and water.


Simple Syrup Recipe

  • 1 cup (8 oz by weight) table sugar
  • 1 cup (8 oz by volume) hot water

Put the water and sugar into a small pot. Heat it on the stove over medium heat, stirring constantly, just until the sugar melts. Do not let the mixture boil.

Carefully remove the syrup from the heat and immediately pour it into a sterilized, airtight, glass container, or bottle. Once cooled, put it into the fridge, where you can store it for up to a month.

Rich Simple Syrup

Rich syrup is created by doubling the amount of sugar in the simple syrup recipe. Although 1-1 simple syrup is standard in most recipes, many old books and European recipes call for a rich 2-1 syrup.

Rich syrup has a couple of advantages too. You don’t have to make it as often. It has double the shelf life. It’s perfect for home made liqueurs. Plus it can be diluted 50/50 with water to get plain old 1-1 simple syrup.

So even though the most cocktail recipes are made with a 1-1 ratio, it’s a good idea when making simple syrup, to make it at a 2-1 sugar to water ratio. That way, you can dilute only what you plan to use in the next day or two.


Rich Simple Syrup Recipe

  • 2 cups (16 oz by weight) table sugar
  • 1 cup (8 oz by volume) hot water

Follow the exact same method as the simple syrup recipe. The resulting syrup will be twice as thick and it will last twice as long in the fridge.

Storing Simple Syrup

For holding and storing hot syrup, Mason jars are an ideal choice. They are designed for canning, so they can withstand repeated heating and cooling. They can be fitted with plain plastic caps for storage, leak proof plastic caps, or metal screw rings with canning lids, that pop down when an airtight seal is achieved.

The cleaner your jar, the longer the syrup will last. So it’s a good idea to wash the mason jar and lid with hot soapy water. Then give it a second rinse with boiling water to sterilize it, which removes microbes like mold and yeast, that are naturally found in the air.

To store your syrups even longer, especially a 1-1 mix, add one tablespoon of vodka per batch of syrup. Wait until the syrup cools to room temperature, stir in the vodka with a sterilized utensil, and store it in the fridge. The alcohol will help prevent microbes from growing in the syrup, giving it triple the shelf life.


How Simple Syrup Gets Complicated

Most recipes are published using 1-1 simple syrup. Others create their recipes with a rich 2-1 syrup. What can complicate matters is the type of sugar used, the size of the batch and the measuring cups.

Take the standard 1-1 simple syrup for example. If table sugar was used in a liquid measuring cup, instead of berry sugar, the resulting syrup has 15% less sugar. If the batch is doubled, the 1-1 berry sugar version stays accurate. The one using table sugar now has 30% less sugar and the sweetness is seriously out of whack.

Even worse is the measuring cups, because they vary in size, depending on where and when they were made. With American measuring cups, one cup is 8 fluid ounces. It takes exactly 16 tablespoons to fill up the cup.

With the Imperial system, everything is bigger. American quarts are 32 oz, Imperial ones are 40 oz. Even the ounces are bigger with Imperial ones equalling 1.04 American ones. Which means, when making syrup a quart, or liter at a time, using different weights and measures, it can lead to cocktails that are seriously out of balance in flavor.

For example, if the author of the recipe is from the UK, and their recipes are based on a 2-1 simple syrup recipe, made an Imperial quart at a time, using table sugar instead of berry sugar… Good luck figuring that one out.

A British imperial gallon is the volume of 10 pounds of water. However, the USA gallon is not the same as the British standard of 160 ounces. It’s a mere 128 ounces, or roughly 3.8 liters. It is referred to as the “wine” gallon.

Back in the day, when wooden sailing ships crossed the oceans, the 160 oz gallons of wine, would evaporate (aka the angel’s share) to about 128 oz by the time they got to the USA. The British wanted to tax based on what was shipped, but the Americans refused. They decided to pay tax on gallons received, which averaged 128 oz. Hence the name wine gallon.

That leaves only one solution. If you plan to make recipes from any source, be it a dusty old tome, or some website, the first and most important thing you can do, before mixing any drink, is to check their simple syrup recipe. Look for their mix ratio, sugar type, measuring device, batch size and where they are from.

Dig through the recipe source to answer the following questions:

  1. What was the sugar to water ratio?
  2. What type of sugar was used to make the syrup?
  3. Was the sugar weighed on a scale, or measured in cups?
  4. Was the water weighed on a scale or measured in cups.
  5. Were the measuring cups Imperial or American?
  6. What was their batch size, cups, quarts or gallons?

If everyone published their measurements using a digital kitchen scale, or stuck to 1-1 syrup using berry sugar, then all of the confusion would be gone. Until then, if you want to try other recipes, maintaining the ratios of alcohol, sweet, sour and bitter, replicate their syrup. That’s the only way to achieve a harmonious balance and enjoy the drink as the author intended.

Next up, how to make your own homemade syrups, including berry syrups and pomegranate syrup or grenadine, for use in cocktails, baking or sweetening. Plus they make great gifts!


 

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