Friday, 24 January 2014

Cocktail Basics: Simple Syrup

I've been banging on about homemade cocktails for a while now over on gastronomicgirls. For my first cocktail post on the new blog I thought it would make sense to go back to basics. Something fundamental for the amateur cocktail maker: simple syrup. It's just a solution of sugar in water, depending on the recipe either a 1:1 or 2:1 ratio of sugar to water. But it is important stuff and having it prepped and ready to go will change your cocktail making life.

lemon verbena simple syrup

Sweetness is often needed in cocktails to balance sour or bitter flavours. The sweet can come from liqueurs or a sweetener can be added. If solid sugar is added to the cocktails as they are made, it can take a lot of work to get the sugar into solution and we can end up with unpleasant grains of sugar in the drink. Making the syrup in advance means the sugar is completely in solution as we can use gently heat if necessary. This leaves us ready to bash out cocktails quickly as the need arises which, if you are anything like me, is regularly.

"a vision of Spring": a cocktail dependent on simple syrup

Another advantage of making your own simple syrups is that you can flavour them. This is a great way to get additional tastes and flavours into cocktails, without waiting weeks for spirits to infuse. As well as instructions on making a basic simple syrup I have also included a recipe for my lemon verbena simple syrup that I use in this week's cocktail. This can be adapted to for most herbs, just follow the same principle.

simple syrup
500g sugar
500mL water
1 tablespoon of vodka

Place the sugar and water in a saucepan together. Stir and heat very gently until all the sugar has dissolved. Using a funnel, pour into a sterilised bottle and add the vodka (helps it keep for longer). Once cool store in the fridge until needed.

lemon verbena simple syrup
bowlful of fresh lemon verbena leaves
freshly boiled water
1 tablespoon of vodka

Cover the bowl of lemon verbena leaves with freshly boiled water. Allow to infuse for an hour. Strain out the leaves. Strain again through muslin to remove any small bits of leaf or random stuff. Measure (by volume or mass) the amount of liquid you now have. Add an equal amount of sugar. E.g. if you have 500mL of liquid, add 500g sugar. If you have 400g of liquid, add 400g of sugar. Stir until the sugar is dissolved (you may need to heat it gently). Once dissolved, transfer to a sterilized bottle and add a tablespoon of vodka. Store in the fridge.

Today's cocktail came about as I rooted around in the fridge trying to find something to take the edge off the January blues. I also didn't want to go out and buy anything so this is my frugal cocktail from my leftovers. It's fragrant, aromatic, sweet and sour. A vision of the Spring that will come to us soon.

a vision of Spring
30mL elderflower liqueur (homemade or St-Germain is an excellent commercial brand)
30mL vodka or gin (depending how saucy you are feeling)
30mL freshly squeezed lemon juice
15mL simple syrup (I used my lemon verbena syrup)
3 drops of Spanish bitters

Combine all the ingredients in a shaker or large glass. Add plenty of ice. Stir for approximately 30 seconds. Strain into a prepared cocktail glass. Garnish with a twist of lemon. 

I'll be talking cocktails on Flavour this Saturday at 12. Do tune in or listen online.

Cocktails from leftovers: near empty bottles of St Germain and lemon verbena syrup


  1. A 'vision of Spring' is exactly what's needed as January crawls to a close. Una

    1. Isn't just! I cannot wait until January is over....