Today we are going to step even farther behind the bar than usual. Sugar is one of the very basic ingredients to nearly every cocktail out there. In fact the original cocktail is just a spirit with water, a dash of bitters and sugar! So, let us discuss Simple Syrup!
If you have been reading along with me, you will know that I have a distaste for artificial flavors and the use of corn syrup as a sweetener. Most commercial syrups of ANY type now-a-days are nothing but artificially flavored corn syrup! This is why I make my own, from quality ingredients. Well, that and the bragging rights!
To begin, you'll need sugar. First off, avoid using powdered sugar, that contains cornstarch to prevent clumping. That will make the syrup lumpy and odd tasting. You can choose a common cane sugar, available absolutely everywhere. Originally, one would have to skim impurities out, but modern sugar refining has done that for us. The resulting syrup is sweet and very much makes way for the flavor of the cocktail. This is also the choice for making flavored syrups. Modern brown sugar is often just cane sugar with molasses added. Rather than make simple syrup from this, just experiment with the molasses! Larger and specialty markets should carry unrefined sugar. "Sugar in the Raw" is one popular brand. If you want to have more character and flavor to your "Simple" I suggest picking up some Demerera or Turbinado sugar. Both are dark brown, moist, sweet and full of flavor. Made by crystallizing the sugar cane juice, then spinning it in a turbine to remove water and impurities. Lastly, Muscovado sugar is made without turbines, instead being pan-evaporated and retains all of the minerals present in the cane juice.
Now that you have your sugar choice, we head to the kitchen! Start with a small batch, because a little lasts a very long time! Take a saucepan and start heating a cup of water over medium heat. Once it begins to exhibit bubbles along the bottom, add in half a cup of sugar and stir until it dissolves. Add in another half cup and do the same. Generally you want an even 1-1 ratio of sugar to water to start with. However, I like a slightly thicker syrup and will add another half cup at this time. Keep the heat on the low side of medium, bringing the mix to a simmer. Stir regularly to prevent any settling of sugar on the bottom. You want the solution to start thickening. Using a butter knife, retrieve a drop and let it cool. Tap your finger to it and draw it away. You should get a slight stretch between your fingers and it should bead up nicely. Take the pan off the heat and allow it to cool. Bottle it in something that allows you to dispense it in small measures of about a teaspoon at a time.
This syrup will keep on the shelf for about 2 weeks, longer if you refrigerate. I, however, cheat. I add a tablespoon of the most flavorless, high proof, vodka I have on hand as a preservative to each cup worth of syrup. This acts as a "natural" preservative and allows the syrup to dwell much longer.
Now go mix yourself a cocktail! Enjoy! Any of my recipes where I call for sugar, use a like amount of simple. This assures that all of the sugar will mix in the shaker, rather than leaving residue behind on the bottom of your glass.
As an advanced exercise, try making a batch and add a teaspoon of whole peppercorns to a 1 cup water/1 cup sugar batch while you simmer. After 25-35 minutes cool, and strain the concoction. Now mix up a cocktail with an added zing!