If you want to unlock the “impressive home bartender” achievement, you’re going to have to make a lot of simple syrup. You’ll find it in a ton of drinks recipes, ranging from the classics—this old-style daiquiri, for instance—to more advanced contemporary numbers like this savoury gin con tomate cocktail.
What’s simple syrup made of? Fundamentally it’s just sugar dissolved in water. What does it do? It adds sweetness and balance to drinks, and it can add some body, too.
Like a lot of things in the world of cocktails, simple syrup can be as straightforward as you want it to be—or as complicated. If you’re not always super ambitious when it comes to kitchen stuff, you may be wondering: What’s the way to make simple syrup that’s, well … the simplest?
All right, let’s run through your options—here’s a few ways to prepare simple syrup, ranging from simple to definitely-not-so-simple.
The standard, pretty simple simple syrup recipe
Yes, it’s this easy.
- 1 cup water (ideally distilled or filtered)
- 1 cup granulated sugar*
Add water and sugar to a saucepan or small pot and warm on medium heat; gently heat and stir until sugar dissolves. Set aside and let cool before using.
Note: Boiling the syrup will cause water vapour to escape the pot, which will throw off your carefully measured sugar-water ratio.
*Note on variations for “2:1” simple syrup
Bartenders call the syrup above “1:1” because it has a one-to-one ratio of sugar to water. If the recipe calls for “rich simple syrup” (also known as—wait for it—“2:1”), double the amount of sugar. You’ll probably have to stir a bit longer to dissolve it, too.
Also: Instead of white granulated sugar, can you use those fancy raw/cane/brown sugars you encounter at the health food store? Yes, and they’re great in rum drinks. Experiment away.
How to store simple syrup (and how long it lasts)
Refrigerate your simple syrup in a sealed container to keep it fresh. Adding a small amount of vodka (say, a teaspoon per cup) will help it last longer.
And just how long does simple syrup last? The expert advice varies quite a bit on that question. For basic 1:1 simple syrup they say anything from four days to “months.” (And as much as six months for 2:1 rich syrup.) Since sugar is relatively cheap and simple syrup is pretty easy to make, you may as well stick to the conservative side of that range — when in doubt, toss it out.
The super-lazy recipe: simple syrup in the microwave
Pressed for time? Feeling unambitious? Exploring your goblin mode? Make simple syrup the simplest way possible: using the microwave.
Here’s how: Mix equal parts sugar and water in an uncovered microwave-safe container (half a cup of each is more than enough for a round of drinks for a small crowd). Stir to blend them, microwave for about 10 seconds, and stir again to make sure the sugar is dissolved in the water. Let it cool and you’re all set.
The even lazier method—but you have to plan ahead
Buy it. Home cocktailing has gone mainstream, which means you can get bottled simple syrup from big retailers like grocery stores (or better yet) specialty cocktail stores and independent distilleries. Toronto’s Cocktail Emporium offers what may be Canada’s widest variety of premade simple syrups.
The key virtues of bottled syrup: One, it will wait on your shelf and be ready when you need it. Two, no dishes.
Some cocktail pros and enthusiasts have been known to snicker at the idea of buying something you can so easily make. But are they coming to your house to tidy up? They are not.
Advanced classes for cocktail keeners
For their part, pro bartenders and (really) enthusiastic home hobbyists will make things decidedly un-simple — for example, by adding extra ingredients like gum arabic or food acids (citric, lactic and malic) to their simple syrups to give them a super-silky texture or a thirst-quenching tang.
How about an example you can make relatively easily? Nineteenth-century bartenders (and their devotees in our time) have used gum syrup, also spelled gomme syrup, in place of ordinary rich simple syrup to give their cocktails a fuller, luxurious mouthfeel. It employs gum arabic, a natural tree sap that you can find online or via specialty Caribbean grocers.
Gomme syrup recipe
How to make it: Dissolve 60 grams (two ounces) of gum arabic in 1 cup (8 ounces/240 mL) of warm filtered water, leave 1-2 days in a sealed container while the gum arabic dissolves. Then proceed to make 2:1 simple syrup per instructions above, i.e., use the water-gum arabic mixture in place of plain water and add 2 cups of sugar to it.
Then try it in an old-fashioned. Here’s to simple pleasures.