What is simple syrup? It is pretty simple really, it’s is just a mixture of sugar and water. However, it is a crucial part of cocktails and soda fountain drinks and without a standard formula, many cocktails can become cloyingly sweet or unbalanced. In the Mixologist: The Journal of the American Cocktail, I wrote an in-depth article on how to make a simple syrup and some background information on the types of sugar you can use to make it. In this post, I’m going to provide you with a couple of recipes to get you started, but if you would like more information, please feel free to pick up a copy of Mixologist.
The basics formulas are ratios of 1:1, 3:2 and 2:1 sugar to water. The most common syrup, for cocktails, is the 2:1 formula. At soda fountains in the 1890s, the United States Pharmacopeia stated that simple syrup should be made at a concentration of 14 lbs of sugar per gallon of water which equals 1672 grams of sugar per litre of water or close to a 5:3 ratio. For comparison 2:1 syrup has 2000 grams of sugar per litre of water. However, pharmacists at soda fountains typically used a 1:1 ratio as it mixed better, though many of the manuals give a 3:2 ratio, confusing, yes. The current USP guidelines is 850 grams of sucrose and 450 ml of water which will create one litre of syrup.
To make 2:1, just add 2 cups of sugar and 1 cup water to a pot and gently heat until all of the sugar is dissolved. There is no need to boil the mixture, it will readily dissolve when slightly hot to the touch. If you boil your syrup with a squeeze of lemon or lime juice it will convert to become a solution of glucose and fructose and will not crystallize as readily but will have a slightly different flavour than sucrose, though hard to detect in a cocktail or soda. Pour the syrup into a clean bottle and it’s ready to use.
A couple of suggestions that will make your simple syrup better include adding ¼ cup of corn syrup to the mixture if you cold process it (i.e. don’t heat or boil). This will help prevent the crystallization of the sugar since it is close to a supersaturated solution. The other suggestion is to add one or two ounces of vodka or neutral grain spirit after it has been bottled. This will help prevent mould or bacteria from growing in the neck of the bottle during storage if you make large batches for a bar.
If you want to try something different, you can try adding a portion of fructose (available at your local health food store) to your recipe. Fructose is a fruit sugar and is the most common sugar found in fruits like peaches, pears, berries, etc. Or you can make straight fructose syrup for a different flavour profile.
My personal favourite simple syrup is one that makes 1 teaspoon of simple syrup equal to 1 teaspoon of sugar. That way I know how much sugar is going into each drink, and if a recipe calls for sugar, I can pour the exact amount. The rough ratio for this solution is four parts sugar to three parts water (4:3).