It seems with every new cocktail recipe comes a requisite housemade syrup (or two). Likewise, it’s not uncommon for a cocktail book to boast a sweeteners chapter as voluminous as the recipe section itself.
Amid this ever expanding canon, it can be difficult to discern which ones are worth keeping on hand at home, beyond the standard simple, honey and agave variations. Is it a ginger syrup? Passionfruit? Wine syrup? (Yes to the latter, if you’re us.)
To get a sense of what today’s bartenders consider to be staples for the home bar, we asked a number of thought leaders around the country for their go-tos, which, taken together, can be used to create a wide variety of drinks and flavor profiles.
Here, five essential cocktail syrups, how to make them and how to use them.
“You need ginger syrup,” declares Jane Danger of New York’s Mother of Pearl and Ladybird, echoing a sentiment common among bartenders. Not only is ginger an essential flavor component to an entire category of drinks—the buck—it can add a pleasant hint of spice to just about any cocktail. While there are many ways of integrating ginger flavor into a drink, including via a ginger beer topper, some bartenders prefer the more concentrated flavor of ginger syrup. Though there are a number of methods for making it, we’re partial to the simplicity of Orlando Franklin McCray’s recipe, made with equal parts sugar and fresh ginger juice, which gets an extra spicy kick from a pinch of red pepper flakes.
Try it in: Dark ‘n’ Stormy, Penicillin, Moscow Mule, Raspberry Beret, Kentucky Buck, The Mauser, Bergamot Sour, Watership Down, La Chunga, Winter Lady
This sweetened pomegranate syrup, long synonymous with artificial flavor—and the Shirley Temple—is also an essential component in a number of classic cocktails, like the Pink Lady and the Jack Rose. “Most [commercial] versions of this are syrupy and artificial, like cherry cough syrup,” explains Peder Schweigert of Marvel Bar in Minneapolis, who makes an especially bright version comprised of concentrated pomegranate juice, sugar and the surprising addition of orange flower water.
Try it in: Jack Rose, El Presidente, Pink Lady, Zombie, Mexican Firing Squad, The Mauser, Gin Daisy
Adding cinnamon syrup is one of the simplest ways to up the flavor ante in just about any cocktail formula, whether it be winterizing a summer classic, like the Daiquiri, or adding warm baking spice notes to a tiki staple, like the Jungle Bird. Though cinnamon sticks are often the go-to here, bartender Jim Kearns opts instead for cassia, or Chinese cinnamon, in his housemade syrup recipe. “Cinnamon sticks will also work,” Kearns explains, “but…I like cassia, because it’s a little mellower and more complex.”
Try it in: The Overlook, Davy Jones’s Locker, Corduroy Daiquiri, F.A.F Daiquiri, Jungle Bird, Roman Holiday, Jakartian Peardition
Typically used to bolster the tropical flavors of tiki, passionfruit syrup can also perform well when used in a number of classic drinks, like the Daiquiri or a Pisco Sour, for added complexity. “I am amazed at how few bars actually have this as part of their mise,” says Giuseppe González of New York’s Suffolk Arms. “It’s a show stopper.” While he prefers a simple one-to-one ratio of fresh passionfruit juice to sugar, heated until dissolved, Jeff “Beachbum” Berry calls on frozen passionfruit pulp in his house recipe, which lends a tropical pop to many tiki standbys.
Try it in: Daiquiri, White Zombie, Hurricane, Pisco Sour, Campari Sour, Scorpion Kick
According to González, if you don’t think this is essential, you probably aren’t drinking enough Piña Coladas. While not the most versatile syrup in the arsenal, it can be considered a “make or break” ingredient with its unique ability to add a strong boost of tropical flavor to a variety of drinks. Aaron Polsky, who also includes coconut syrup on his essentials list, offers one of the easiest recipes out there: simply combine equal parts coconut cream and sugar and stir to dissolve.
Try it in: Piña Colada, Painkiller, Absinthe Colada, Angostura Colada, Piña Verde, Brancolada