Simple syrup and its related variations—honey, agave—are, as the name suggests, easy to make. But other sweeteners, like grenadine or orgeat, require greater effort and significantly more time to make.
While we’ve highlighted those that are worth the effort to make at home, it can be difficult to discern which, among the ever-expanding commercially available options, are actually worth buying.
To find out, we asked a number of bartenders which store-bought expressions they rely on to bring consistent flavor to their drinks without sacrificing quality. Here, five time-saving additions to any cocktail arsenal, and how to use them.
Orgeat | Giffard and Small Hand Foods
Commercial versions of this tiki staple vary greatly, from syrupy-sweet to nutty and everywhere in-between. There are two versions, however, that bartenders call out for their consistency and complexity. According to Dan Sabo of Downtown LA’s forthcoming Hotel Figeroa, Giffard makes “an excellent expression of orgeat. It’s shelf stable and it’s readily available in all markets at an affordable price.” And, he continues, “it never accidentally has too much orange flower water in it, which is a huge, huge plus.” Karen Fu likewise praises Giffard for its “high notes of floral viscosity” while also highlighting Small Hand Foods’ version, which she says “exhibits more nutty complexity.”
Oleo Saccharum | Cocktail & Sons
A staple of many historic punches, oleo saccharum—a sugar syrup often made with citrus peels—is a versatile cocktail sweetener, but it’s also one of the most time consuming to make, typically requiring several hours of maceration. Rob Krueger of Brooklyn’s Extra Fancy finds the version from Cocktail & Sons to work in a number of applications. “The extra botanicals—lemongrass, ginger, cardamom—give depth, but don’t outshine the citrus,” he explains. In other words, he says, “It plays well, but has its own character.”
Gomme Syrup | Small Hand Foods
A popular pre-Prohibition cocktail sweetener, gomme syrup adds a viscous texture to a number of drinks. “Small Hands makes the best stuff, hands down, no competition” says Caitlin Laman, formerly of Chicago’s Mezcaleria Las Flores. Sabo agrees: “[Small Hand Foods creator] Jennifer [Colliau] and team do such a great job. For consistency and price versus the man hours it would take to produce a multi-step syrup like gomme or flavored gomme, it’s a no brainer.”
Grenadine | Jack Rudy
“[Making] grenadine is also a multi-step, seemingly tricky process,” explains Fu, who recommends Jack Rudy’s Grenadine as a go-to replacement. Unlike many commercially made offerings, which are commonly associated with artificial flavors, Jack Rudy’s, says Fu, is “simultaneously rich and bright and obviously made with care.”
Tonic Syrup | Tomr’s
Unlike tonic water, tonic syrup provides a more concentrated flavor of quinine and citrus that never goes flat (but can be combined with soda water for use in classic applications). “[Tomr’s] is unctuous, not too sweet and perfectly bitter” says Eric Alperin who uses in Bar Clacson’s house G&T. “[It] reminds me of a real tonic and not the soda gun stuff,” he concludes.