Calling on a flavored syrup in place of a more conventional sweetener is one of the easiest ways to give a cocktail a seasonal twist, whether using evergreen to lend a taste of the holidays or winterizing summer classics, and the options for flavors can be as varied as the season’s palette.
Among the most universally popular flavors in drinks (and beyond), vanilla is almost always a welcome addition to cold-weather cocktails. From a wintertime Daiquiri made with aged rum to the herbaceous, Champagne-topped In the Pines, the flavor can lend a backbone to a number of drinks and tends to perform well in those made with barrel-aged spirits. Natasha David’s blood orange-laced Sanguinello Spritz showcases the flavor’s versatility via an easy-to-make vanilla simple syrup.
Spiced syrups—like the cinnamon bark version used in the Fernet- and grapefruit-based Davy Jones’s Locker, or the nutty sesame seed syrup shaken into the Sesame Daiquiri—can be used in a variety of drinks. Most of these syrups require little effort, though bartenders often recommend gently toasting and cracking spices before adding them to a warm mixture of sugar and water to lend the syrup additional flavor. As for how much to add, it depends largely on the kind of spice.
“Spices like coriander, vanilla and cinnamon can be used in much higher quantities than ‘louder’ spices like cumin, star anise or clove,” says Joaquín Simó, adding that steeping time will also affect the amount of extracted flavor. Though some recipes require just ten minutes of time, Simó says that steeping overnight can be beneficial, depending on the desired result. He also recommends thinking outside the box when it comes to flavors.
“One spice that doesn’t get looked at enough is mace blade, the little husky, papery wrapper around nutmeg,” he says. Incorporating a mace syrup into a drink—especially one topped with nutmeg, can offer a subtle twist on a well-known flavor. The same is true of incorporating multiple spices into one drink—as is the case in the Corduroy Daiquiri, which sees allspice, cinnamon, star anise and clove shaken alongside grapefruit and Jamaican rum.
Herbs, which make for an aromatic garnish, are an easy addition to syrups, with hardy, woody herbs with wintery flavors—rosemary, sage and thyme—tending to work best when given the syrup treatment. A basic 1:1, water:sugar syrup can be infused easily with a few sprigs (such is the case with The Ruffian, a whiskey sour riff that gets an herbaceous edge by way of thyme-infused simple syrup). But a variety of other flavoring agents can be used in conjunction with that formula; the Winter Paloma, for example, calls for a sage-grapefruit syrup made with fresh citrus juice in place of water—a move that’d make for an easy twist on the traditional Tom Collins. Similarly, the White Bull, a play on the shandy, doubles down on hefeweizen, using it not only as a primary drink ingredient but also in a savory sage-infused beer syrup.
Many of these syrups will last in the fridge for a number of weeks—allowing for ample opportunity to try them in a number of takes.