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How to Science Your Way to a Better Cocktail Syrup

The White Lyan team shares their advice on how to make better fruit, vegetable and tea syrups at home.

When making drinks, we always look at different ways of introducing additional layers of flavor to a cocktail. At White Lyan—and now Super Lyan and Cub—we use a plethora of different methods, from spirit infusions to “wax washing” to fermentation, but we always tend start with the basics, like a good old syrup. 

Syrups, in all flavors imaginable, have long been a bartender’s best friend; not only can they can add that additional kick of flavor, they can also help control the dilution and texture of your finished cocktail. Here are a few tips to help you up your syrup game at home.

Sugar Content

One of sugar’s greatest qualities is that it works as a “fixative”—meaning it carries flavors and helps your palate identify them easier. The starting point for a syrup is usually a 1:1 sugar syrup. You can increase the sugar content of your syrup to 2:1, or even higher if you’re looking for a longer shelf life and more viscous texture.

Sugar Types

The type of the sugar you use in your syrup matters. The darker the sugar (think golden, light brown or demerara sugars), the more molasses it contains and the weightier and maltier the flavor profile will be. I use darker sugars in drinks that require a heavier flavor backbone—generally, dark-rum-based drinks or ones that are heavy on spice, like cinnamon, fit the profile. When working with delicate flavors—floral or lighter fruity notes—use white sugar, as it won’t muddle the taste of your syrup. If you’re looking to add both sweetness and flavor, you can use a honey- or maple-based syrup at either a 1:1 or 2:1 ratio.

Quick Tips

  • Water quality: Since syrup is usually mainly made up of water, its quality will affect the end product, so make sure you use filtered water.
  • Shelf life: The higher the sugar content, the longer the shelf life. However, all syrups are prone to fermentation under certain conditions, so make sure you keep them in the fridge and use within few days (1:1 syrups) to a week (2:1 syrups). You can prolong shelf life by adding acid and/or alcohol; if the mix sits above 12 percent ABV, it should last at least a few months.
  • Infusions: Higher temperatures and longer infusion times will yield a stronger flavor (think tea), but they can sometimes extract undesirable flavors—so start lower and go up from there.

Flavoring Your Syrup

You can use nearly anything to flavor a syrup. The infusion process will vary slightly depending on the ingredient and your desired result.

Herbs: When infusing herbs into a syrup, you first want to steep the herbs in boiling water (see our G&T Tonic Syrup), just like you would a tea; the temperature will help to extract oils and all the flavor compounds. Steep for about four to five minutes, strain and add the sugar at a 1:1 or 2:1 ratio.

Fruits: When choosing a method for infusing fruit, it really comes down to type. Fruits like apples or berries will yield a different flavor profile depending on the use of hot or room temperature water (think cooked versus fresh apples). If you want a fresher flavor, use room temperature water and simply blitz it up with fruit and sugar in a blender and then strain it. This method will provide a whole lot of intensity without compromising the brightness of the fruit. Likewise, if you want a richer, stewed fruit flavor effect (think jam), cook the fruit, sugar and water on the stove. Or, repeat the same process as above and blend together the hot water, fruit and sugar in a blender and then strain it.

Vegetables: Yes, vegetables. There are plenty of sweet or spicy vegetables and roots that work well in syrups, like rhubarb, carrot, beet or ginger. As with fruits, whether you use heat or not depends on the type. For example, when it comes to rhubarb or beets, we typically add the sugar, water and chopped rhubarb to a pot, bring it to a boil, then simmer it for a few minutes before letting it cool and straining it out. Whereas when working with carrot, we use the pulp left over from juicing and blend it with sugar and water (2:1) before straining and bottling it.

Tea: At the Lyan bars, we love using tea to infuse syrups, as it’s a quick and easy way to add flavor to a drink. All tea can be infused in both cold and hot water. Cold infusion over 12 to 24 hours will yield a mellower and rounder profile, as colder water will extract less tannin than a hot water brew. Do remember that sugar is harder to dissolve in cold water and may need some additional agitation to fully integrate.

Adding Spirits

If you blend a syrup with alcohol, you create something we at Super Lyan call a “batch.” We blend our syrups with spirits to speed up the drink-making process: Instead of five or six different ingredients that need to go into a tin or a mixing glass, having it all blended together pre-service frees us up to chat with guests. Adding a spirit to a flavored syrup also increases its shelf life.

Bonus Acidity

Another way to add extra dimension to a syrup is by adding acidity. A shrub is a great example of this; it’s essentially a syrup with the addition of a vinegar (white wine or apple cider, typically). However, if you’re looking to experiment, you can also use powdered acids to calibrate the pH levels. Simply add them to your finished syrup—the amount depends on your desired end result, but start with 0.5%-1% of the overall volume for the amount of acid. Lowering the pH will also prolong a syrup’s shelf life, as well as affect the end balance of your cocktail.

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