Modifying a simple syrup—with warm winter-spiced infusions or by replacing water with brewed tea—transforms the default sweetener into an ingredient capable of delivering not just balance, but flavor too. The singular addition of peppercorns, whether cracked or infused whole, builds upon sweetness with layers of florality, spice and smoke. Think of it as a subtler alternative to using fresh, piquant chile peppers. When deployed in cocktails, peppercorn syrups have dual purpose: They can further accentuate fiery spice, or, they can add understated herbaceous structure in the absence of more prevalent spiciness. Here are three peppercorn syrups to add to your rotation.
To amp up your simple syrup, look no further than your kitchen’s trusty peppermill. “It really is a simple add to a drink that gives it backbone and makes it just a little different,” says Ernesto bar director Sarah Morrissey of her Black Pepper–Vanilla Syrup. Originally created for her Deacon Blues cocktail, 40 cracks of black pepper give the Old-Fashioned riff a spicy bite, yielding the sort of herbal complexity that Angostura bitters often provide in other cocktails. The spicy-sweet combination would fare well in a classic Old-Fashioned, in addition to other bold spirits that can “stand up to the sweetness of the syrup and also the spice,” says Morrissey, such as whiskey and mezcal.
Technically a dried berry, pink peppercorns place fruity and floral notes front and center. Lost Lake bartender Vince Bright infuses simple syrup with pink peppercorns for his Pequeño Boxing Club, where their kick builds upon the more overt spiced note provided by the poblano-infused tequila in this Ti’ Punch variation. “The pink peppercorn enhances the poblano, which is contrasted with the smoke of the mezcal,” he says. “The layers all circulate.” Given the spice’s fruit-forward characteristics, pink peppercorn syrups are highly versatile and play well with similarly herbaceous ingredients like ginger and citrus. Take, for example, aperitivo-minded drinks such as Jon Mullen’s grapefruit-heavy Spumoni or Dan Sabo’s modern, Aperol-adjusted take on the Moscow Mule.
Prized for their wholly unique flavor, Sichuan peppercorns embody a tingly, citrusy spice. Once crushed and infused into sugar and water, its mouth-numbing characteristics can add body to smoky mezcal and other terroir-driven spirits like cachaça or rhum agricole. In conjunction with chile pepper–infused drinks, the pairing is a callback to málà (the flavor of numbing spice created by chiles and Sichuan peppercorn bloomed in hot oil) and can take your spicy Margarita to new heights. Or, play up the peppercorn’s inherent citrus notes for a supercharged Gin Fizz.