The Secret’s in the Triple Syrup

Dale DeGroff’s go-to syrup is an unconventional blend that adds depth and complexity to sours and more.

Think of it as a super syrup, combining the powers of three standard-issue sweeteners into a single versatile ingredient that’s greater than the sum of its parts.

Honed over the years by renowned bartender Dale DeGroff, “triple syrup”—a blend of white sugar, agave nectar and honey—can be used to enhance sours, split-base cocktails and just about any drink containing grapefruit. Its composition, however, is more complex than just an equal-parts formula—it’s a precise calibration.

“You’ve got to keep the honey in the minority, or it will overpower,” explains DeGroff. “And agave has a character all its own.” The magic ratio he landed on consists of 1 part simple syrup, ½ part agave syrup and ¼ part honey syrup.

Though it appears in the forthcoming The New Craft of the Cocktail, and not in the first edition from 2002, triple syrup is hardly new.

DeGroff first started thinking about the hybrid syrup during his Rainbow Room days in the 1990s, when he found the waxy, floral flavor of honey syrup too dominant in certain classics, like the Bee’s Knees. “Even with clover honey, I was put off by how important it was in the drink,” he recalls. “The honey becomes too much of a player.” As a result, he would often halve the amount of honey called for in any given recipe.

But it wasn’t until the late ’90s that he crafted a working formula for the syrup to use at New York’s Blackbird, Pravda and later Balthazar. As the culinary cocktail movement was gaining momentum in the early aughts, DeGroff, like many others, branched out from sour standbys lemon and lime to less-expected acidic elements in drinks like his Yuzu Gimlet. He determined that a straightforward sugar-based syrup lacked the complexity to stand up to these ingredients.

“I found that white sugar didn’t bring a lot to the party,” recalls DeGroff. “I wanted a warmth and richness I couldn’t get with simple syrup,” while keeping honey’s flavor in check.

The popularization of Tommy’s Margarita (created by Julio Bermejo at Tommy’s Mexican Restaurant in the 1990s), which omits orange liqueur in favor of agave nectar, delivered the final piece of the puzzle. “I started using agave [in the triple syrup] because of the Tommy’s Margarita,” says DeGroff, who found that it added complexity and a lighter, mild flavor. (He perfected the mix shortly after turning in the manuscript for his 2002 classic, which is why it doesn’t appear in the first edition of the book.)

DeGroff deployed the newly developed syrup not only in his Yuzu Gimlet, but in sours of all types as well as drinks that made use of more than one spirit, such as the Green Dream, a minty shot featuring vodka and sake that DeGroff created for a series of events in the late aughts.

DeGroff has found that triple syrup makes a particularly strong bedfellow with a specific flavor: grapefruit. While there’s a long tradition of matching grapefruit and honey in drinks like the Brown Derby, DeGroff prefers to use triple syrup to keep the honey in a supporting rather than starring role. In cocktails like his own Mahogany Hall Gimlet, made from a blend of London dry gin, lime and grapefruit juice, triple syrup balances out the citrus, yielding a drink that’s bracing and bright with a hint of richness.

According to DeGroff, part of the triple syrup’s success in drinks like the Gimlet owes to the interplay between the multifaceted syrup and the botanical profile of gin. It’s the reason that DeGroff recommends triple syrup as the sweetener alongside non-alcoholic “spirits” like Seedlip. “Those kinds of things really lend themselves to mixed syrups, more than just a white syrup sweetener,” DeGroff says. “It gives richness and texture, I think.”

It’s tempting to wonder whether the nuances of the triple syrup might get lost in drinks with assertive flavors. But DeGroff insists it’s the key to tying these complex ingredients into a unified whole. “It’s like glue,” he says. “It helps bring everything together.”

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