It's easy to make your own Sugar Syrup - hence why its often called "Simple Syrup" - but just because something is easy, doesn't mean that "how it is done" is unimportant. Sugar syrup is after all used in the vast majority of cocktails, particularly those that include Lemon or Lime Juice to balance out their sourness. In this "how to" you'll discover two ways of making sugar syrup, some advice on alternatives to sugar & tips on flavouring your syrups for that personal touch.

Table Of Contents

How to make sugar syrup
How to make sugar syrups.

Making Sugar Syrup

You may be thinking, why can't we just use plain granulated sugar in our cocktails? Well, sugar itself does not dissolve well in strong spirits, resulting in an unbalanced drink with sugar sat at the bottom of the glass. There is little worse than sipping an Old-Fashioned cocktail to find your tongue & teeth coated with sugar granules. Although using icing or superfine sugar helps to avoid this to some extent (as instructed in some vintage cocktail recipe books), it is much easier & more accurate to measure volumes of liquid than solids when making cocktails at home or behind a bar.

Here we offer two methods of making sugar syrups:

  1. Standard Method - make sugar syrups that keep for longer & allow other flavours to be infused.
  2. Quick Method - make small quantities of simple sugar syrup that will be used quickly.

1. Sugar Syrup Recipe

The following recipe on how to make sugar syrup is suitable for use in modern cocktail recipes, & requires heating the sugar/water mixture.

Sugar Syrup Ingredients

350 grefined (white) sugar
400 mlwater (filtered or bottled)

Instructions for Making Sugar Syrup

  1. Place the caster sugar & water into a heavy-bottomed pan.
  2. Heat the pan over a low heat & stir the water & sugar mixture with a spoon until all the sugar has dissolved.
  3. Brush the sides of the pan to remove any stuck sugar granules - removing these will help to prevent the sugar syrup from crystallising as it cools.
  4. Increase the heat to bring the syrup to the boil, & simmer over a medium-heat for 3-5 minutes.
  5. Skim & discard any scum the forms above the surface of the syrup using a skimmer. When no more scrum forms, remove the pan from the heat.
  6. Allow the syrup to cool & pour into a dry, air-tight bottle.

Storing Your Home-made Sugar Syrup

Your home-made sugar syrup mixture can be stored in the refrigerator for up to one month. It is important that the sugar syrup is kept chilled otherwise the syrup will begin to ferment.

If you make a lot of sugar syrup, it might not be a bad a idea to add a half shot of Vodka (or other neutral flavoured spirit) to every half litre of sugar syrup. This should help the Sugar Syrup to keep for a while longer.

2. Quick Sugar Syrup Recipe

For smaller quantities of Syrup that you know you'll use within a couple of days, it is possible to avoid the hassle of boiling the water & sugar mixture.

Quick Sugar Syrup Ingredients

100 gicing (or superfine) sugar
100 mlwater (filtered or bottled)

Quick Sugar Syrup Instructions

  1. Mix icing sugar (or superfine/refined white sugar) with bottled or filtered water in the 1:1 ratio (by weight). Note that can do this is in the container from which you will store & serve the sugar syrup.
  2. After combining the Water & Syrup in the container, you need to then stir - or if possible shake - the mixture until all of the sugar has dissolved.

Sugar Syrup made using the quicker method will only keep in a refrigerator for a couple of days. You'll find that the finer the sugar the easier & quick it is for the sugar to disolve. Note also that the quick method cannot be used to create infused sugar syrups.

Rich Sugar Syrup for Vintage Cocktail Recipes

If following older cocktail recipes, you'll fine that you need a more concentrated sugar syrup. To make, follow the heated sugar syrup in a 2:1 sugar-to-water ratio (by weight). The higher sugar content of the rich sugar syrup allows this syrup to last much longer in the refrigerator.

Why do older cocktails require more concentrated syrup? Well, cocktail drinks used to be much smaller - with a standard spirit measure of 1 shot in relatively small glassware. The trend over the past few decades has been for larger cocktails, serving 2 shots of spirit each time in much larger glassware. Put simply, a more diluted sugar syrup helps to fill the larger glasses & avoid looking stingy.

Sugar Gomme Syrup (or "Silky" Syrup)

Simple syrup can be made using gum arabic (a natural food stabilizer derived from the sap of two types of acacia tree) which is called "sugar gomme syrup" or "silky syrup". The effect of the gum arabic is not to add any taste, but just to thicken the sugar syrup & add a fuller "silky" mouthfeel to the cocktails you make. This can be particularly influential on cocktails that are largely spirit driven whose natural consistency can be a little on the "thin" side without using sugar gomme syrup, like a lot of the pre-prohibition cocktails. Despite the improved mouthfeel, sugar gomme syrup largely fell out of fashion, possibly because it is tricky to make - the gum arabic tends to clump in water that is either to warm or too cold & the recipes are time consuming. For this reason we would suggest purchasing a commercial sugar gomme syrup rather than making your own.

Types of Sugar in Syrups

Superfine bar sugar - regular refined sugar. Using different sugars is a possible area of experimentation - for example Demerara sugar works wonderfully with Rum. Brown-sugar syrups can work well for Irish coffee or rum-punch drinks - but not for regularly cocktails because the high molasses content overpowers other ingredients. Syrup is not meant to be the predominant flavour - it should balance the cocktail & make everything else taste better.

Alternatives to Refined Sugar

Experimenting with simple syrups is a great way of personalising the cocktails that you make & fine tuning them to you own tastes. Some common alternatives to regular refined caster sugar are Demerara Sugar, Runny Honey or Agave Syrup.

  • Demerara Syrup - Demerara Syrup adds a strong molasses flavour to cocktails that works well in recipes containing Dark Rum &/or intense Tropical fruit flavours, such as Pineapple & Mango. Use in Rum Punches, Hot Toddies. Demerara Syrup also adds a nice twist to a Whiskey Sour. Avoid using Demerara Syrup in Vodka or Gin cocktails - the delicate Botanical will be completely overwhelmed & lost.
    Use Demerara Syrup in place of refined white sugar in the Sugar Syrup preparation recipe above involving heat.

  • Honey Syrup - Honey is a great alternative to sugar in some cocktails, pairing particularly well with Bourbon or Rye Whiskey, in classic cocktails such as the Old-Fashioned. Avoid in cocktails with a very clean flavour profile, such as the Daiquiri.
    To use in place of sugar syrup, dilute the runny Honey with water in a 1:1 ratio.

  • Agave Syrup - Agave adds a vegetal flavour to the sweetness of cocktails, & naturally pairs well with cocktails containing Tequila, which already contains the Agave flavour. Use Agave Syrup in cocktails such as Margaritas. Avoid using Agave syrup in cocktails that have a very clean flavour profile, such as the Daiquiri.
    To use in place of sugar syrup, dilute the Agave Syrup with water in a 1:1 ratio.

  • Maple Syrup - Maple adds a caramelised & faintly woody, even smokey sweetness to cocktails. Pairs well with Bourbons, working well in a Whiskey Sour. Avoid using Maple syrup in cocktails that have a very clean flavour profile, such as the Daiquiri. Maple syrup is available in two grades - Grade B will impart the most maple flavour, whereas Grade A is more delicate.
    To use in place of sugar syrup, dilute the Maple Syrup with water in a 1:1 ratio.

Making Flavoured Sugar Syrups

Experimenting with flavourings in sugar syrups is a great way of personalising the cocktails that you make & fine tuning them to you own tastes. Some starting points to try are cinnamon & vanilla flavoured Sugar Syrups. In general, you can easily flavour simple syrup with anything be adding the flavouring ingredient to the mixture as the sugar is dissolving, & removing it after the mixture has cooled down.

  • Cinnamon Syrup - Cinnamon is already used in some alcoholic beverages - notably Bourbon & Rakomelo (a Cinnamon Brandy popular in parts of Greece) - & similarly tends to work well with cocktails containing Whiskey, Brandy or Tequila (Gold). A good use is in an Old-Fashioned or Whiskey Sour cocktail - adding a festive spirit to both.
    To make - use the heated Sugar Syrup recipe above, adding 1 whole cinnamon stick per 250 ml of water. Add the cinnamon stick at the beginning & remove the stick when the syrup is cooled before storing (you might need to strain).

  • Grenadine Syrup - Grenadine is a commonly used syrup, essential in a number of classic cocktails, such as the Tequila Sunrise or the Original Singapore Sling.
    To make - instead of water, use pomegranate juice in a 1:1 ration with sugar. Quality pomegranate juices are usually available at most supermarkets. Using the quick method of making the syrup is fine, although the heated method will help your Grenadine keep for longer. Stored in a refrigerator, your Grenadine syrup should keep for 6 to 8 weeks.

  • Vanilla Syrup - Vanilla is a common flavouring for alcoholic beverages, notably Rum & Vodka. Essential in a Pornstar Martini or Cosmopolitan, but can also as an interesting variation on a Whiskey Sour, or Brandy Toddy.
    To make - use the heated Sugar Syrup recipe above, adding 1 whole vanilla bean (sliced length-ways) per 250 ml of water. Add the vanilla bean at the beginning & remove the bean when the syrup is cooled before storing.

  • Falernum Syrup - Falernum is a syrup from the Carribean that is well-known for its use in tropical drinks.
    To make - use the heated Sugar Syrup recipe above, adding 50 g of sliced toasted almonds, 30 whole cloves, zest of 8 limes (& juice of 4), per 250 ml of water. The almonds, cloves & lime zest are added before & during heating of the sugar/water mixture. When cooled strain the mixture into a suitable container.