More information than can comfortably fit in your pocket….
Making your own syrups at home yields some amazing, fresh flavors for your cocktails. Plus, you get to tell the story of how you made it yourself when someone asks what’s in that mystery bottle you’re pouring into their drink!
Simple Syrup really is simple. Over medium-low heat, mix one cup of white sugar with one cup of water, stirring until sugar is dissolved. For Rich Simple Syrup, use one cup of sugar to a half-cup of water. You might find the richness of turbinado or demerara sugar works better for certain drinks, where plain white sugar provides brightness and snap – experiment and see what you like. Keep refrigerated. Will last about two months.
Real pomegranate grenadine is miles above the common artificial kind and can be made easily at home. If pomegranates are in season (typically December through January), and you don’t mind a mess and a pain in the ass, you’ll get best results by using fresh. Cut pomegranates in half and break apart sections by hand, separating the juice-filled arils from their bitter white membrane. Place the arils in a small saucepan with a bit of water and simmer, covered, over medium-low heat until the arils burst and release their juice. You may need to crush some reluctant ones with the back of a spoon to get them to pop – you should get 1/4 to 1/2 cup of juice per pomegranate. Strain the juice and discard the arils. Mix one cup of fresh pomegranate juice (or 100% unsweetened pomegranate juice like POM brand in the off-season or when feeling lazy) with one cup of white sugar. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring until the sugar is dissolved. When it’s cool, add one and a half teaspoons of orange flower water – easily found at Middle Eastern markets or online. Adding an ounce of 100-proof vodka will keep it from spoiling too fast. Keep refrigerated. Will last about three months.
In a heavyweight Ziploc, smash up 2 1/2 cups whole, raw almonds – just enough to break them into large chunks, not totally crushed into powder. A mallet, rolling pin, or even a muddler works well. Arrange in a single layer on an ungreased baking sheet (use parchment paper if you like) and toast in a preheated oven at 400 degrees for 10 minutes. When finished toasting, in a saucepan, combine the crushed, toasted almonds with 2 cups of sugar and 1 1/2 cups of water. Bring to a simmer, then cook 10 minutes, stirring. Remove from the heat and let cool, then pour into an airtight container and let the mixture steep, unrefrigerated, for 24 hours. Strain the mixture through a cheesecloth-lined strainer into a jar or bottle (it’ll take a while to slowly drip out), then add 12 drops of orange flower water, 12 drops of rose water, and 1 oz of overproof vodka to help reduce spoilage. Shake to blend. Keep refrigerated. Will last about three months.
In a saucepan over medium heat, lightly toast 50 cloves, 1 tablespoon whole allspice berries, and 1 whole nutmeg (crushed, not ground). Combine in an airtight container and add 8 oz 151 demerara rum, the peeled zest from 8 limes (being careful to not include any of the bitter white pith), and 1/2 cup grated fresh ginger. Infuse for 24 hours, then double-strain the infused rum to remove ingredients and small particles. Make a rich simple syrup of 2 cups sugar and 1 cup water and let cool. In an airtight container, combine the infused rum, the rich simple syrup, and 10 drops almond extract. Stir to combine. Let rest two weeks, refrigerated, for the ginger to mellow. Keep refrigerated. Will last about six months. (recipe adapted from Kaiser Penguin.)
Lightly toast 1/4 cup whole dried allspice berries just until fragrant then crush to break up, but not completely turn to powder. In an airtight container, combine the allspice with 1 1/8 cups 151 demerara rum (Lemon Hart). Let steep 10 days in a cool, dark place.
After 10 days, strain the infused rum through cheesecloth, then a coffee filter, to remove allspice. In a saucepan over medium-low heat, combine 1 1/2 cups water with 2 1/2 cups brown sugar. Stir to blend until sugar is completely dissolved. Let brown sugar syrup cool, then add the infused rum. Funnel into an airtight glass bottle or jar and let sit 30 days in the refrigerator. This will level out the heat of the allspice. Keep refrigerated. Will last about six months.
In a saucepan over medium heat, lightly toast 3 cinnamon sticks, crushed lightly to expose more surface area to the heat. Crush again, but don’t pulverize. Add 1 1/2 cups sugar and 1 1/2 cups water, then simmer 10 minutes, stirring to dissolve sugar. Cool & let steep two hours, then double-strain through a couple layers of dampened cheesecloth into an airtight container. Keep refrigerated. Will last about two months.
Honey Syrup keeps honey from freezing and seizing when mixed in cocktails. Just mix 3/4 cup honey with 1/4 cup hot water over low heat and stir to combine. Keep refrigerated. Will last about three months.
Split 2 vanilla beans lengthwise and scrape out the seeds. Over medium-low heat, mix 1 cup white sugar with 1 cup water, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Add vanilla seeds and bean pods, whisking to distribute evenly. Simmer on low heat for 10 minutes. Cool, then pour into an airtight glass container and let steep, refrigerated, overnight. Strain through a couple layers of dampened cheesecloth to remove fine particles and store in an airtight container. Keep refrigerated. Will last about two months.
There’s an energetic bond in the bartending community I admire from the sidelines and safety of my home bar. In the trenches (between humiliating each other with surprise forced-servings of Smirnoff Ice, ass-grabbing, and dick-punching), these men and women challenge each other to greater perfection and creativity, continually reassess what it means to be a good host, stick up for each other when stiffed on tips, and rally generously when one of their own is hurting (witness the amazing outpouring of support for Murray Stenson). It was no surprise to me when it was reported that many first responders to Hurricane Sandy weren’t Red Cross or even local police and firefighters, but the New York chapter of the USBG, who dove right in to help with the cleanup.
Speed Rack is an organization near & dear to my heart: not only full of the aforementioned bartender energy, but specifically focused on celebrating the Girl Power segment of the community. By “Girl Power,” I mean those endearing and stunning qualities that shine brightest in the ladies: fearlessness, lightning skill, silliness, beauty, care, grace, and clutziness. They all come together at Speed Rack, a touring drinkmaking competition for female bartenders that benefits breast cancer research with 100% of their ticket sales. Everything else at the event is sponsored by generous brands and volunteers. Check out Imbibe’s profile of Speed Rack founders Lynnette Marrero and Ivy Mix as part of their “Imbibe 75” – highlighting the movers and shakers in the cocktail community.
At the event, lady bartenders challenge each other live on stage to make four drinks as quickly and as accurately as possible. They’re judged right then and there by well-known cocktail luminaries like Dale DeGroff, Audrey Saunders, Simon Ford, Hollis Bulleit, and Robert Hess, to name just a few. Fastest isn’t always best: penalty seconds are added for sloppiness, drinks that don’t taste good, or drinks that wind up on the floor. There’s a live DJ, plenty of libations, and energy for days. Each regional winner takes home a chunk of cash, bragging rights, and a chance at the National Finals , where Miss Speed Rack wins a trip to France courtesy of Rémy Cointreau.
Take a look at their website and see if there’s an event coming to your city soon. For a low price at the door, you’ll be treated to a variety of free drinks, a hell of a wild show, and the company of some of the finest people in the industry. Plus the satisfaction of knowing you’re helping out in the fight against breast cancer. If you can’t make it to an event, you can always donate any amount via the PayPal link at the top of their site. In their inaugural year, they raised over $69,000 for the National Breast Cancer Foundation and for SHARE. I’ve lost a couple friends to cancer the last few years, so it feels good to support Speed Rack whenever they roll into SoCal. Pitch in and become a part of this outstanding effort.
The boobs in your life will thank you.