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. Adding an ounce of 100-proof vodka will keep it from spoiling too fast. Keep refrigerated. Will last about three 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 six 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 twelve 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. Adding an ounce of 100-proof vodka will keep it from spoiling too fast. Will last about twelve 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 twelve 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, then pour into an airtight glass container and let steep, refrigerated, overnight. Strain through a nut milk bag to remove fine particles. Adding an ounce of 100-proof vodka will keep it from spoiling too fast. Keep refrigerated. Will last about six 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 nut milk bag to remove fine particles. Adding an ounce of 100-proof vodka will keep it from spoiling too fast. Keep refrigerated. Will last about three 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. Adding an ounce of 100-proof vodka will keep it from spoiling too fast. Will last about three months.
320 Main, Seal Beach, (2012)
Good-tasting beer cocktails understand that beer is already a finished product, then look to enhance and support what’s already there. Same goes for champagne, sherry… hell, even good-quality sipping spirits don’t need an assist from citrus, sugar, or whatnot. But when balanced thoughtfully, beer cocktails work great. And thinking about balance is just what got Jason Schiffer at 320 Main going on one of their most popular original cocktails, the Detroiter. On paper, it doesn’t sound like it will work… but take that first sip and you’ll get it. A balancing act of bitter, sweet, and just enough tartness evoke the fall flavors of apple and spice without tipping into the obvious Pumpkin Spice Latte category.
I asked Jason what inspired this drink, originally called the Michigander and made without the beer component. He says, “I was missing my favorite time of the year back home in Michigan – remembering pumpkin-carving parties my Mom took me to when I was a kid, raking leaves, and making cider from the apples we foraged in nearby orchards. I had this picture in my mind with these nostalgic tastes and smells. Applejack was an obvious place to start, and it only seemed natural to gravitate toward Cynar to mimic the earthy smells of the fall leaves. This original drink was called the Michigander – it starts a little on the sweet side and finishes somewhat drier so it works. Then, the Detroiter was born when a couple guys came in asking for a beer cocktail. We didn’t have one at the time, so I figured the Michigander’s front-end sweetness should stand up to a nice, dry beer. I knew hoppy beers pair well with bitter spirits, so IPA it went. Adjusting the recipe a bit and bringing in the high proof of the bonded Laird’s apple brandy instead of their 80-proof ‘applejack’ zeroes out any possible unpleasant bitterness from the hops and the Cynar.”
The grapefruit twist garnish is essential – its mix of bitter, sweet, and tart echoes what’s going on in the glass and helps it all make sense. To hit the right notes in this drink, look for a good-quality IPA like Ballast Point’s Sculpin, Russian River’s Blind Pig, AleSmith IPA, or if you really like a blast of hops, Stone’s Double Dry Hopped.
Hardware: Jigger, Muddler, Barspoon, Hawthorne strainer (if using Boston shaker), Fine-mesh strainer
Ice: Ice cubes
Glassware: Rocks glass
Spirit: Applejack (Laird’s apple brandy 100 proof)
Mixers: Cynar, Beer (India Pale Ale), Honey syrup (three parts honey mixed with one part hot water)
Juice & Garnish: Lemon juice, Grapefruit twist
In an empty shaker, add:
1 oz Cynar
1 oz beer (India Pale Ale)
3/4 oz applejack
3/4 oz lemon juice
3/4 oz honey syrup
Dry shake briefly to blend and release some carbonation from the beer. Add ice and shake again to chill. Double-strain (to catch small bits of ice and citrus pulp) into a rocks glass over ice cubes. Add an extra:
1 oz beer (India Pale Ale)
Stir to blend. Pinch a grapefruit twist over the drink to express oils onto its surface, then lightly brush the twist around the glass exterior. Garnish with the twist.
You’ll just have to drink the leftover beer, darn the luck.