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Garden Fresh Syrups

Having just partaken in the Mixology Monday floral cocktails event, I got to thinking about our garden.   While it’s certainly magnificent with blooms, shrubs, and trees, the vegetable beds have been in dire need of some love for the past few seasons.  Having a toddler can shift your priorities elsewhere, but as luck would have it, our particular kid has grown into a voracious gardener.  Most every morning, he’s out back with a hose, watering the pots and the roses – a sliver of freshly-picked mint teetering between his teeth.  Given this turn of events, Lesley became determined to replant the raised beds.  A weekend or two of digging out the dead growth of seasons pasts, adding fresh soil, and meticulous planning later (Lesley lays out her gardens with all the enthusiasm and detail of Frederick Olmsted), we now have squash, tomatoes, beans, peppers, corn, and strawberries all going strong.

As I mentioned in the Rosemond post, when it comes to the garden, I tend to be more consumer than cultivator.  If required, I’ll dig the holes and transport the soil from points A to B, but when I look at the garden, I see flavors – which means that you can expect to see several garden-inspired posts over the summer, beginning with this one.   Before diving head-first into Daisy Daisies and Marigold Collinses (I’m kidding, I think), I thought it timely to explore some of the methods in which we can bring garden flavors into syrups, which are by far some of the easiest and most satisfying ways to mix up your mixology.

Changing up a drink with one ingredient is a great path towards invention.  Take, for instance, Dale DeGroff’s Fitzgerald.  DeGroff simply added aromatic bitters to a basic gin sour and produced something completely new and wonderful.  It’s a formula that goes all the way back to the original Cocktail, which evolved when someone dashed bitters into a Sling.  In our Fitzgeralds, we’ve always been inclined to substitute rosemary syrup for plain jane simple syrup.  While the difference is subtle, it produces a drink that has more depth and roundness.

Because we have an unkillable rosemary bush – one of the few stalwarts in our raised beds – rosemary syrup has always been a mainstay in our bar, but the flavored syrup possibilities are really endless.  As long as the item you’re infusing isn’t toxic, the sky is really the limit. Here then, are a few of the ways you can make endless varieties of flavored syrups when your garden (or local market) is in full bloom – or any time of year, for that matter.

Simple Syrup Base
Even though we cover making simple syrup on our Syrups & Such page, the process is so easy that I’ll explain it again here.  For basic syrup, combine equal volumes of sugar (any type you wish, including honey) and water, shake vigorously, and let everything settle.  When the mixture is no longer cloudy and without sediment, you’re done.  As we all remember from high school chemistry class, heat will help this process along, but we want to be careful with there being too much heat, as the water can boil away or the syrup can invert (which may be a good thing, see below).  If you just can’t wait for the shaken method to settle, however, add the sugar and water to a sauce pan and place on the stove over a burner on the lowest setting.  Stir until the sugar dissolves and immediately remove the pan from the heat.  If you’re using something like honey, you’ll certainly need a little heat to get the reaction going.

The second kind of basic syrup is rich simple syrup.  The only difference here is that you use two parts sugar to one part water.  While being somewhat sweeter than basic syrup, it’s also much silkier, which I really like in most cocktails.  Some will argue that you should use less rich syrup than regular syrup in recipes.  I say it depends upon how you like your drinks, so feel free to adjust any sugar quotient in a recipe until you find your own sweet spot.

For almost all of the syrups listed below, especially the fruit ones, I use rich simple syrup, but you should consider the final drink in which you’ll be using the syrup.  For the Rosemond, the drink was a martini variation and I only wanted to add a minimal amount of sweetness, so I used a 1:1 sugar-water ratio as the base.

Three Methods
While I’m sure that there are plenty more ways to make syrup than you can shake a muddler at, at 12 Bottle Bar we tend to employ three distinct methods.  Each of these has one purpose:  to extract the most flavor (and, potentially, color) from the infusing agent in the most gentle way possible.  Some ingredients, like raspberries, do all of the work for you while rosemary needs to be taken out behind the shed for a good what for.

Cold Infusion
With cold infusing, simply cover a cup or so (depending on how much syrup you need) of your infusing agent with simple syrup and set aside for around eight hours.  This method works extremely well with rich syrup and juicy fruit like pineapples and berries.  Mint also shines here.  If you want the pinnacle of easy success, try fresh raspberries – the color and flavor they so easily give up is almost mind-boggling.

When you’re done, strain out the solids.  You could blend the mixture, but you’ll get a cloudy syrup.  Clear syrups, in my opinion, are much more elegant and impressive in your drinks.

Hot Infusion
As mentioned above, some plants like rosemary don’t give up their goods without a fight.  In these cases, we need heat.  The problem with long simmers or boils, however, is that the water ultimately evaporates away, leaving you with a syrup too thick to use.  Our method here is to first make your syrup base over low heat, add your infusing item, and then bring the whole thing to a boil.  Once the mixture reaches a boil, remove the pan from the heat, cover it, and leave it alone until it cools.  This will provide enough heat without the boiling energy driving away all the water.  Covering, meanwhile, captures any escaping steam and, while things cool, will return the moisture back to the syrup.

Along with rosemary, this is the method that I used with the rose petals for the Rosemond syrup.  The resulting syrup presented the deeper, more vegetal qualities of the rose, which I ended up supplementing with some rose water and orange flower water.  The result was deliciously multi-level and full of perfume.

I also employed a variation on this method for the Lagniappe blackberry syrup – which I probably could have made using the cold method as well.  It’s really worth experimenting; if you don’t get the results you want from one method, try another.

Tea Infusion
When working with dried ingredients, especially flowers like hibiscus and chamomile, the best method can be to first make a tea – steeping the item in very hot water – and then use the tea in place of water in your syrup making.  The color and flavor you extract will depend upon how long you steep, but note that some agents, like hibiscus, can quickly turn to the dark side.  The general range is typically between 5 and 10 minutes, but use your nose and best judgment.

Inverted Syrups
Regular sugar is made up of sucrose.  When you boil simple syrup for a period of time (about 20 minutes, but check online for recipes) and add something acidic, you will break down the sucrose into its components, glucose and fructose.  Twice as many molecules means smaller molecules, and smaller molecules mean a smoother syrup.  Inverted syrups are also less prone to crystallization.  Something to experiment with, should you have the time.

Storage
When your syrup starts to turn cloudy, throw it out.  In general, rich syrups last longer than basic syrups and rich syrups with a shot of Vodka in them will last until you find them in the back of the refrigerator  and have forgotten that you made them in the first place.  Of course, store everything in the fridge.

Hopefully, these master techniques will compel you to start looking at your garden or the local produce aisle as a potential cocktail wonderland – one that is well within the 12BB boundaries and which is limited only by your imagination.

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