Here's Everything You Need To Know About Simple Syrup
Taking a close look at a common cocktail ingredient
Jeffrey Morgenthaler is an award-winning bartender and current bar manager at Portland's Clyde Common. His writing and recipes have appeared in publications including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and Wine Enthusiast. The following is an excerpt from Morgenthaler's recently released first book, The Bar Book: Elements Of Cocktail Technique.
Measuring Your Ingredients
Simple syrup is generally found in two strengths: Equal parts sugar and water, the most common strength in U.S. bars, is referred to as “one-to-one” (1:1). Two parts sugar to one part water is, as you might guess, referred to as 2:1, which is the standard syrup in U.K. bars; in the States, you’ll often hear 2:1 syrup being referred to as “rich simple syrup.”
Related: How To Make Kumquat Simple Syrup
You can measure your syrup ingredients by volume (with a measuring cup) or by weight (using a scale). Volume is certainly the most common method in the States, and by far the easiest to describe: Use the same 1-cup measure for the sugar and hot water, and stir them together until the sugar is dissolved into the water. But the volume method doesn’t really allow for enough precision for my obsessive-compulsive tastes. First off, 8 fluid ounces(the volume measure) of sugar weighs closer to 7 ounces, so our 1:1 ratio is actually ⅞:1.
Why Crystal Structure Matters
Mathematics aside, let’s think about what those sugar crystals look like close up. Picture a measuring cup full of little blocks, and in between each little block is a gap of air. You can imagine that some of those little blocks are going to line up better than others, and that the number of blocks in the measuring cup is going to depend on how well-aligned all those blocks are.
For granulated or superfine sugar, alignment isn’t a big issue, because the crystals are small and they fill the volume measure pretty much the same way each time. However, chunkier sugars and the moist brown sugars can be hugely variable. A very fluffy brown sugar will take up more space in the measuring cup than one that has been compacted through sitting on the shelf for some time. The 1-cup measure of fluffy sugar would yield less actual sugar—and more air—than the same measure of packed sugar.
A more accurate method is to measure your sugars and water by weight. Stick a cup or bowl on a scale, tare it out to 0, and then weigh out 8 ounces of sugar and 8 ounces of water.
Dissolving The Sugar In The Water
Once you’ve weighed ingredients, the next step is to dissolve the sugar in the water. As with so many things in bartending, there are two schools of thought:
1. Hot Process
This is the method I prefer, as do most bartenders I know. All you do is gently heat the sugar and water while stirring to dissolve the sugar, and promptly remove from the heat once all the sugar is dissolved. (Remember that sugar is more soluble in hot liquid than in cold.) Take care not to let the syrup actually boil, as this will evaporate the water and change the ratio of water to sugar.
Sterilize your bottle or jar by filling it with boiling water; pour some over the lid, too. Dump the water out right before you fill with the hot syrup.
2. Cold Process
With this method you make the simple syrup with room-temperature water, usually through agitation such as stirring or shaking. You’ll hear bartenders advocating for cold-process simple syrup because it prevents the sucrose from separating into glucose and fructose molecules. I even read an interview with one guy who stated firmly that he uses only cold-processed simple syrup to retain that “fresh, uncooked cane flavor” as if that weren’t absolute b.s. Sure, sucrose breaking down into glucose and fructose is what happens to some extent during cooking, but it takes a hell of a lot of time and heat to do it. I’ve yet to hear any real convincing arguments in favor of cold-method mixing, and in blind taste tests I’ve always chosen the hot-processed simple syrup. It’s less work and has a longer shelf life because it has been sterilized by the higher temperature. Skip the cold process and use a little heat.
Storing The Syrup
Sugar is used in cooking as a preservative— think jams and jellies, which are also called preserves. So simple syrups have a decent shelf life, when prepared and stored properly: made with very hot water and stored in a sterile container in the refrigerator.
But decent doesn’t mean interminable—left too long, your syrup can get moldy, so make only quantities that you’re likely to use within a reasonable time frame. Stored in the refrigerator, 1:1 hot-process simple syrup should last 1 month, while 2:1 simple syrup should last 6 months. Cold-process syrups can become moldy in as little as half that time.
Read about other syrups on Food Republic: