How to Make: Simple Syrup

Simple. Syrup. The name says it all. It should be a staple of restaurants and cafes, yet seems strangely ignored in favor of packets of "raw sugar," resulting in sub-par chilled beverages. As Houstonians surviving on unlimited refills of iced-tea during the sweltering months, we should be clamoring for the stuff. Instead, we make do, bitterly resenting the bits of un-dissolved sugar resting at the bottom of our bottomless glasses.

Recently, while I was picking up a coffee at Catalina, I saw a squeeze bottle full of the stuff alongside the lids and spoons, ready to sweeten my cup of Chemex-brewed iced coffee. This should be a common sight, but I can't remember seeing simple syrup among the condiments at any other café around town.

Fortunately, simple syrup is simple to make. So much so that restaurants that don't offer it should be shamed, and those of us who don't make it should think twice. It's about as simple as boiling water.

Simple syrup requires only two ingredients: sugar and water. You need equal amounts of each, by volume, plus a pot in which to prepare the syrup and a container in which to store it once it's done. The process is a one-step affair.

You combine equal parts sugar and water in a pot large enough to hold them, and heat gently until the sugar is dissolved. That's it. You should probably stir it frequently. If you're adding other flavors (woody herbs like rosemary make interesting additions), you will want to steep the syrup with the flavoring for about half an hour. Allow the mixture to cool, and reserve it in the refrigerator until you need it. I've kept mine for around a month at a time before running out. I suspect it would last much longer, though it might require an additional heating eventually, if the sugar re-crystalizes.

For my most recent batch, I made Horehound simple syrup by melting horehound candy (itself just sugar and flavoring) and combining it equally with water according to the above method. My intention is to present it to Anvil bartender Chris Frankel, in an ongoing exploration of cocktails made from unusual ingredients.

For your own simple syrup, consider how you'll use it. If it's going in iced tea, a basic concoction might be best. Then again, you might want to infuse it with mint, or go for a darker flavor by using a sugar that contains some molasses, like demerarra or turbinado. Really, the possibilities are endless. Want a hint of vanilla? Steep a pod in your syrup. Prefer a spicy-sweet kick? Add a dried chile pod. The point is, simple syrup makes chilled beverages so much better, and requires so little effort, that there's no reason not to make it. So what are you waiting for?

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Nicholas L. Hall is a husband and father who earns his keep playing a video game that controls the U.S. power grid. He also writes for the Houston Press about food, booze and music, in an attempt to keep the demons at bay. When he's not busy keeping your lights on, he can usually be found making various messes in the kitchen, with apologies to his wife.
Contact: Nicholas L. Hall