It starts out easily enough: Combine one part water with one part granulated sugar, boil until dissolved, chill.
Here's where we make it interesting: Simple syrups can be as varied and diverse as any other food stuff. By mixing in spices, herbs, fruit—truly anything your little heart can imagine, you have instant flavored sweetener. And it's not just for cocktails. Drizzle on a simple butter-rich pound cake for a seasonal flavor boost, pack several bottles onto an ice cream sundae bar for a (gluten-free) birthday celebration, add a splash to whipped cream for sweet spice, stir into your morning coffee or tea to cut out the mermaid-logoed middle man, or, yes, use it in all manner of cocktails for a tinge of sweet flavor.
In general, you can expect infused simple syrups (ones that extract flavor from herbs and spices before straining) to last up to 3 months—often longer (as long as it smells good, it tastes good). Syrups that incorporate purées or juices however, won't last as long: more like 2–3 weeks. But just think of all the raspberry lemonades you can have in that amount of time!
Here's a collection of some of our favorite simple syrups, from the spiced to the spicy to the floral to the herbal, and everything in between.
Rose extract adds floral sweetness and a faint blush to this syrup which flavors a spicy rye cocktail.
This fiery Thai bird chile-white peppercorn syrup adds a a complex balance of sweet, spicy, and bitter notes to anything it touches. Try it in Khong River House‘s Bee’s Knees riff: The Killer B.
We poured this syrup into a cocktail of pear purée, gin, and lemon juice, but you could even use it to add sweetness to a sauce that came out a bit too bitter after preparing a winter roast.
Cardamom and star anise add rich aroma to this syrup. Use it to sweeten yogurt or to add a spiced punch to mango lassis.
Tart blackberries and floral dried lavender marry in this syrup—mix it into a gimlet or French 75. Get the recipe for Blackberry–Lavender Syrup
Black peppercorns add serious earthy heat to this syrup which will prove a wonderfully surprising experience for anyone who drinks it. Use it to add depth to a vodka–grapefruit cocktail.
Lemon peel add citrus punch to this syrup—without introducing acid to the mix—while lavender adds a waft of floral undertones. Try it in the prescribed vodka lemonade.
Fennel seeds add an earthy, anise aroma to this syrup, which we used in an alcohol-free Fennel Apple Spritzer. You could use leftover fennel fronds to accomplish the same task, leading to a grassier finish.
This cocktail sees fragrant cardamom syrup stirred into tequila and citrus for complex east-meets-west-meets-east-meets-west sipper that seems as appropriate for summer as it does for winter. Get the recipe for The Soul Train »
Fragrantly herbal and vaguely citrusy, stir lemongrass syrup into a mint julep for an exotic take on the classic. It’s also lovely drizzled over pound cake, tossed with a mango–papaya fruit salad, or used to sweeten a glass of iced tea.
Lemon Chamomile Syrup
Fragrant chamomile flowers and lemon peel marry in this syrup—mix it into a brandy smash or a collins, or simply with sparkling water for homemade lemon soda. Get the recipe for Lemon Chamomile Syrup
Add a boost of ruby red, earthy sweetness to smoothies, drizzle it over Greek yogurt served with poached pears, or mix it into a lush cocktail with Everclear and St. Germain.
Infused with ginger and black pepper, this syrup makes a great homemade ginger beer: Just mix one part syrup to three parts soda water.
This boozy, flavorful simple syrup is a quick way to deepen the flavors while adding sweetness to almost any cocktail. Try it in this hickory infused Old Fashioned.
Great in fall cocktails, this flavored simple syrup is also wonderful drizzled over pancakes or stirred into coffee.
An essential ingredient in Zachary Stevens’ Eros Elixir, this spicy fruit syrup is infused with ginger, cinnamon, and nutmeg and uses pear purée as its base liquid.
A Coca-Cola simple syrup is the finishing touch in this dessert of shaved ice and tangerine curd. Get the recipe for Cola Syrup