Simple pretty much explains it. The work associated with making a good cocktail at home often intimidates people. The general thought is that you need a long list of ingredients, and that's certainly one approach, but if you look at it like spontaneous cooking it makes it more approachable. Use what you have!
Just this week I wanted to try a new bottle of rye whiskey in a cocktail and also use a few apples and lemons that were getting old. I created a simple syrup using the base recipe - 1 part sugar to 1 part water, and cut up the apples (sans skin), lemons, and also added an old vanilla stick and loose leaf tea from Rishi that I thought would add more floral notes. The outcome was probably not perfect, but really good, and that was incorporated into my 3 ingredient cocktail - simple syrup, lemon juice, and whiskey. I didn't measure a thing besides the water and sugar. My nose did the guiding, and that's good stuff on a cold winter night with comforting smells coming out of the kitchen.
What does it mean? Simple syrup was defined in a 2011 article on Serious Drinks as "nothing more than a solution of sugar in water, and because the sugar is already dissolved into the water, you don't need to worry about it settling to the bottom of your cocktail as you drink, making the last few sips cloying and leaving a gummy, sticky mess in the glass."
There's also rich syrup, which increases the sugar to water ratio by having larger amounts of sugar. And it takes a little effort since you need to warm up the solution. I'm a fan of simmering on the stovetop, but it's not a no-no to nuke it. Actually, a lot of fruit juices better after a few seconds in the microwave.
Just like brewing coffee, baking, or other kitchen food and drink creations, water is key, and we always recommend filtered water. Since a big part of your final syrup will be water, the taste of that water will effect your finished product. Also, there are a lot of different types of sugars allowing you room to experiment there. When it comes to straining your simple syrup if adding more than sugar and water, I suggest a strainer if you do not want pieces in your cocktail. I use my cocktail strainer, but I have bartender friends that have used cheesecloths and squeeze the liquid out. Keep your syrup in a bottle and it should be refrigerated giving it a few weeks of life. Here's a guide with recipes from our friends at Imbibe.
Remember, simple syrup is easy, and it's a great way to play around in the kitchen. If you aren't going to eat those mushy oranges and those nutmegs have been sitting there for a while, get to syruping and invite your friends over. Drinks are on!
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