You know how at fancy cocktail bars, you'll see all sorts of intimidating-sounding ingredients? Green peppercorn syrup, lavender bitters, lemongrass tincture—things like that? Some of them require days of work and 17 different ingredients, but some are unbelievably easy to make and can up your cocktail game in a big way.
Let's start simple: with a cinnamon syrup. If you're looking to get cinnamon flavor into a cocktail, it's the most effective way (ground spices are much too gritty). And all you have to do is make a sugar syrup and let it steep with cinnamon sticks. Plain old white sugar will work, but we like the richer, darker flavors of demerara sugar or Sugar In The Raw, which you can find at just about any grocery store.
Here's how to make a pint of syrup:
Mix 1 cup of sugar in 1 cup of water and boil until the sugar is dissolved. Drop 6 full cinnamon sticks, cover and let it sit overnight. Take out the cinnamon sticks, and you’re done. Since it's all sugar, it'll keep for a month in the fridge and just about forever in the freezer.
Now, just to impress your friends with your fancy cinnamon demerara syrup, here are some cocktails to use it in.
Easy: Cinnamon Old-Fashioned
A true old-fashioned is just whiskey, sugar and bitters, but it's fun to play around with those different elements—like swapping in your cinnamon syrup. Cinnamon (and other wintery spices) all work well with whiskey; we're partial to bourbon here for something on the slightly sweeter, richer side.
Instructions: In a mixing glass with ice, combine 2 ounces of bourbon and 1/2 ounce of cinnamon-demerara syrup. Add 1 dash each of orange bitters and Angostura. Stir until well-chilled. Strain into a rocks glass over ice. Garnish with a big twist each of orange and lemon peel, twisting both over the surface of the drink to spray their citrus oils all over. And add a cinnamon stick in there, too.
Intermediate: Cinnamon Tequila
While most of us think of tequila in lighter, fruitier drinks of the margarita persuasion, darker tequilas—like an aged reposado—take on spiced flavors quite well, as in this stirred tequila-vermouth-cinnamon drink.
Instructions: In a mixing glass with ice, combine 2 ounces of reposado tequila, 1/2 ounce of sweet vermouth, 1/2 ounce cinnamon-demerara syrup and 2 dashes of Angostura bitters. Stir together until well-chilled, then strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a cinnamon stick and a lime peel, twisting the peel over the top to spray its oils on the surface.
Advanced: Cinna-Scotch Sour
We like how the cinnamon and Scotch play together in this super-refreshing drink.
Instructions: In a cocktail shaker with ice, combine 2 ounces Scotch, 1 ounce of freshly squeezed lemon juice and 1 ounce of cinnamon-demerara syrup. Dash in some Angostura bitters. Shake that all up and strain into a rocks glass with fresh ice. Garnish with a cinnamon stick.