Make Cocktail Syrups with Whatever’s In Your Spice Cabinet
Got a cinnamon stick, a couple of cloves, or a vanilla bean? Let's make some drinks.
When you see a cocktail recipe that calls for a homemade syrup, it may sound a little intimidating. But here’s a bartender secret: Many cocktail syrups are really simple. As simple as making a cup of tea.
Do you have a cinnamon stick, or a couple of cloves, or a vanilla bean in your cabinets? Let’s make cocktails with ‘em. No grinding, or blending, or even chopping; just cover spices in hot water, let sit, stir in sugar, and let sit some more. That’s it.
And spiced syrups are good for more than just cocktails. Pour clove syrup over vanilla ice cream. Stir vanilla syrup into your coffee to sweeten it up. Drizzle cinnamon syrup over fresh fruit… the uses are endless.
Put in five minutes of work today, and you’ll be ready for cocktail hour tomorrow.
The method: Heat a kettle (or microwave water in a heat-safe cup) until near a boil. Add half a split-open vanilla bean, or three 3-inch cinnamon sticks, or 12 cloves to a sealable container. Pour four ounces of hot water over the spices. Let steep for 20 minutes. Stir in ½ cup of white sugar until fully dissolved. (You can also try Sugar in the Raw, or honey.) Cover and let sit at least 8 hours, or overnight. Strain spices out before using.
With Cinnamon, Clove, or Vanilla: Spiced Old Fashioned
A standard Old Fashioned is an unimpeachable drink. But when you swap out simple syrup for one of these spiced versions, you’re adding even more flavor and nuance.
Any syrup will work. For vanilla, you’ll want something smooth and rich like a bourbon, or a good dark rum or Cognac, so you don’t overwhelm the delicate flavor. Cinnamon and clove can take bourbon, too, but can also go with something bolder like a rye.
Instructions: In a mixing glass with ice, combine two ounces of spirit, half an ounce spiced syrup, and a dash of Angostura bitters, if you have ‘em. Stir until very well-chilled, then strain into a rocks glass with fresh ice. Garnish with a thick twist of orange.
With Vanilla: Strawberry Shortcake
As anyone with a sweet tooth knows, fruit and vanilla are irresistible together. Here, strawberries and vanilla syrup are a perfect pair. (If you have raspberries around, they’d work well, too.) Add vodka to booze it up, and soda to pull it together, and you’ve got a refreshing drink with a measured, natural sweetness. Mint garnish is optional, but pretty, right?
Instructions: In the bottom of a cocktail shaker, muddle 3-5 de-stemmed strawberries. Add an ounce and a half of vodka, and 3/4 ounce of vanilla syrup. Shake until very well-chilled, then double-strain into a tall glass with fresh ice. Top with an ounce and a half of club soda. Squeeze in a lemon wedge and give a quick stir. Garnish with mint, if you have it, and half a strawberry.
With Cinnamon or Clove: Tiki At Home
If you want something a little tropical, dare we say, escapist—and who could blame you—try out this rum drink, inspired by the grapefruit-cinnamon “Donn’s Mix” that’s a staple of classic tiki drinks. This stripped-down cocktail just needs citrus and rum, and one of your spiced syrups; cinnamon is our favorite, but clove is delicious, too.
Instructions: In a cocktail shaker with ice, combine two ounces of dark rum, ¾ ounce of grapefruit juice, ¼ ounce lime juice, and ¾ ounce spiced syrup. Shake until well-chilled, then strain into a cocktail glass with fresh ice (crushed ice if you want). Dash on some Angostura bitters, if you have them. Garnish with a grapefruit half-moon and a cinnamon stick.