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Simple syrups are, well, easy to make. So why opt for a pre-made syrup? “I am a big fan of flavored syrups,” says Nick Jansen, the general manager of Ani Ramen House. “I find they can bring a lot to a cocktail and take the flavor profiles to the next level.”
While many bartenders prefer to make their own syrups, Jensen finds “there’s often a level of difficulty to making unique syrups, plus there are the consistency problems that come with making your own syrups. Don’t be afraid to try out pre-made syrups, there are several pretty good ones out there!”
Best Overall: BG Reynolds Orgeat
Ariana Vitale, the beverage director at Abigail Hall in Portland, reaches for locally-loved BG Reynolds syrups. “He’s a pioneer in the tiki realm, and his orgeat is a go-to for Mai Tais!” To no surprise—founder Blair Reynolds is the man behind west coast tiki destination Hale Pele.
Tiki drinks are intrinsically difficult, so reduce the complexity of a tropical drink by swapping in a pre-made orgeat for a homemade one. The orgeat is carefully made with nothing but almonds and cane sugar. (Note, they skip the floral water if that’s important to you!) Try it in a Mai Tai, Fog Cutter, or Scorpion, though the brand also recommends drizzling it on waffles or pancakes.
Best Widely Available: Monin Lychee Syrup
“While typically I do like to make my own syrups so I can adjust the sweetness or targeted flavor, I think Monin also has a quality line of syrups,” says Justin Rankin, the lead bartender of The Katharine Brasserie & Bar in North Carolina. “They offer a wide variety of flavors—everything from coffee to rose to vanilla—that can help in a pinch.”
He particularly notes that “floral and fruity syrups can be easier to make at home—you just add fruit or petals to a basic sugar and water mixture. That’s why Monin has specialized flavors Cotton Candy, White Chocolate and Toasted Marshmallow—complex syrups to make and super fun to play around with for special occasions and the holidays.”
Good to Know: “These syrups can come across as sweet so just play with your measurements when mixing cocktails at home,” says Rankin. “Start with a little less as you can always add more if you want.”
“If we are in a bar setting and need both a consistent product but one that is cost-effective and simple to use and store, I tend to go to Monin. (They are) consistent in flavor and have over 100 flavors ranging from the simple mint to more artisanal flavors.” — Steven Huddleston, owner of Grain Consulting Co. and beverage manager of Grand Bohemian Hotel in Charlotte, NC
Best for Old Fashioneds: Small Hand Syrups Pineapple Gomme
“The Small Hands Syrups are delicious and consistent,” says Vitale.
The syrup is made with a mixture of organic cane sugar, pineapple, and gum arabic to give a rich texture to a drink. The addition of gomme syrup adds as an emulsifier and provides extra mouthfeel in a cocktail—in classic cocktail recipes, gomme syrup was used far more frequently than traditional simple.
“I often rely on their pineapple gomme for a range of cocktails, specifically, in both normal and non-alc Old Fashioneds,” Vitale continues. “I use the pineapple gomme in place of sugar, and for a non-alcoholic version I use verjus and rosewater to replace the spirit and bitters.”
Related: The Best Bitters
Most Versatile: Giffard Aperitif Syrup
Argenis Calderon, bartender at Alma Cocina Latina in Baltimore, finds her favorite pre-made syrup is Giffard Aperitif. “It's actually the only pre-made syrup that I buy aside from dark agave syrup, but even that I dilute with water.”
The syrup replicates the citrus and bitter notes of aperitivos (think Campari, Aperol, and the like) but without the alcohol. Sub it into non-alcoholic drinks or use it as a bittering agent in low-ABV cocktails.
“It's wonderful because you can use it in regular cocktails and non-alcoholic cocktails as well. You can simply add it to soda water with fruit to have a N/A spritzer. On the other hand, substituting it for your normal syrup in a regular cocktail will help if you want some bitterness and don't want your drink to be overly sweet but still have the sugar content needed for a balanced drink.”
Best Orgeat: Small Hands Food Orgeat Syrup
“Creating homemade syrups isn’t that difficult, but sometimes researching the right ingredient and the best way to work with it, can be expensive and time-consuming,” says Valentino Longo, the founder of Shōshin Art Club and head bartender at the Four Seasons in Surfside, FL. “That said, I prefer using small producers who use the best quality ingredients to make their product. Sometimes they even taste better than mine, ha!”
“There are two syrups that I really can’t live without. The first is Bitterscubes Bergamot Tonic Syrup and the other is the almond syrup/orgeat from Small Hand Foods. They’re using only natural ingredients such as California almonds, apricot kernels, organic cane sugar, and barley instead of milk. We use it at the bar for a twist on a classic Sbagliato adding a bar spoon of almond syrup, dash of Brancamenta, bitter Campari, sweet vermouth and Prosecco.” Inspired by French almond syrups and Mexican horchata, the brand adds a splash of apricot kernels and California brandy to add depth.
Related: The Best Cocktail Mixers
Best Fruit: Liber & Co Passion Fruit
“I don't use pre-made cocktail syrups too often but have had great results with the Liber & Co products out of Austin, Texas,” describes Charles Bement, the beverage director at The Bristol in Chicago.
“They produce a nice range of standard cocktailing basics like grenadine, demerara, and ginger syrups. But they shine with their creative ventures in making Fig, Passion Fruit, and a Blood Orange Cordial. Many of these are simple additions to make 2-step cocktails or can be used in combination with fresh juices, fruit liqueurs, and even combining their other products together for delicious cocktails that don't require the time, knowledge, or sourcing of materials to make some of these syrups.”
This passion fruit syrup is made from Peruvian passion fruit and pure cane sugar to add lush notes to a Hurricane.
Best Ginger Syrup: Pratt Standard Ginger Syrup
“Buying pre-made syrup is tricky and frustrating.” says Jennifer Sabatino, the manager at Manatawny Still Works. “Oftentimes they don’t have the flavor profiles that I’m looking for, are sickeningly sweet and it’s easier just to make it myself. The one exception to the rule that I have found is Pratt Standard ginger syrup. It’s better than anything I’ve ever made. Super spicy ginger flavors and not overpoweringly sweet.”
The syrup is made by peeling and juicing fresh ginger root to give that signature ginger spice to cocktails. The syrup is highly concentrated, so expect bold flavors—a little will go a long way. Mix it with seltzer to make a DIY ginger beer or pour a splash in a Penicillin or a Mule.
If you don’t want to go through the rigamarole of making an orgeat, BG Reynolds Orgeat (view at Amazon) makes an excellent tiki-bar-approved option. To add mouthfeel and richness to both tropical and classic cocktails, try Small Hand Syrups Pineapple Gomme (view at TotalWine).
What to Look For
Often, cocktail syrups can taste cloyingly sweet. Look for brands that sweeten naturally with cane sugar or agave syrup—even a splash of this will go a long way!
On that note, avoid syrups packed with artificial ingredients or flavorings. Since syrups are so concentrated in flavor, you want every note to be as fresh as possible. Also, the best cocktail syrups are ones you cannot make at home, so look for more complex recipes and unusual, hard-to-source flavors.
What are you using your cocktail syrup for? Do your drinks lean tiki? Perhaps a passionfruit or an orgeat syrup is a great idea. If you tend more towards traditional cocktails, try an agave syrup or a ginger syrup that plays well with classic flavors.
What exactly is simple syrup?
Simple syrup is equal parts sugar, equal parts water, cooked together to create a sweet syrup. Once you have mastered this recipe, you can add different herbs, spices, and flavors.
What's the shelf life after opened?
This will vary depending on the brand, but some syrups will last for weeks while others will last for months.
Do you need to refrigerate cocktail syrups?
Yes! Keep them at a stable temperature out of direct sunlight.
Can you use in other food/drinks besides cocktails?
Depending on the flavor profile, yes! Orgeat goes well with desserts, and fruit syrups add flavor to both sweet and savory options.
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Kate Dingwall is a wine and spirits writer and a WSET-trained sommelier at one of Canada’s top restaurants. She has spent six years writing about the field and 10 years working as a bartender slash sommelier.
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