“In America, first you get the sugar. Then you get the money. Then you get the power. Then, you get the women.”
Yes, that’s a Simpsons quote, but it’s just about the only one we can think of when it comes to sugar (and hey, it’s a damn fine quote).
We’ve all heard that sugar is to bartenders what salt is to chefs, right? But how much do you really know about the sweet stuff?
It is a flavour enhancer, much like salt. Many a bartender has had that moment when a drink made up on the fly just tastes a little off; well grab that gomme and get a little of it in your drink, because it will smooth out the edges a little bit.
45ml Bowmore 12 Year Old
15ml Green Chartreuse
20ml Monin Passionfruit syrup
A handful of mint
Combine all ingredients in a shaker. Shake and strain over ice in a highball glass. Top with a splash of soda and garnish with a lemon wedge and a mint sprig.
Adapted from a recipe from Gardel’s Bar, Sydney
Champs Elysees Cocktail
45ml Martell VSOP
15ml lemon juice
15ml 1883 Cane Syrup
1 dash of Angostura Bitters
Shake all ingredients with ice and strain into a chilled coupette.
Adapted from the Savoy Cocktail Book, 1930
Know your sugar
There’s a few terms that — particularly if you’re new to the game, you’ll want to wrap your head around.
Gomme, simple syrup, sugar syrup
These are all words for the same thing. You’ll see simple syrup used a bit more in the US bartending dialect, and the French word gomme gets a run in Europe.
The clue here is in the name.
Whereas simple syrup is half sugar, and half water, 2:1 syrup is two parts sugar to every part of water. The benefit of using 2:1 is that your drink will dilute less.
You may have seen some rums referred to as Demerara rum (tiki recipes often call for it). This refers to a style of rum associated with Guyana (which used to be the Dutch colony of Demerara). But it also refers to the type of sugar this country was famous for, an unrefined style with large grains and a golden yellow colour.
Muscavado sugar is a darker style of sugar, with a richer taste more akin to molasses. Using muscavado sugar instead of regular white refined sugar means you’ll get not just a stronger flavour, but a darker syrup as well, so steer clear of it if you want your drink to be clear.
Sugar isn’t the only way to sweeten your drinks. The Romans used honey before sugar was readily available, and there’s nothing wrong with using it in place of simple syrup in your favourite recipes — it will add a different flavour to your drink, and flavour, after all, is what we’re all about.
You may however like to consider watering down your honey. Using a 2:1 or 1:1 ratio means that you’ll be able to measure and dispense the required amount of sweetner more readily — it’s a pain to be scooping honey out of jar with a spoon and into a jigger.
And don’t forget agave syrup. This is a sweetener that is low on the glycemic index, and often found in health food shops because it’s usually an organic product.
Should you make your own?
Simple syrup couldn’t be simpler. It’s one part sugar, and one part water. You can mix it cold if you’re in a hurry, but if you want to make a consistent product you’ll need to pull out the saucepans and make it on the stove. Bring the water to a simmer and slowly add the sugar, and ensure it is dissolved. But this is the thing: consistency can be difficult. This is where you may need to consider a prepared product — Monin’s Tomas Vikario agrees. “How many equivalent kilos of blood oranges are in a 700ml blood orange syrup? 14 kilos! 200 oranges, 120 minutes of time savings,” he said of his wares. You may just want to save time making your own.