I tend to be on seasonal quests for unbeatable mixed drinks, looking for, say, the bar that makes its own tonic for G&Ts or the bartender who concocts the perfect old-fashioned. Several years ago, it was mojitos, and a local bartender mixed my hands-down favorite: heavy on the mint, light on the sweet, with the perfect touch of lime. Mint grows like a weed in my garden, but my homemade mojitos didn’t show it. So I had to ask: What was her secret? She gave a simple answer: simple syrup.
I didn’t know it, but I’d been making simple syrup for years—to feed hummingbirds. The first time I dropped some mint leaves into the batch, I found a new kitchen staple. Simple syrups are as easy as they sound, and they can sweeten everything from beverages, with or without alcohol, to desserts. And since it’s Twice as Tasty’s birthday month, and what better way to celebrate than with cocktails?
Mint Simple Syrup
1 cup water
1 cup fresh mint leaves
In a small saucepan, combine the sugar and water. Bring the mixture just to a simmer over medium heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Remove the pan from the heat, and add the packed cup of mint leaves. Stir the leaves with a wooden spoon, pressing them against the side of the pan, until they sink into the syrup. Cover the pan with a lid and let the mint steep for at least 30 minutes.
Remove the mint leaves from the syrup, squeezing them over the pan to capture as much liquid as possible. Place a funnel in a jar or bottle. Set or hold a small mesh strainer or cheesecloth over the funnel, and then pour the syrup through it into the bottle to remove any remaining leaves. Use immediately in a cocktail (see below), or screw on the lid and store in the refrigerator; the syrup will keep a month or more. Makes about 8 ounces.
Tips & Tricks
- Simple syrups can be made with just water and sweetener or a seemingly endless list of herbs, spices, flowers, and fruits. Besides stirring them into cocktails, iced tea, or sparkling water, you can pour them over Sourdough Waffles, mix them into granola, or drizzle them on fresh fruit.
- I usually use whatever sweetener I have at hand to make simple syrups: turbinado, demerara, white granulated sugar, agave, and honey are all options. Finely ground and liquid sweeteners can be shaken with warm water to make syrup, but if you’re steeping other flavors, it’s best to bring a bit more heat.
- The real beauty of simple syrups is their adaptability to your personal tastes. I like very minty, slightly tart mojitos (see below), so I pile leaves into my blend. If you have a sweet tooth, use less mint and more sugar.
- Many simple syrup recipes use a 1:1 ratio of sugar and water by volume, giving a thicker syrup with a potentially longer shelf life. I prefer this slightly lighter syrup; if you need to refrigerate it more than a month, stir in an ounce of vodka.
- Mint grows well in my garden; I’ve tried many varieties, but my favorite is black peppermint (Mentha x piperita vulgaris). As food and travel writer Max Falkowitz once wrote, it “can turn a plain-Jane cold treat into a ‘holy alpine aromas, Batman!’ sort of experience.” You can use any of the hundreds of mint varieties for simple syrup, but as with Moroccan-Inspired Mint Tea, fresh is best.
Twice as Tasty
Cocktail mixes are curses and blessings. You can buy a shortcut to your favorite beverage, but most feature corn syrup, an array of additives and preservatives, an inordinate price tag, and a cloying sweetness. No one wants to ruin expensive or even midlevel liquor with a poor mix. Fortunately, homemade mixes are different: easy to make, few ingredients, cheap, and delicious.
A mojito is an ideal starting point for your mixing adventures. A simple syrup replaces the gritty sugar that can collect at the bottom of the glass. It also makes it easy to skip the cocktail shaker and fake the muddling; simple “spank” the additional mint leaves and stir well. A collins or highball glass is traditional, but pint glasses are the multiuse standard in my tiny kitchen—and give room to add more club soda, ice, or rum to suit each drinker’s taste.
1/2 ounce Mint Simple Syrup
1/2 ounce lime juice
cubed or crushed ice
2 ounces rum
2 ounces club soda, or to taste
mint sprig and lime slice for garnish (optional)
Muddle or spank the mint leaves. To muddle, add the leaves to a heavy 10-ounce or larger glass and press the muddler gently down on the leaves several times, twisting slightly with each press. To spank, place one leaf in your palm, clap your hands once sharply, and drop the leaf into the glass, repeating the process with each additional leaf.
Pour in the mint syrup and lime juice and stir to combine. Half-fill the glass with cubed or crushed ice, and then pour in the rum and club soda. Stir well, mixing until the flavors at the bottom of the glass are evenly distributed. Garnish with a sprig of mint and slice of lime, if desired. Serves 1.
Tips & Tricks
- Mint-flavored simple syrup can be so powerful that even the mint in the bottom of the glass is more for looks than for taste. Your nose will appreciate the fresh leaves as much as your eyes.
- The refreshing flavor of mojitos comes more from the mint and lime than the rum, making it easy to just leave the alcohol out. To make a boozier blend, swap sparkling wine for the club soda. For other variations, muddle in a couple of slices of fresh fruit, such as strawberries or peaches.
- I love cucumber mojitos: Peel and then grate a cucumber, mix the gratings with a little salt, and then squeeze out the juice and add it to taste to the glass. Mix the remaining gratings into Tzatziki.
- Once you start making your own mixers and sodas, you’ll quickly want to start making your own fizzy water on demand. The club soda variation is simple: just add 1/16 teaspoon or less of baking soda to the bottle before applying the CO2.
- I prefer to mix one drink at a time, particularly when working with homemade ingredients: The intensity of their flavors often means adjusting the balance for each drinker. For a party, it’s easy to line up the glasses and keep pouring. Or multiply the recipe by the number of guests (or pours) if you’d rather mix a pitcher and then pour over fresh ice.
Want to play with more variations? Join me for a Twice as Tasty cocktail workshop—held in your own kitchen, among friends, with my personal help. Click here to learn more.
Tried & True
These tools and supplies may help you make the recipes in this post:
- Whether at home or traveling, I love this soda maker. It lets me reuse plastic bottles and attaches to a refillable CO2 canister. I’ve had the original model for years but would definitely upgrade to the shiny new version.
- I inherited old-fashioned glass muddlers and stirring sticks from my grandfather, a great cocktail mixer in his day. But other kitchen tools you already have will do in a pinch: invert a thick-handled wooden utensil or use a pestle to muddle, and grab a chopstick or thrift-store iced tea spoon to stir. If you want to expand your bar tool collection, choose a muddler without varnish or teeth, like this one.
- The Herbfarm Cookbook by Jerry Traunfeld lists some fabulous ideas for other simple syrup flavors. When I’m looking for new cocktails that use simple syrups, I reach for the Darlington siblings’ The New Cocktail Hour.
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