The Home Bartender: Syrups

It’s The Home Bartender time! This series caters to those of you who are not necessarily working bartenders but who are really interested in drinking better cocktails and learning how to make them! Each month our Home Bartender expert, Matej Novak, will run you through a new topic. This month, he discusses syrups.

Cocktails are about balance. We’ve already covered the bitter and the sour. Now it’s time for the sweet. You can sweeten a drink with just about anything sweet. In some cases that may be a liqueur, powdered sugar or even a sugar cube, but usually you’ll be using a syrup. Here are the ones you need to know:
  • Simple syrup: The classic cocktail sweetener, this is made from one part sugar and one part water (either by weight or by volume, though I prefer the latter). You’ll get the sugar to dissolve in cold or room temperature water with enough stirring and shaking, but it’s a lot easier to heat both in a small saucepan until the sugar dissolves. You can make this with just about any kind of sugar, but white is the standard.
  • Rich simple syrup: I don’t want to tell you what to do, but if you’re sitting at a bar and the bartender introduces himself as Rich Simple, it may be time to find a new bar. As an ingredient, it’s the same as above, only made with two parts sugar and one part water. You’ll definitely need heat to make this and it adds a really nice texture to drinks (just don’t forget to add half as much).
  • Honey syrup: Now we’re getting into syrups that add a bit flavour along with sweetening your drinks. I make my honey syrup in a ratio of 1:1 with water, but you may see recipes that call for different mixtures.
  • Agave syrup: This is a great option for tequila or mescal based drinks as it’s made from the same plant as those spirits. You can find both agave syrup and agave nectar with varying levels of sweetness and thickness, so you may need to play around a little to find the right balance.
  • Maple syrup: You probably already have this at home, so why not try it in a drink? A maple old fashioned is a good place to start, but go easy on the syrup. A little (like a barspoon or teaspoon) goes a long way.
  • Cordials: These syrups are made from combining the juice and peels of citrus fruit with sugar (and then straining out the peels before use). Lime cordial is the most common, but any citrus fruit will do. The great thing is that all you need to do is add a spirit and you have a cocktail.
  • Flavoured syrups: The easiest way to make a flavoured syrup is to add something like an herb to simple syrup while you’re heating it (lavender, rosemary, etc.), but there’s really no limit to what you can do. Think about flavours you like or those already present in other ingredients in the drink and go from there.


If you’re new to making cocktails at home, definitely look up and learn the classic recipes and ratios. But once you’ve done that, it’s time to play around and explore and syrups are a great, relatively easy way to do that. Watch the video to learn more about making, storing and using syrups in your drinks at home.

Matej Novak
Matej is a writer and cocktail enthusiast living in Kingston, Ontario. He’s annoyed bartenders with endless questions in cities including Toronto, New York, San Francisco, Portland, Prague, London and Tokyo. He’s also amassed more cocktail tools and accoutrements than with which he knows what to do (told you he’s a writer). Don’t be like Matej. Learn from his mistakes — and his successes — instead.
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