Want to spend less time pushing a cart with a defective wheel in wobbly lines under supermarket fluorescent lighting? It’s simple: Just avoid the store’s “mixers” aisle.
This is the section housing the cocktail onions, maraschino cherries, grenadine, artificially colored sugar rimmers and various brands of Bloody Mary, Sour, Mojito, Long Island Iced Tea, Margarita and Collins mixes. The problem with this section of the adult beverage aisle is that everything lacks alcohol. They are overpriced gimmicks, concoctions of flavored sugar water bottled for amateur bartenders and uninformed home mixologists. Almost everything found in the mixers aisle can be made with little effort at a fraction of the price of commercial mixers.
As I have preached in previous articles, prohibition is over. We don’t need to mask bathtub gin and Appalachian moonshine with fruity sweeteners that cost more than the base alcohol itself. I understand that many people don’t enjoy the taste of straight liquor and if people didn’t order mixed drinks bartenders would lose their jobs to monkeys with bottle openers.
There is one product I will purchase from the aisle of drink-diluting rubbish: Rose’s Sweetened Lime Juice. My go-to bar order is a double gin and tonic with a generous splash of Rose’s Lime, basically a Gimlet with a splash of tonic water. Even if I’m out of milk, bread or any of the other foodstuffs people are supposed to have, I will always have a bottle of Rose’s Sweetened Lime Juice.
In accordance with the Merchant Shipping Act of 1867, it was mandatory for ocean going ships to carry rations of lime juice, a well-known scurvy preventative. Recognizing the increasing demand for lime juice, Laughlin Rose bottled a more palatable sweetened variety, branding the world’s first lime juice drink cordial mixer. Rose’s Sweetened Lime Juice became so popular Rose’s company established lime plantations in Dominica and the Gold Coast. www.rosesmixers.com
Today, Hans Just A/S of Denmark www.hansjust.dk in conjunction with Schweppes International Limited have extended the Rose’s brand beyond the traditional Lime Cordial Mixer to include Grenadine, Lemon, Apricot, Mojito, Blue Curacao, Blueberry, Strawberry, Coconut, Banana, Triple Sec and Sugar Cane. www.shake-it.dk
While I still respect and use the original Rose’s Lime Juice, it is not necessary to buy bottled simple syrups when you can make your own at a fraction of the price.
Simple syrup = 1 part water + 1 part sweetening agent (usually sugar)
All you need to do is boil water in a saucepan until the sugars dissolve and immediately remove from heat. If it cooks too long the syrup will get too thick to use in cocktails. Funnel the syrup into a container with a lid (I reuse cleaned condiment or water bottles with pop-top spouts to prevent spills and aid measured pours) and refrigerate. Properly sealed and refrigerated, syrups will keep about 5 months.
Flavored Simple Syrups
The easiest and cheapest way to flavor your simple syrup is with an extract. A simple vanilla syrup made with 1 cup water and 1 cup sugar needs 1-2 teaspoons of vanilla extract (depending on how strong you want the vanilla flavor). If you prefer the more expensive and flavorful vanilla bean, steep the vanilla for about 20 minutes, before removing the pod and cooling the syrup (the bean has so much flavor you can use the pod itself and save the seeds for something else.
You can also steep any combination of ingredients you like: tea bags, herbs (like mint, basil, and rosemary), flowers (lavender, honeysuckle), fruits (any kind, fresh, dried, sliced, or zest from citrus rinds) vegetables (sliced cucumber, jalapenos, garlic), and spices (saffron threads, star anise, cinnamon, cloves). Set aside until cooled, transfer to an airtight jar and refrigerate overnight. Use a fine mesh strainer, chamois, cheesecloth, or a coffee filter to discard any solids and return the liquid to the cleaned bottle.
Try experimenting, use honey, brown sugar or an artificial sweetener (for diabetics and those concerned with calories) as the sweetening agent.
Some successful simple syrup flavor combinations I’ve tried include: Ginger, Green Tea, Apricot-Cilantro, Habanero, Black Tea, Lavender-Pear, Honeysuckle, Spiced Gingerbread, and Cinnamon-Coffee.
A few tips: It takes longer to extract flavors from dense products like coffee beans or cocoa nibs. While extract-based syrups are ready to use immediately after the cooling process, flavoring agents like pomegranate seeds, peppers or garlic take longer to infuse without slicing or crushing them first.
By making your own syrups you never have to buy flavored vodka again!
Here are some of my cocktail recipes involving homemade simple syrups
Sparkling Asian Pear
2 oz. vodka or gin
¼ oz. ginger simple syrup
¼ oz. pear syrup*
In a cocktail strainer muddle with green apples, bruised mint and ice
Strain into fluted glass lined with diced pears, float champagne
*the liquid from canned pears is already pear flavored syrup
2 oz. vodka
¼ oz. peach schnapps
¼ oz pomegranate simple syrup
4-5 dashes angostura bitters
Add Mountain Dew (or Diet Mountain Dew) and macerated strawberry juice
Serve over ice/sliced strawberries in Collins glass
As always feel free to tweak my recipes to your personal tastes! Making your own simple syrups does take some experimenting but the flavor combinations you come up with will please the palate and impress your friends!