Liquor Nerd: The big secret about simple syrup is that it doesn’t have to be simple

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      Welcome back, fellow Liquor Nerds. It’s been another seven long days in lockdown, but let’s all agree that the idea of happy hour kicking off at 5 p.m. sharp has been pretty sweet.

      Not long ago, you had to put in some serious work before it was cocktail time at home. Remember the snail’s-pace car commute from downtown Vancouver to the depths of Surrey? Or wondering how the hell you were going to get your tired ass up Adanac Street while cycling home from Railtown to North Burnaby?

      These days, thanks to COVID-19, you only have to walk from the kitchen table to the liquor cupboard at 5:01 p.m., and the bar is officially open.

      Let’s start this week’s Liquor Nerd off with a quick recap. Last week, we talked about how you can make a whole raft of cocktails­—Whiskey Sours, Gimlets, Lemon Drop martinis—with three basic ingredients: liquor (of course), fresh lemon or lime juice (no ReaLemon or ReaLime!), and simple syrup (which more than lives up to its name).

      Today, let’s take things a little further down the simple-syrup road.

      As noted last week, simple syrup is idiotically simple to make: you put equal amounts of sugar and water in a saucepan, boil them until you have a clear liquid, and store that in the fridge once it’s cooled.

      But here’s the great thing about simple syrup: it doesn’t have to be simple. In fact, it’s limited only by your imagination.

      Remember how, back in the day (a.k.a. February), cocktail menus were designed to make expensive drinks sound more complicated than they were? Think fanciful, hifalutin’ terms like “housemade Earl Grey simple syrup”.

      You know how to get your hands on that strain of simple syrup? You can drop $15 on an eight-ounce bottle of Porter’s Organic Earl Grey syrup at Or you can make a pot of Earl Grey tea, mix one cup of it with one cup of sugar, boil it, and you’re done. Now you’ve got something that’ll give your next French 75 a decidedly English spin.

      And don’t stop with tea.

      Boil five or six sprigs of fresh thyme or rosemary in a cup-and-a-half of water, steep for a half-hour, and then mix the strained water with an equal amount of sugar—and you’ve got a botanical syrup that will keep for weeks in the fridge.

      Use the same steps with two tablespoons of dried lavender, three cinnamon sticks, a handful of dried sour cherries or two dozen whole cranberries, always making the tea to your taste. Some like a stronger flavour, other prefer a more subtle touch.

      And then, the next time you’ve got a recipe that calls for simple syrup, get creative by reaching for one of these easy-as-boiling-water creations.

      Here’s a cocktail guaranteed to impress your guests as you continue to build your home-bar program while waiting for the world to return to normal.

      Because credit needs to be given where it is totally due, this comes from the great mixologist Danielle Tatarin and the amazing Keefer Bar.


      1 3/4 oz gin
      3/4 oz fresh lime juice
      3/4 oz rosemary syrup

      Pour into a cocktail shaker half-filled with crushed ice. Shake well and pour into an old-fashioned glass. Garnish with a sprig of rosemary if you are feeling extra fancy.

      Mike Usinger is not a professional bartender. He does, however, spend most of his waking hours sitting on barstools.