How to: Make Simple Syrup

making simple syrup

Simple syrup is one of the must-have ingredients for your home bar. Liquefied sugar mixes better in cold cocktails than granulated sugar. It’s an essential ingredient in all sorts of classic drinks, like a Daiquiri, Mint Julep, or Pisco Sour.

While you can actually purchase simple syrup already made, it’s cheaper and easier to just make it yourself. It’ll take you 5 minutes and last a few weeks.

Step 1: pour 1 cup of sugar and 1/2 cup of clean water (distilled or spring) into a mixing glass.

Step 2: microwave the mixture for about 30 seconds to a minute, stirring with a fork at least once.

Step 3: stir well again once heated. Allow to cool.

Step 4: pour into a refrigerate-able container. I use these plastic squeeze bottles.

making simple syrup

Here is a great party punch recipe you can use that simple syrup in:

Pitcher of Mojitos

  • In a pitcher with a strainer lid, add:
  • 1 1/2 cup fresh lime juice
  • 50-100 mint leaves
  • muddle those two indredients in the pitcher, then add:
  • 1 1/2 cup simple syrup
  • 1 bottle white rum
  • 2 limes, sliced into thin wheels (this is just for looks)
  • 1- 1 1/2 liters mineral water. I used the big bottle of Trader Joe’s lime mineral water
  • add lots of ice. Stir.
  • Pour into glasses filled with ice. I use a straining pitcher or a big beverage dispenser to serve them.


Tennessee Dream Ice Cream


Here’s a recent conversation I had:

Mrs. Simple Cocktails: You should make homemade ice cream this summer.
Me: I want to make cinnamon. I love cinnamon ice cream.
Mrs. Simple Cocktails: Ooh! You should put pecans in it. Pecans taste good with cinnamon.
Me: You know what else tastes good with pecans and cinnamon? Whiskey.

Pretty smart, aren’t we? Here’s our recipe for homemade cinnamon-pecan-whiskey ice cream, which turned out delicious:

Tennessee Dream Ice Cream (by Greg Mays)

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 1/2 cup half and half
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3/4 oz of Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey
  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans (I used candied pecans)
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon

Directions: In a saucepan over low heat, mix sugar and half and half until liquefied, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and stir the heavy cream in. Once mixed, stir in 2 whisked eggs, vanilla, and Jack Daniel’s. Add the mixture back to the stove on low heat for a few more minutes until it’s mixed well. Remove from heat and stir in cinnamon and pecans. Allow to cool, then pour into ice cream maker and freeze according to directions.

One note that’s particularly important to the readers of this blog: while you may be tempted to double….triple….the Jack Daniel’s in your ice cream, remember that liquor won’t freeze. I know 3/4 oz doesn’t seem like enough JD, but it’s just enough to flavor it and keep the ice cream a tad soft.

Sebor Absinth

sebor absinthe

A friend recently gave me a bottle he bought abroad of Sebor Absinth, which is a Czech version of the green fairy. From what I can tell, Sebor is not available in the U.S., though it can be ordered at The Spirit Cellar for £31.95.

Absinthe is a love-it-or-hate-it kind of drink, and some are enamored with with licorice bite while others detest it. I’m no aficanado, but I found Sebor to taste just fine, plus the slightly lower alcohol (55% vs some absinthe which tops 70%) means you can just serve it on the rocks if you like, or use it as a cocktail ingredient without usual risk of it dominating the whole drink.

I wanted to create a summer absinthe sipper with Sebor, much like the Death in The Afternoon cocktail, Ernest Hemingway’s absinthe/champagne coma recipe. The absinthe and a sweet, citrusy white vermouth are a good combination:

Wisp of Evil (by Greg Mays)

  • in a glass full of ice, add:
  • 1 1/2 oz absinthe
  • 1 1/2 oz Vya Whisper Dry vermouth (Lillet Blanc would also be a good choice)
  • 3 oz club soda
  • no garnish, serve with a sip straw


Moonshine Cherries

ole smoky moonshine cherries and white lightnin

Ole Smoky distillery, on top of their line of moonshines and moonshine liqueurs, sells a mason jar of pitted cherries that are properly drowned in high-proof moonshine. The cherries make a nice cocktail garnish and the liquid they’re in a tasty, strong, non-sweetened “cherry moonshine.”

There are two types of Ole Smoky moonshine: White Lightnin’ and Moonshine, the first is more of a neutral-flavored drink (like vodka) and the second is a traditional corn liquor. Here’s a simple cocktail recipe with White Lightnin’ and Cherry Moonshine:

Oh Cherry

  • 1 1/2 oz White Lightnin’ moonshine
  • 1/2 oz Cherry Moonshine (the juice from the jar)
  • 2 tsp simple syrup
  • stir with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass
  • cherry garnish (duh)

Custom Party Drinks

party bar with garnishes

Recently I bartended a graduation party for some friends and I wanted to create some special cocktails for the event. I have very limited professional bartending experience (I’ve never bartended outside of my house or at parties). Here are some things I learned when you’re creating custom drinks for parties:

1. Keep the recipes simple (see below for the recipes I chose). If you have to explain the list of ingredients to people over and over, the line at the bar will back up. Occasionally Mrs. Simple Cocktails jumped in to help me, too, and I didn’t want to annoy her with complicated recipes. All four drinks I made only had 2 ingredients to pour together.

2. Lean towards sweet in your recipe ingredients. This was a summer party with a pretty even divide of men and women, and three of my four drinks were either fruity or sweet.

3. Garnishes are important. Nice-looking fruit or citrus really makes cocktails extra special. Also, pre-cut all of your garnishes.

4. Don’t get too creative. I named these drinks after professors at their school, which they loved, but the cocktails didn’t have any unusual or unfamiliar ingredients.

5. Watch the alcohol content. Try to keep the percent of alcohol down near wine or beer levels. That allows the guests to try multiple cocktails and enjoy their night without being three sheets to the wind.

party cocktails

Here are the recipes, pictured above from left to right:

Clem Club

This is a renamed Gentleman’s Club cocktail. I pre-mixed the liquor so I could make the cocktails quickly.

  • in an empty liquor or wine bottle, mix 1 cup gin, 1 cup brandy, and 1 cup sweet vermouth
  • pour 2 oz of the mixture in a cup full of ice
  • top with soda water (about 1 oz)
  • garnish with a cherry

Holcomb & Tonic

A simple vodka tonic.

  • pour 1 1/2 oz of vodka (I used Smirnoff Blue Label) in a cup full of ice
  • top with tonic water
  • garnish with a lime slice

Blackberry Bruskas

This was a favorite. This was a pre-mixed punch in a pitcher, ready to pour.

  • in a pitcher full of ice, add:
  • 1/2 jar (about 13 oz) of Ole Smoky Blackberry Moonshine
  • 3/4 carton of Newman’s Own Organic Virgin Lemonade
  • fill cups with ice and 3 fresh blackberries before pouring

Driscoll Bay

The most popular by far, a very simple take on a Piña Colada.

  • in a cup full of ice, add:
  • 1 1/2 oz rum (I used Bacardi Gold)
  • top with Trader Joe’s Tropical Carrot Juice
  • garnish with an orange slice


Credit for both photos: Latisha Lyn Photography.

Uncle Alex Cocktail

uncle alex cocktail

This is a rum cocktail for those who like their drinks on the sweeter side, and the crushed ice means you can serve it really cold in the summer. It’s a little bit like a Daiquiri with grenadine in the place of simple syrup.

Uncle Alex (by Greg Mays)

  • 1 1/2 oz white rum
  • 1/2 oz grenadine
  • 1/4 oz lime juice
  • serve over crushed ice with a straw
  • garnish with cherries


Win a Karlsson’s Prize Pack!

karlsson's vodka prize pack

Simple Cocktails sponsor Karlsson’s Gold Vodka is giving away some great swag to one reader. To win this prize pack, simply comment below this post and tell us your favorite way to drink Karlsson’s. Here are some ideas if you need them:

Black Gold

Karlsson’s Bloody Mary

The Karlsson’s prize pack includes:

  • 2 Karlsson’s golden potato cocktail stirrers
  • 2 Karlsson’s black pepper ginders
  • 1 Karlsson’s oyster shucker
  • 1 limited-edition bronzed Karlsson’s bottle top in presentation case

Prize pack will be given away to 1 person who posts a comment below. Contest only open to U.S. residents (sorry). Winner will be chosen on July 15, 2013.

UPDATE 7/15/13: a representative from Karlsson’s contacted me the day this posting went live to tell me about Anchor Distilling acquiring Karlsson’s and taking over distribution, marketing, etc. for the vodka as of July 1. Since Karlsson’s was the company who was going to send out the prize pack for this giveaway, that has also been turned over to Anchor as well.

Both Karlsson’s and I have made multiple attempts to contact Anchor Distilling to ask about continuing with the giveaway on this post and their sponsorship of Simple Cocktails, and Anchor Distilling has remained non-responsive to both emails and calls. I’m sorry, guys, I have to pull the plug on the giveaway since I can no longer find a representative of the brand who has access to this swag. I’ll close the comments and email each entrant this info, and hope to have another contest on the blog soon. Thanks for understanding!

Phraya Rum

phraya rum

Phraya is an aged rum from Thailand that’s packaged in a eye-catching golden bottle. Pronounced with a silent h, Phraya Deep Matured Gold Rum is a blend of Thai rums that are aged from 7 to 12 years.

At $40, Phraya falls at an inbetween price point, not cheap and not so expensive that I’d call it “luxury.” This rum is certainly smooth, though, because at 80% ABV, it’s on the lower spectrum of alcohol strength. When you smell it in a glass, you don’t smell any alcohol at all, just almond and brown sugar. Phraya finishes in a really pleasing way that I’d describe as sweet, though not sticky, syrupy, or overwhelming.

Two things hit me as I drank my first glass of Phraya:

  1. The ice I that I initially added (see photo) was a mistake. This rum is smooth and flavorful, and it’s really best served neat (no ice).
  2. I wanted a cigar to smoke as I drank it…badly.

I called up Thompson Cigar and they graciously sent me a Flor de las Antillas, which Cigar Aficionado gave 2012’s cigar of the year. This rich and earthy cigar was a great fit with Phraya, which is flaky-pastry-sweet. Since I got this bottle of Phraya, I’ve taken it out in the backyard with me every time I smoke – I’ve found it the perfect cigar companion and very easy to drink on a hot summer evening.


Ignore the Experts

serving a drink

Sometimes you just have to ignore the experts.

Part of a booze writer’s job as an “expert” is to teach you things about liquor and drinking. I’ve written posts about how to serve absinthe, how to make an Old Fashioned, or how to make a Martini at this very blog. Here’s a sampling of what you will hear us say from time to time:

  • Never put ice in scotch.
  • A Martini is made with gin. If you make the drink with vodka, it’s called a Kangaroo. And don’t shake a martini either.
  • Never muddle fruit in an Old Fashioned.
  • Make sure you buy tequila that’s distilled from 100% Weber Blue Agave.
  • Flavored vodkas are the scum of the earth and we’d all be better off if we could purge them.

I’m writing this post to tell you that just because we might have more booze wisdom than your everyday drinker, we do not have the right to tell you that if you’re not doing our way, you’re wrong. Just so you know, I’ve broken lots of drinking taboos in my life. I drank brandy on the rocks once. I used to regularly drink Vodka Martinis, shaken, not stirred. I make my Old Fashioneds with a splash of club soda. I even tried Fruit Loop vodka once (who wouldn’t?), though I rewrote my post on it several times because I was worried about my rep with the Cocktail Elite.

So if you have a favorite drinking practice or recipe that us “experts” disparage, ignore us and do it your way! Do you like ice in your scotch? Awesome. You think Jagermeister and Red Bull is a “cocktail?” Enjoy. How about a glass of Brown Wine (Jim Beam and Coke)? Go for it.

My girl Mrs. Simple Cocktails has a favorite “martini” recipe that calls for 2 oz vodka, 3/4 oz of olive brine (you read that right), and a splash of vermouth with 4 huge olives as a garnish. I make them for her all the time and I don’t preach at her about how she’s really drinking some sort of a Bastardized Kangaroo, not a martini, because she likes the damn things and she can call them what she likes.

So from one member of the Cocktail Elite, you should drink what you like, how you like to drink it. We may have strong opinions on booze and drinking practices, but that’s because we drink a lot of it and we’re probably cocktail history freaks, too. We may think you’re nuts for using sour mix instead of squeezing real citrus. We might think that a shaken martini is sacrilegious, but who cares? There are a plethora of bottles on the store shelves and there’s something in them for every type of drinker, even one who likes Donut Vodka (how dare you?).

Here’s my girl’s recipe again for those who dare try it:

Mrs. Simple Cocktails I-Can-Call-It-What-I-Want Martini

  • 2 oz vodka
  • 3/4 oz olive brine
  • splash of dry vermouth
  • shake on ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass
  • garnish with 4 olives on a pick

Dewar’s Scotch

dewars scotch milk punch

Dewar’s is a very popular brand of blended scotches worldwide, and White Label is the entry-level Dewar’s, running about $22 a bottle retail. I find it to be a good scotch choice for  someone who prefers the more tame blended scotches (like me), it’s good for someone who’s new to scotch, and it’s also a great option for making scotch-based cocktails.

This year, I’ve tasted more scotch brands than I have in my whole life previously. I’ll admit I initially didn’t like scotch very much at all. As I’ve had the opportunity to taste the wide varieties available, there are some elements that I’ve found that I prefer. I like when scotch is sweeter on the palate, and White Label has some nice toasty caramel in the flavor. I prefer scotches that are less peaty and smoky, and there is very little of that in White Label.

So then, Dewar’s White Label is a very accessible scotch that’s got decent quality for the price and a nice, smooth flavor. Here’s a cocktail to try with it:

dewars scotch milk punch

Scotch Milk Punch

  • 2 oz scotch
  • 4 oz milk (the fattier this is, the better the drink tastes)
  • 1 tsp powdered sugar
  • shake with ice until extremely cold, then strain into a glass
  • top with whipped cream and nutmeg
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