With the exception of a glass of wine with a home-cooked meal or a cold beer after a summer run, I rarely drank at home prior to the pandemic. I definitely never made use of my home’s communal bar. That is, until MEL’s Emergen-C Quarantini challenge, where I cooked down my packet of sugary vitamins into a simple syrup. It resulted in both a delicious Coronegroni and my new quarantine hobby — simping for simple syrup.
Even when I’m not in the mood for booze, my electric collection of syrups have transformed boring iced teas and seltzers into mocktails, and quenched my thirst for a pre-apocalyptic bar experience. Much of this is thanks to Zoom bartender Alissa Atkinson, who walked me through several syrup recipes, along with some cocks and mocks to serve them up with. “I haven’t been drinking much in quarantine because I’m not in bars most nights, but I still have a fridge full of different simple syrups,” she tells me.
Below, like the Mary Poppins of booze, Atkinson explains how a little simmered sugar can help the medicine go down — in both intoxicating or sobering ways.
Basic Simple Syrup
As the name suggests, making simple syrup is pretty hard to screw up. Raised in an Italian family where nothing was precise in the kitchen other than yelling, I have an aversion to using measuring cups. But whether you use a cup or a Tupperware from old Thai takeout, as long as the ratio is the same, your simple syrup will be just fine. “I promise, you can’t go wrong,” Atkinson says. “Even if you get so high you accidentally boil salt, there’s a simple syrup for that.”
First, bring a cup of water to a boil, and then add a cup of sugar. Stir at a medium heat for about 10 minutes, or until the sugar fully dissolves. Next, allow it to cool for about 20 minutes, “unless you want it to melt all your ice and have a watery-ass drink,” Atkinson warns.
Although Atkinson notes that you can use simple syrup in everything from iced coffee to cakes, she says simple sours are particularly great. For a whiskey sour, combine 2 ounces of whatever bourbon you have with three-quarters of an ounce lemon juice and three-quarters of an ounce simple syrup into a cocktail shaker (or a pint glass or mason jar — as long as it can be covered and filled with ice, it should work). Shake vigorously for 20 seconds, and pour over a strainer into a glass filled with more ice.
For a mocktail, replace the bourbon with chamomile iced tea (or whatever tea you prefer). I went with Atkinson’s suggestion of chamomile because it promotes relaxation, boosts immunity and soothes stomach aches, along with numerous other benefits. If I’m not gonna get drunk, I’m definitely gonna get fucked up on some self-care.
Matcha Green Tea Simple Syrup
“Tea is the perfect replacement for any spirit, but it can also be added to the syrup,” Atkinson says. She says to boil a cup of hot water with a matcha green tea bag steeping in it — or two bags for extra flavor — and then add a cup of sugar. Just like with basic simple syrup, allow the sugar to dissolve at a medium heat for about 10 minutes, before again, letting it cool.
For the mocktail “Cross Your Teas,” Atkinson brews a batch of Earl Grey tea and ices it. “Any tea will work as long as it’s distinct from the tea in the syrup, but black tea is best,” she tells me. For added summer effect, she freezes hibiscus tea and uses it as ice cubes. The idea is, as you drink it, the ice cubes melt and the flavors of the drink change. “Lemonade ice cubes are great as well,” Atkinson recommends.
It’s all fairly easy to make: Pour 6 ounces of black tea into a cocktail shaker (or glass of regular ice), with 1 ounce of lemon juice and 1 ounce of matcha simple syrup. Shake vigorously before pouring over your hibiscus ice cubes. If you want to age up this virgin a bit, substitute 2 ounces of the tea with gin or vodka.
Clove Honey Simple Syrup
Again, nothing too complicated here: Boil a cup of water with a half cup of honey, and add about 10 to 20 cloves depending on how much flavor you’re after. Let it simmer until the honey dissolves. Once the syrup has cooled, Atkinson suggests making what she calls a “Chilly Todd,” a great rainy day quarantine cocktail.
Add 2 ounces of bourbon, 1 ounce of clove honey syrup, three-quarters of an ounce orange juice and one-quarter of an ounce cider vinegar to a cup of ice and shake with what are, by now, some pretty jacked bartender arms. Pour over ice and enjoy the nostalgic taste of cloves from high school. For mocktail purposes, replace bourbon with chamomile or a caffeinated black tea if you want to stay up late making simple syrups.
Strawberry Basil Simple Syrup
After firing up a big batch of regular ol’ simple syrup with about two cups of water and two cups of sugar dissolved at a medium heat, add a 16-ounce carton of cut-up strawberries, along with 10 basil leaves. Allow this to simmer for 30 minutes, which may seem like a long time comparatively, but this is advanced simping.
Once it’s cooled, combine 1.5 ounces of the syrup with 1 ounce of fresh lemon juice and half an ounce of balsamic vinegar. Next — you guessed it! — shake and pour over ice, topping off with seltzer. For the booze version, add 2 ounces of vodka, and top off with Prosecco or any other sparkling wine. When I ask Atkinson what this glorious creation is called, she says it doesn’t need a name, because “it’s really that good.”
It seems even when naming syrup-y cocktails, it’s best to keep things simple.