Just like chefs prepare mise en place in their kitchens, bar experts are big on their own make-ahead ingredients. For Ashley Rose Conway, the blogger behind the drink blog Craft + Cocktails and host of our cocktails and crostini holiday happy hour, there’s no more beloved ingredient than infused syrups. From her Fig New Fashioned to a Winter Sangria, many of the drinks she served contained simple syrups infused with fresh herbs, spices or other flavoring agents.
Ask Ashley how many syrup infusions she has crowding her fridge right now, and she’ll cop to having at least seven. “I love them so much that I actually was going to start a simple syrup company a few years back,” Ashley admits to us. “I really enjoy putting them in drinks.”
There are several upsides to keeping infused syrups around. Aside from the obvious addition of sweetness, infused syrups are also an ideal way to introduce the specific flavor of an ingredient without adding too much of it. For example, by steeping rosemary in a mixture of sugar and water, you’d achieve same characteristic earthiness to a cocktail as fresh rosemary, only you wouldn’t have to worry about muddling any of rosemary’s woodsy stalks. “Making cocktails goes faster if you don’t have to muddle,” she points out.
They also boast an inherent convenience factor: You can bust out a drink at the last minute if you have a spirit, juice, soda and syrup on hand. As another plus, infused syrups, when properly stored, can last up to a month. “Make sure they’ve been sterilized or cleaned very, very well,” Ashley says, “and if they’re complete sealed, infused syrups can last anywhere from three to four weeks.”
To make an infused syrup, Ashley begins with a base of simple syrup, which is a one-to-one ratio of sugar to water, with sugar dissolved in the liquid. Then she’ll choose a different ingredient or a combination of two ingredients as flavoring agents. For fall, she was enamored with a cinnamon syrup, which she used in tea cocktails; she also likes mint syrup for mojitos and a habañero-infused one to pair with tequila.
“I make Old Fashioned cocktails a lot, and I’ll often replace the sugar with apple spice syrup, but if you added apple juice to the whiskey, it wouldn’t be an Old Fashioned anymore,” she says. Translating apple’s flavor into a sweetener format helps preserve the integrity of the cocktail.
“My absolute favorite is rosemary-lemongrass syrup,” Ashley says. “It was actually the first syrup I made. I went out to this great bar and had this crazy lime, rosemary and lemongrass cocktail. I went home and told my dad, who used to have a lot of bars, and asked, ‘How can we make this?’ We got a lot of ingredients, came back, and paired rosemary-lemongrass syrup with gin and lime juice. That syrup still holds a special place in my heart.”
To see more, including the holiday cocktails that were paired with these crostini, head to our Open Kitchen: Cocktails + Crostini page.