When it comes to making cocktails at home, I'll admit I can be a bit lazy. I spend so much time focused on finding recipes and researching the perfect whiskey or gin for a specific drink that I sometimes overlook secondary ingredients like syrups. While I'd love to come up with my own house grenadine or tonic syrup, I often feel like I simply don't have the time to spend to make anything good enough to actually mix.
Thankfully, there's a growing crop of small producers creating brilliant syrups and cocktail mixers specifically to help make cocktail mixing at home effortless and fun. There have always been grenadines and margarita mixes for sale at the grocery store, but this new school of syrup makers are creating products that are so high-quality, that now, it's possible to easily make drinks at home that taste on par with what you will find in fancy cocktail bars.
These syrups are good for more than just cocktails, too: savory syrups are a great addition to salad dressings or when used as glazes for meats, berry-heavy ones add a nice zing to desserts, and without any alcohol content they're also handy for flavoring sodas at home for the non-tipplers in the family. And since it's the holiday season, I'd be remiss if I didn't point out that any and all of these would make for great stocking stuffers. Luckily, all of them are available for sale via the internet, so even the purchasing process is easy.
Liber & Co. Grenadine
This Austin-based company makes a variety of excellent cocktail ingredients. I've long been a fan of their Texas Grapefruit Shrub and the new pineapple gum syrup also shines with fresh fruit flavor (and works perfectly in a pisco sour). But the Real Grenadine ($7.99 for 8.5 ounces or $11.99 for 17 ounces) stands above the pack because it has the most pure, unadulterated pomegranate flavor I've found in a grenadine to date. This is likely because each batch is made via cold-processing, so the fruit retains more of its natural color and flavor. It's flush with big strawberry and pomegranate personality with clean cane sugar and a thread of orange blossom water that adds a floral complexity to the mix. Gum arabic thickens up the texture, creating an enormous body and silky consistency that really boosts the personality of a classic Jack Rose. I aim to always have a bottle handy at home.
Yeoman Tonic Syrup
Named after the British guards at the Royal Palace, Yeoman Tonic Syrup ($12 for 8.5 ounces, $21 for 17.5 ounces) is manufactured by Small Hand Foods specifically to accompany Beefeater Gin. To best complement the herbal gin, the Bay Area company riffed on their original tonic recipe to make one that's slightly less bitter with a bigger citrus profile. Yeoman's definitely has more of a woody, earthy quality than other tonic syrups I've tasted, with less spice and more perky lemon flavor, and it really does pair well with the heavy juniper of the iconic London Dry. I've found a lime wedge accents the mix perfectly.
Jack Rudy Elderflower Tonic
This latest release from the Jack Rudy Cocktail Co. ($9 for 8 ounces) is a superb pick for those looking for something a bit more fun than your average tonic syrup. Elderflower is the main ingredient, but don't get it mixed up with the other popular cocktail ingredient, St. Germain; this guy has a big bracing kick of astringent quinine in the recipe, unlike the syrupy-sweet liqueur. Subtle hints of lemongrass help bridge the gap between the tonic's bitterness and the floral qualities of the elderflower, creating a drink that's sparkling and crisp when it's paired with club soda. When gin enters the mix, a new depth emerges as botanicals complement and enhance one another. It's fantastic stuff that I would highly recommend drinking pre-dinner or with any kind of spicy cuisine to cool and cleanse the palate.
Bittermilk Charred Grapefruit Tonic With Bulls Bay Sea Salt
When it comes to new syrups, I can't contain my excitement for the entire line from South Carolina's Bittermilk, which launched in 2013. The company makes six flavor combinations that are just so fun and inventive, it's hard to resist the urge to keep them all on hand for when cocktail cravings strike. My favorite flavor is the Charred Grapefruit Tonic with Bulls Bay Sea Salt ($15 for 17 ounces). Grapefruit peels are charred to bring out a subtle bitter element, buffered with lemon and lime juices and the slight tang from cinchona bark (the source of the quinine needed to call it a "tonic"). Sea salt seasons the mix and helps connect all of the citrus flavors together in harmony. It's easily the perfect warm-weather cocktail when combined with vodka (botanically-driven gin tends to clash), but I intend on enjoying it year-round because it's just that delicious.
Owl's Brew Pink & Black
This collection of tea-based cocktail mixers debuted originally in 2013, but they're starting to make a bigger splash across the country as tea and cocktail lovers alike notice the playful array of flavors available. Three flavors anchor the portfolio, but I especially like the Pink & Black ($21 for 32 ounces), a flirty blend of darjeeling tea, hibiscus, lemon peel, strawberry, and agave nectar. Try drinking it with one part tea mix to two parts alcohol (vodka or tequila both work well), and for a great non-alcoholic mocktail I had success adding ¾ of an ounce of lemon juice and topping club soda.
Royal Rose Three Chile Syrup
Most syrups stick to sweet fruit and herbal profiles, but Royal Rose's Three Chile syrup ($11 for 8 ounces) is an excellent option to create savory and spicy drinks. The roasty flavor made by this Brooklyn company features a trio of dried ancho, poblano and jalapeno peppers for a trifecta of spice that's balanced nicely with an even level of organic cane sugar and cane juice. I've found it adds a nice heat to the traditional Margarita formula, or mix with tequila or dark rum and hot chocolate for a warm, comforting cold-weather concoction.