I have a few friends who have visited New Orleans in the past two weeks, so the Sazerac has been on my radar. I've heard about the best place to enjoy one, the very finest ingredients to use, the bartenders who know what they're really doing. So last night we decided to mix them up at home instead, and upon first sip something seemed a little off: they didn't taste as great as if we'd ordered them out. Quickly my partner Sam realized why: the sugar! We're missing the sugar!
It was refreshing to see Melissa Clark's video on simple syrup in The New York Times last week as she feels much the same way about simple syrup as I have in the past: it's simply added sugar. I often ask bartenders to leave out the simple syrup to avoid what I've always felt was unnecessary sugar, but after comparing our Sazerac without sugar to one with a spoonful of simple syrup, I'm slowly coming around to the fact that there's a lot more to it than just basic added sweetness.
After watching The New York Times video, I started to make some connections with the sugar in cocktails and the sugar I use in baking. Many people use a simple white granulated sugar in baking recipes to do one thing: sweeten a recipe. But the more you play with different natural sugars, the more you realize that you can not just sweeten a recipe but add different flavor notes as well. For example, muscovado sugar has a really dark sweetness whereas I find clover honey has a bright almost snappy sweetness.
Such is the case with simple syrups, too: different bars are making a variety of in-house syrups now, experimenting with different sugars, herbs and spices. Not only do they add sweetness to a cocktail, but they also add a richness and a "certain mouth feel," according to The New York Times. I'm slowly coming around. No longer will I request cocktails with absolutely no simple syrup; instead, I'm going to start asking more questions and appreciating the different flavors that come along with the whole package, simple syrup and all.
(Image credits: Nora Maynard)