There’s a reason cocktails made by pros are so delicious and it’s because – much like chefs – serious bartenders go to all sorts of lengths to create interesting layered ingredients. The good news is that, with a little patience and preparation, you can make cocktails and mocktails with pizzazz at home too. Here are some basic techniques you can use to add flavour to your concoctions, whether they include alcohol or not.
Syrups | Liquid sweeteners
A syrup can be as simple as sugar dissolved in water. Indeed, this is exactly what “simple syrup” is, used in bars everywhere instead of doing the fiddly job of dissolving sugar granules in drinks. However, you can replace the water with any liquid and sub out the sugar for any sweetener. Think fresh pineapple juice mixed with agave nectar, ginger juice mixed with honey, or xylitol mixed with rose water.
Basic method: Mix equal parts sugar and warm water then let cool.
Oleo-saccharum | Concentrated citrus syrup
Latin for “oil-sugar”, oleo-saccharum is a kind of syrup made from sugar and citrus rinds. Here instead of dilution, the sugar extracts the oils from the rinds, leaving you with a concentrated citrus syrup.
Basic method: Sprinkle sugar over citrus rinds in a ratio of 1:4 and muddle. Leave overnight, then pour off the liquid.
Shrubs | Concentrated, flavoured acids
The sharbât of the Middle East (a concentrate of fruit juices or flower or herb extracts preserved in sugar water and later diluted, literally meaning “a drink”) inspired this technique. Instead of just sugar, shrubs have vinegar at their base and can include any manner of flavourings, from fruits to vegetables.
Infusions | Adding flavour to liquids
Take a liquid, leave a flavouring in it for a while and the liquid takes on the characteristics of the flavouring. This could be something as PG as adding cucumber to spring water, or the more adult version of leaving cherries to soak in brandy. It’s a bit like making tea.
Basic method: Add botanical(s) to liquid in an airtight container. Shake, then leave for one hour to five days, depending on how porous/soft the flavouring is.
Tinctures and bitters | Liquid seasoning
These are like alcohol infusions, but the concentration is much higher; you’d add them to drinks as dashes, floats or sprays rather than drink them on their own, kind of like adding salt to food. Tinctures capture the flavour of a single natural flavouring, like a specific fruit; while bitters are a (generally bitter) medley of flavours, including roots, barks, leaves, herbs, spices, flowers, fruits, nuts or beans. Read more about this here.
Basic method: Soak flavouring(s) in a minimum of 50% ABV alcohol in an airtight container. Shake occasionally and strain once you get the flavour you want – anything from 24 hours to several weeks. For better control, bitters can also be made by combining tinctures.
Fat wash | Adding savoury notes and mouthfeel
An aroma extraction borrowed from the perfume industry, fat washes are when you infuse the flavour and mouthfeel of a fat into a spirit. Think peanut butter and rum, sesame oil and gin, or bacon fat and whisky. Yum!
Basic method: Melt fat and add to the spirit, then let rest for three or four hours. Chill overnight then skim off the solidified fat. (For peanut butter, just let the spirit rest on it.) Aim for a 1:6 ratio for strong-tasting fats and 1:3 for more delicate fats.
This post first appeared on Food24 on 16 July 2020.