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Less Common Sweeteners

Demerara & Turbinado Sugars:

These two types of sugars are similar in that they are both less refined than white sugar – they have been allowed to keep some of their molasses qualities.

Photo by Quinn.Anya / CC BY

Tasting Notes:

  • These sugars bring vanilla, toffee, caramel flavors
  • More complexity than plain white table sugar.

Using Demerara & Turbinado Sugars in Cocktails:

  • This one’s easy – just make simple syrup the same way you normally would, replacing the white table sugar with one of these sugars.
  • Sweeteners with molasses go well with oaked liquors like rum or whiskey.  (Especially rum, since it is also made from sugarcane.)

Muscovado Sugar:

Photo by girlmonk / CC BY

Muscovado is a primitive type of sugar.  In this case, the raw sugar cane juice has been boiled down to remove the water, but none of the molasses has been removed.

Tasting Notes:

  • All of the molasses flavors are still present
  • Smoky, caramel and slightly bitter flavors.

Using Muscovado Sugar in a Cocktail:

  • Make a simple syrup using the Muscovado sugar.  Depending on the cocktail you are designing, you may adjust the ratio, but I would start with 2:1 sugar to water.
  • Remember that, like Molasses, Muscovado sugar brings a lot of flavor along with its (limited) sweetness.  I would generally recommend pairing this with another sweetener like simple syrup so you get sufficient sweetening power without overwhelming the flavor of the drink.
  • Since it has such a strong Molasses flavor, think about using Muscovado sugar in cocktails with very heavily oaked liquor like bourbon, brandy, rye whiskey or heavily oaked rum.

Brown Sugar:

Photo by Quinn.Anya / CC BY

Brown sugars are basically just white refined sugar that has had molasses added back in.

Types & Tasting Notes:

  • There are three different types of Brown Sugar: Light, Medium & Dark.
  • Light Brown Sugar has had about 3.5% Molasses added. Naturally, this means it brings the least molasses flavor of the three grades.
  • Dark Brown Sugar has had about 6.5% Molasses added.  This results in more vanilla, caramel and slight bitter flavors.

Using Brown Sugar in Cocktails:

  • When using brown sugar in cocktails, I recommend making a 2:1 ratio sugar syrup with twice as much sugar as water.
  • This is because I find brown sugar does not have the same sweetening capacity as white sugar, so you will need more of it to get the same sweetening power.
  • Brown Sugar Syrup can be made in the same way as Simple Syrup.
  • Just like the other sugars with molasses, brown sugar works well with rum and other liquors that have seen time in oak.

Low Calorie Sweeteners:

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All low (or no) calorie sweeteners come with a downside – and it’s always the taste.  Each of these sweeteners brings some sort of chemical or residual flavor that is generally not desirable in a cocktail.  But we’ll discuss them here in case you’re asked to use them by a calorie conscious customer.

Tasting Notes:

  • All low calorie sweeteners come with a chemical or otherwise strange after-taste.
  • Aftertaste can be metallic or mineral tasting, licorice-like, or just be described as an “off flavor”Saccharine

Using Low Calorie Sweeteners in Cocktails:

  • First and foremost, all of the sweeteners we discuss here are in powdered form – meaning you will need to create a syrup in order to fully incorporate them into your cocktail.
  • All low calorie sweeteners have a much higher sweetening capacity than normal table sugar, by weight.  That means you’ll need to adjust the amount you use (and how much water you add) according to the sweetening power of the particular sweetener you are using.
  • Low calorie sweeteners do not bring the rich mouth-feel that sucrose brings – so you may need to find another way to create a richer consistency.

Relative Sweetness & Summary Tasting Notes:

Sweetener % as Sweet as Pure (100%) Sucrose Tasting Notes
Demerara Sugar 100% Sweetener highlighted by flavors of toffee, caramel and vanilla as a result of small amounts of molasses that are not removed during the refinement process
Turbinado Sugar 100% Turbinado is very similar to demerara sugar in flavor but has smaller crystals, is less sticky and has slightly less molasses flavors.
Muscovado Sugar 100% Deep, intense molasses flavor.  Brings the bitter, astringent molasses characteristics as well as the caramel & vanilla.
Brown Sugar 100% Refined white sugar with molasses added back. The darker the brown sugar, the more molasses has been added.
Stevia 30,000% (300x as sweet) May have a slight licorice or bitter aftertaste, especially at high concentration.
Aspartame 20,000% (200x as sweet) Bitter, off-flavor aftertaste
Saccharin 30,000% (300x as sweet) Metallic aftertaste with slight bitterness.
Neotame 700,000% (7,000 x as sweet) At high concentrations gives a slight cooling affect (like licorice).