Learn with A Bar Above

Natural Syrups

Honey

Photo by alsjhc / CC BY

Tasting Notes:

  • Honey is sweeter than Sugar, so plan to use less than you would Simple Syrup
  • Taste can vary by the type and region of the honey.
  • The most common type in the USA is Clover Honey, which has a very light amber color with a mild floral, earthy sweetness with a round mouthfeel.
  • Goes well with liquors aged in oak (like whiskey) or with herbal and spice notes like gin and some tequilas.

Varietals:

  • In a high-volume or tight margin bar setting, your options may be limited by availability and cost.  In the USA, you’ll likely end up using Clover Honey.
  • Honeys are extremely varied.  In fact there are more than 300 varietals in the USA alone.
  • I recommend skipping the grocery store and going to local produce stores and farmer’s markets to see what local options you have.  This is another great way to bring seasonality to your menu.

Using Honey in Cocktails:

  • Before incorporating honey into your mixing tin, mix it with 10-20% warm water. This will loosen up the consistency and prevent it from clumping when it comes in contact with ice.
  • Feel free to add more water to adjust the sweetness as needed for your drink.

Agave Nectar

Photo by John Loo / CC BY

Tasting Notes & Grades:

  • The Blue Agave plant is used to make Agave nectar, and the raw nectar from the plant is called “aguamiel” in Mexico, which translates to “Honey Water.”  So it’s not a surprise that Agave Nectar shares a similar taste profile to honey.
  • “Light” Agave Nectar has been filtered more and heated less than the darker varieties.  It has a very delicate flavor, similar to honey.  It does not impart a lot of flavor into the drink.
  • As you move toward “Amber” and “Dark” grades, you will notice more of a maple, caramel flavor. These types have typically not undergone such thorough filtration as the lighter varieties, and may have been heated during processing as well.

Using Agave Nectar in Cocktails:

  • Agave Nectar will incorporate well in cocktails even if it hasn’t been diluted with water, but since it’s so sweet and rich it is still typically cut with 10-20% water before using.
  • Feel free to add more water to adjust the sweetness as needed for your drink.
  • Agave Nectar is made from the same plant that Tequila is made from – so it’s a great sweetener to consider when working with Tequila.  It also blends well with gin due to its earthy flavors.
  • Don’t limit your use to Tequila and gin, however – Agave (especially the lighter grade) plays well with most liquors behind the bar.

Types:

For the bar, you can buy Agave Nectar or Agave Syrup:

  • Agave Nectar is typically pure and not watered down.  I personally prefer to buy Agave Nectar this way as it allows me to choose how much water I want to add.
  • Agave Syrup has already had water added with the purpose of being ready “out of the bottle” for use in cocktails.

Maple Syrup

Photo by LadyDragonflyCC / CC BY

Tasting Notes & Grades:

  • Grade A: Lighter, “Amber” Syrup
    • “Light Amber” is very light in flavor, and tastes almost like a watered down Agave Nectar or Honey.  It imparts very little, (if ayn) flavor at all.
    • “Medium Amber” has a more intense flavor, but is still pretty light.
    • “Dark Amber” is the type that begins to introduce some of the warmer, more intense “Maple” flavor.
  • Grade B: This grade is where you start to really experience the “Maple” flavor that you’e probably looking for if using Maple Syrup in a cocktail.  This is the type I generally use behind the bar.

Using Maple Syrup in Cocktails:

  • Sweeter than simple syrup, but not as sweet as Rich simple syrup.
  • It is not necessary to water down maple syrup, but you can do so if needed for your cocktail.
  • Maple syrup is a great sweetener to use for any heavily oaked liquors like dark rum, whiskey or añejo tequilas.

Molasses

Photo by technicool / CC BY

Tasting Notes & Grades:

  • Unlike the other natural syrups we’ve discussed here, Molasses is less sweet than sugar.  This is because it is a byproduct of the sugar refinement process, and the sugars are extracted from it.
  • There are four common grades of Molasses, from Mild to Blackstrap.
    • “Mild” Molasses has the highest sugar content and is the least bittering.
    • “Light” and “Dark” Molasses have progressively less sugar and more bitterness.
    • “Blackstrap” Molasses has by far the least sugar content of all grades of Molasses.  It has about 55% of the sweetening power as sugar, but also brings strong bitterness and savory mineral flavors along as well.

Using Molasses in Cocktails:

  • Water may need to be added depending on the grade of Molasses you are using.  Milder grades can be utilized without adding water, but I would highly recommend adding water when using the Dark or Blackstrap types.
  • Since Molasses (especially the darker grades) are both less sweet than sugar and bring a lot of bitterness & astringent flavor, you will almost certainly use them more as a flavoring ingredient than for their sweetening abilities.  Plan to pair these with another less flavorful sweetener like simple syrup.

Relative Sweetness & Summary Tasting Notes:

Sweetener % as Sweet as Sucrose Tasting Notes
Honey 150%
  • Since the taste of the honey greatly depends on the pollen being collected by the bees, Honey can have a wide range of flavor profiles.
  • The most common type in the USA is Clover Honey, which has a very light amber color with a mild floral, earthy sweetness with a round mouthfeel.
Agave Nectar 150%
  • Light agave nectar is very light in flavor, very similar to a mild honey
  • Amber agave nectar has a a toffe and caramel flavor profile
  • Dark agave nectar has similar caramel notes to molasses.
Maple Syrup 125%
  • Grade A: Light Amber tastes like simple sweetness, almost an agave taste. Delicate maple flavor.
  • Grade A: Medium Amber is slightly darker than the Light Amber and is known for its smooth maple flavor.
  • Grade A: Dark Amber: Both the color and maple flavor are a bit stronger and more intense than the Medium Amber.
  • Grade B: Warm, gritty maple flavor which lingers for a while & leaves a muted musty maple tone on your palate.
Molasses From 55% (Blackstrap) to 70% (Mild)
  • Mild: Lightest and sweetest of the different types of molasses. Its also called “fancy” molasses.
  • Light: Light in color and sweet in taste.
  • Dark: It is darker in color, thicker and less sweet compared to light molasses.
  • Blackstrap: Very bitter and beginnning to border on savory