What makes a great cocktail? That’s easy: striking a balance of flavors — sweet, salty, bitter, sour. There are salty drinks, such as the Paloma, and there are very bitter drinks such as the fabled Negroni. But let’s focus on the two most popular flavors: sweet and sour.
The sour element in most drinks comes from fruit; lemon and lime for the most part. To make truly flavorful drinks, it’s a must to have fresh fruit juice available. At Capitol Bar, we squeeze lots of limes, lemons, oranges and grapefruits to make our cocktails, rather than premade mixers that come in a bottle. Most of those are filled with artificial flavorings, sodium and corn syrup.
As for the sweet, the best and cheapest way to balance out the sour is by making your own simple syrup, which is literally equal parts sugar and water heated until the sugar dissolves. That’s it. Simple, right? And it’s not just for cocktails; simple syrup can be used to make a fantastic lemonade or to sweeten iced tea, coffee, etc.
Now here comes the fun part. Using that as a base, adding natural flavors is as easy as dropping in fresh mint, basil, rosemary, ginger root, fruits, berries, peppers or anything your imagination dreams up. Drop this in after the sugar has dissolved and the heat has been turned off. Steep until cool, and magically the flavoring agent has infused itself into your syrup.
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I recently experimented with brewed tea as a substitute for the water. My tea guy Garrett at Snake River Tea Co. suggested a rooibos bourbon tea. I came up with the following drink, and am quite pleased to say the least.
Kevin Hopper sips tea between shifts as bar manager at Capitol Bar on State Street.
G & ‘Tea’ Cooler
2 oz. gin (Plymouth is quite nice)
1/2 oz. tea syrup
Lemon wedge sliced in half
3 sprigs of mint
Slice lemon wedge in half and muddle in a collins glass with two sprigs of mint. Add gin and tea syrup, fill glass with ice and top with soda water. Garnish with the remaining sprig of mint.