The best bartenders know that the secret to a perfect drink is balance. Often, that comes from just the right amount of sweetness. Simple syrup, made by dissolving sugar in boiling water, is the most common sweetener in cocktails, used to even out other flavor elements. but refined white sugar isn’t the only way to achieve this cocktail essential: Local bartenders are experimenting with nontraditional simple syrups to bring the sweetness.
A lot of fancy-sounding ingredients go into The Monarch’s Momento Mori, a Manhattan twist with two kinds of rye whiskey, a dark amaro, coal-roasted acorns and iron plum bitters, dreamed up by bartender Dominic Petrucci. Perhaps the most intriguing ingredient is the barrel-aged Demerara gomme. Demerara is a light brown, partially refined sugar made from processed cane juice; gomme is a liquid sweetener similar to simple syrup, made with an emulsifier called gum arabic. “In this drink, the advantage to using gomme is that it acts as a thickener and stabilizer, so it adds body without changing flavor,” says bar director Brock Schulte. Demerara has a natural molasses flavor, and coupled with the gomme, it lends the syrup a rich, velvety mouthfeel. “I’m a big fan of alternatives to simple syrup like this, because simple syrup is just sweet – there's no flavor. But the benefit of our Demerara gomme and alternatives like it is that you’re adding more flavor to the drink, and anytime you add more flavor, you're adding really interesting layers of texture and depth.”
The Monarch Cocktail Bar & Lounge, 4808 Roanoke Pkwy, West Plaza, Kansas City, Missouri, 816.437.7912, themonarchbar.com
Scotch & Soda
“One of the constant struggles of cocktail design most bartenders wrestle with is the want to impart specific flavors to an idea without adding any extra volume,” says Joshua Widner, owner of Scotch & Soda in Springfield, Missouri, and Bentonville, Arkansas. His Quick Fix cocktail packs many flavors brought on by vanilla bean-infused High West Double Rye, fresh lemon juice and a brown sugar-clementine syrup. The syrup combines equal parts golden brown and dark brown sugar, clementine juice and zest, resulting in a rich sweetener. “We found using brown sugar helped create a silkier feel than other traditional sugars,” Widner says. “It gives the cocktail a bit more character than the thinner counterparts of whiskey and lemon; the Quick Fix truly is a little cocktail with a big bite.”
Scotch & Soda, 310 South Ave., Springfield, Missouri, 417.719.4224, thescotchandsoda.com
At Polite Society in St. Louis’ Lafayette Square, simple syrup gets a boost from sweet woodruff, a delicate herb with dainty, edible white flowers. It's steeped in a classic syrup, providing the sweetener for Begin the Beguine, a frothy cocktail, co-designed by bartender Riley Stahl, which also features Knickerbocker Barrel Gin, Salers (an herbal French liqueur), bee pollen, cream and lemon. “We get our sweet woodruff from Anne Lehman from Dirty Girl Farms,” says beverage director Travis Hebrank. “It's there primarily for the aromatics. It adds this floral, slightly sweet [aroma].” Unlike a brown sugar or Demerara syrup, which add body to a cocktail, a white sugar syrup carries less weight. It was also ideal for the sweet woodruff because the herb has such a delicate flavor; anything other than white sugar might have imparted its own flavor properties. “What we’re looking for is balance,” Hebrank says, “which is the right mix of body, sweetness, aromatics and interesting flavors.”
Polite Society, 1923 Park Ave., Lafayette Square, St. Louis, Missouri, 314.325.2553, politesocietystl.com