Article

Syrup seems to be the hardest word

taste testing syrups

All too often an afterthought, syrups have a huge impact on a cocktail’s appearance and its taste. Clinton Cawood joins a team of bartenders for a look at the sweeter side


It’s true what they say: the devil’s in the details. And behind the bar, an oft-overlooked detail is syrup. Like any other ingredient, quality here will have a direct and noticeable impact on the resulting drink, so it’s always worth getting the right one for the job.

These syrup flavours not only serve the purpose of sweetening drinks, but also contribute to colour, flavour and texture as well. There are a number of syrup brands to choose from and, as our panellists found, these vary significantly, so we set out to road test these in classic cocktails that call for the use of specific flavoured syrups.

While a number of bartenders in top-end bars advocate making your own syrups, there are various motivations for using a ready-made product, whether for consistency or for cost considerations or timing issues.

HOW IT WORKS

We asked a number of syrup producers to submit four flavours: raspberry, grenadine, orgeat and mint. These were used to create four flights of cocktails, with the syrup brand the only ingredient that changed within each flight. Clover Clubs were chosen for the raspberry syrup, Gin Daisies for grenadine, Mai Tais for orgeat and Juleps for the mint syrup.

A panel of bartenders then tasted each series of cocktails blind, and allocated an overall score that took colour, aroma and flavour into account. These were then converted into a single score out of 100. Only brands that scored 50 or above are listed.

All prices are RRPs unless otherwise specified.


RESULTS

CLOVER CLUB

40ml gin

20ml fresh lemon juice

12.5ml raspberry syrup

½ an egg white

75 Monin Framboise

The panel’s favourite in the Clover Club flight. Russo complimented its ‘natural, light colour, and nice balance between all the ingredients’, while Priseman considered the flavours to be well married in the drink. McCanta thought the ‘sweetness worked to highlight the citrus’.

£3.99-£5.99/70cl. Bennett Opie, 01795 413705

65 Sonoma Raspberry

US entrant Sonoma made for a much darker drink, with some depth of flavour. Bradley described this as having ‘a bright fresh raspberry flavour’, while Bertolucci identified ‘toffee notes, and a long lasting finish’.

£9.99/375ml. Sonoma Syrup Company, +1 707 996 4070 ext.703

56 Teisseire Raspberry

Arguably the least powerful syrup in this flight, both in terms of colour and flavour. This meant far less of a berry flavour in the drink, but highlighted citrus notes, and resulted in a ‘pleasantly fruity aftertaste’ according to Priseman.

£5.99/70cl. Amathus, 020 8808 4181

55 Toschi Lampone (raspberry)

Brightly neon-coloured, this Clover Club had quite a strong berry flavour, but panellists argued that both the flavour and colour weren’t quite natural enough.

£6.95-£9/1l. Fluid Brand Development, 020 7520 9360


CONCLUSIONS

This flight varied not only in flavour, but dramatically in terms of colour as well – from very light, to bright pink, to brown. The naturalness of flavour was an important factor for the panel, as was the balance between berry and citrus characteristics.


GIN DAISY

40ml gin

20ml lemon

10ml grenadine

dash soda

76 Funkin Grenadine

An almost unanimous choice for top grenadine, Funkin gave this drink its natural-looking pink colour, as well as providing a good balance between sweetness and fruit characteristics. Bertolucci liked ‘grapefruit notes and a slightly sour aftertaste’, while Andreotti commented on the balance between elements.

£2.73/70cl. Funkin, 020 7328 4440

74 Monin Grenadine

Not far behind, Monin’s Gin Daisy didn’t have nearly as vibrant a colour as Funkin’s, but made up in taste what it lacked in appearance. Andreotti commented on the mix of fruit flavours, which McCanta described as ‘earthy notes of crushed pomegranate and berry’.

£3.99-£5.99/70cl. Bennett Opie, 01795 413705

62 Sonoma Grenadine

This had what McCanta called an ‘elegant purple-violet colour and very light flavours of picked cranberries, which highlight the citrus and gin’. Overall, an understated ingredient in this drink, and according to one panellist, maybe lacking in sweetness.

£9.99/375ml. Sonoma Syrup Company, +1 707 996 4070 ext.703

59 Toschi Granatina

In spite of producing a drink with an orange colour not at all associated with grenadine, balanced fruit flavours redeemed Toschi’s syrup, resulting in a balanced, sweet-and-sour drink.

£6.95-£9/1l. Fluid Brand Development, 020 7520 9360

Also tasted: Teisseire, Giffard


CONCLUSIONS

Colour is an important factor for grenadine. As Priseman said about one that was particularly light: ‘It’s a real downfall – in this case you really want to present someone with a luminous drink.’ When fruit characteristics were well balanced with sweetness, as with Funkin’s syrup, the benefits to the overall drink were noticeable.


MAI TAI

60ml rum

10ml triple sec

25ml lime

10ml orgeat syrup

79 Teissiere Orgeat

The highest-scoring drink of the day, this orgeat made a Mai Tai that was ‘very well balanced between sweet, citrus and bitterness’, said Andreotti. McCanta thought ‘this worked to unite all the ingredients’. As Bradley said: ‘Perfect in appearance, with good balance of flavour.’

£4.65/70cl. Amathus, 020 8808 4181

67 Toschi Latte di Mandorla (orgeat)

This orgeat contributed less to the appearance, but was still quite dominant. Bradley commented on the creaminess of this Mai Tai, and for Bertolucci, ‘a honeyed waxiness made for a nice, long finish’.

£6.95-£9/1l. Fluid Brand Development, 020 7520 9360

63 Monin Orgeat

Some panellists questioned the darker brown colour of this drink, but in terms of flavour, it did allow the spirit to shine through, something McCanta described as ‘a spicy, almost peppery, kick and allspice’.

£3.99-£5.99/70cl. Bennett Opie, 01795 413705

59 Sonoma Vanilla Almond

The sweetest Mai Tai in this flight, Sonoma also contributed some pronounced almond flavours to the drink. Some argued that while it offered typical orgeat characteristics, it was maybe too powerful.

£9.99/375ml. Sonoma Syrup Company, +1 707 996 4070 ext.703

54 Giffard Orgeat

This rich, almost-creamy Mai Tai split the panel, with some liking its coffee and chocolate notes, and strong almond characteristics, while others argued that it resulted in too rich a drink, that overpowered the rum.

£5.44/1l. Mangrove, 020 8551 4966


CONCLUSIONS

Interestingly, the best orgeats weren’t necessarily those with authentic, natural flavours. As Bradley commented: ‘You’ve got to remember that this drink was originally made with a cheap French orgeat syrup.’ That said, there was a tendency for some of these syrups to overpower the drink, and the best were those that still allowed the rum to come to the fore.


JULEP

Producers of syrups suggest, as with their other flavours, that mint syrups are suited to cocktails, so our panel put this to the test in a classic mint drink – the Julep. The results were unanimous – real mint’s the only way to go for drinks like these.

As McCanta put it: ‘It’s the real mint bitterness that really makes this drink,’ – something that the syrup just didn’t provide. Priseman added, ‘The one thing the syrup does do is dry out the rich vanilla in the bourbon. But I think we can safely say that there’s no substitute for mint.’

‘The problem’, Ware explained, ‘is that they have to use peppermint, not mint, so you make that toothpaste association straight away.’

And there are certainly other uses for mint syrup, either in different cocktails, as panellists speculated, or in non-alcoholic drinks.


Many thanks to the team at Callooh Callay for not only hosting the tasting, but also for making the many cocktails tasted on the day.


THE PANEL

Gustavo Bertolucci, Pearl

‘There was quite a difference between the various producers, which I expected. I think what’s really important is to adjust the cocktail to the ingredient so that it’s balanced.’

Riccardo Andreotti, Galvin Restaurants

‘I knew that syrups affected the final taste of the cocktail, but I didn’t think it was this much. At the end of the day, a syrup should amplify taste. It doesn’t have to change it, but some of these syrups tended to do that. I think balance within the syrup is important, particularly in the case of grenadine.’

Paul Bradley, Adagio Hospitality

‘I found that in some of these syrups, where there’s a lack of the base ingredient, they’ve added sugar to bring it out, so they end up being too sweet. The more fruit in these, the less sugar was needed. I think these syrups are also useful for non-alcoholic drinks.’

Giacomo Russo, Hospital

‘I don’t think it’s necessarily the case that these are much better than one another. The most important thing is to make sure that the drink is balanced. Some of these would have worked in soft drinks, like mint syrup mixed with water.’

Dan Priseman, Bitters & Twisted

‘There was definitely at least one contender in each flavour category. It’s a really difficult balancing act with some of these – one of the more obvious was the orgeat in the Mai Tai. And in some drinks, you just can’t get away from using natural ingredients, and you shouldn’t try. The mint in a Mojito, for example, is mainly there for the aroma, and you don’t get those fresh aromas from a syrup.’

Sean Ware, Callooh Callay

‘There’s a really big difference between all of these syrups, even just in terms of colour. And the way they finish each product has a dramatic effect on flavour, and even mouthfeel. Balance is important – using less mint syrup, I thought the result was a decent and consistent Julep.’

Joe McCanta, Saf

‘There’s the potential to lower pouring costs with these. For some of these, you’d maybe want to add a bitter element to balance the drink. For some of the cocktails we tried, I’d have a difficult time drinking more than one.’

Clinton Cawood, Imbibe

‘There was much more variation between the various brands than I was expecting. And this kind of tasting leaves no doubt about the impact that these syrups have on the appearance and mouthfeel when they’re mixed in a drink.’


DO THE MATHS

Knowing who makes the best orgeat syrup is all well and good, but if you’re looking to source all of your syrups from the same place, you need a brand that’s a good all-rounder.
So to help you make your mind up about which brand is right for your bar, here are the average scores of the top syrup brands that supplied all the flavours tasted here:
71% Monin (£3.99-£5.99/70cl) 62% Sonoma ($9.99/375ml) 61% Toschi (£6.95-£9/1l) 60% Teissiere (£4.65-£5.99/70cl)


WHY I DIY

Get some bartenders from London’s top bars together and the conversation’s going to turn to natural products, and how to make your own. And when it comes to syrups, this is an obvious one. And while there are certainly benefits to making your own flavoured syrups (if done right), buying a branded syrup has its advantages too.

Consistency is a major factor to take into account. As Giacomo Russo commented: ‘People use one of these products so they can have a standardised drink,’

‘You definitely get consistency when using syrup brand, because the ingredients for these are seasonal,’ explained Paul Bradley. ‘For example, the pomegranate for grenadine has to be perfectly ripe or the syrup turns brown.’

When asked why most bars don’t make their own syrups, Dan Priseman was of the opinion that ‘effort is the biggest reason.’ Riccardo Andreotti agreed, saying: ‘It doesn’t take a long time, but in big operations, it is a pain. We need the final product to be delivered in the right way.’


Editorial feature from Imbibe Magazine - November / December 2009

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