Making Homemade Simple Syrup – Part 1: Hot, Cold, Flavors, and Shelf Life

A Cool Simple Syrup is one of those bartending things that bars and cocktail artists use to add a lot of delicious sounding nouns and adjectives to cocktails to make them seem more intimidating or complicated… it isn’t. Making homemade simple syrup is one of the fastest and easiest things that you can do to jazz up your cocktails, mock-tails, and even some cooking too.

Hot Or Cold

There are two ways to do an infusion: Hot infusion or Cold infusion. Both have their merits, but one is way easier (and less sticky). Actually, they are both pretty sticky. You’re going to be sticky after this.

Hot Infusion

Hot infusions are made with boiling water. That’s pretty much the biggest difference here. In order to make a hot infusion, you take equal amounts (by weight) of water and sugar. Bring the water to a boil and add the sugar slowly, stirring so that it dissolves completely. Once dissolved, remove it from heat, put it in your container of choice and let it cool before use. Or don’t, I guess, but that would be counterproductive.

Cold Infusion

I’ll lead with the fact that this is my Number 1 infusion style and that I personally almost never do a Hot Infusion. What I love about a cold infusion is how insanely easy they are, plus they are ready to use right away. The process is: Put equal amounts sugar and water (by weight) into a jar (or other receptacle) with sufficient shaking space. Then you shake. Then you’re done and it’s ready to go! You can probably get a good picture of why this is my favorite way to make homemade simple syrup.

Flavored Simple Syrup or Plain?

So the term ‘simple syrup’ technically refers to the mixture of just sugar and water, and when you add other flavors, it becomes “_________ syrup” instead. Colloquially though, most people end up calling it “house made ________ simple syrup” since it sounds much fancier. Also (my own personal opinion), it denotes the texture a little bit better. To me, a “Vanilla Syrup” is going to be much thicker than a “Vanilla simple syrup”. Others disagree, but at the end of the day, the common usage wins and the people have spoken. Flavored simple syrup it is!

The question of whether or not to use flavors isn’t really a hard one… do you want it or not? What flavors to use and when to use them is where most people start to struggle. For my purposes (alcohol) it’s usually a question of do I want this flavor as a simple syrup, or would it be better infusing into the liquor itself?

Infusing Simple Syrup v. liquor


My general stance is that spices are better for liquor infusions while fruits, vegetables, and herbs are better for making homemade simple syrup. This is because when you infuse a liquor with fruits and fruit juices, they won’t “Go bad” but they won’t be the same after 4/5 months either. The color goes off and the flavor changes, especially when exposed to light and heat. This doesn’t happen with spices.

On the other hand, simple syrups go bad after a few weeks so you don’t have to worry about the flavor! If the flavor changes, it’s because it’s bad and you should throw it away. Also, this is a good time to note never make too much simple syrup. I prefer to make them in 16 oz jars and I still end up throwing some away. (Admittedly though, I’m not great about using it up in sodas or lemonades or stuff once I’m done with cocktails). Any larger and you are pretty much guaranteed to waste a bunch.

Herbs and Spices

Herbs and flowers are really okay in either, but I lean more towards putting them in the simple syrups. I can’t really give you a good reason, I just do? The one notable exception being Gin. Since most gins are already herbal infusions, putting extra lavender or rose or sage is going to enhance it. I digress, that’s a discussion for the liquor infusion post (as yet to be written). Other than gin though, it’s syrups all the way!

Obviously, if you don’t drink or don’t want to use it for alcohol, they are all fine in the syrup.

Simple Syrup from Different Sugars

While the list of flavors and combinations you can use for your syrup might be endless, the different types of sugar is not. The aptly named has further details, but we will list the ones that are good for our own purposes today.

Regular/White Granulated Sugar

You’ve already got this in your house (probably) which makes it the most common and the most reasonable to start out with. This will make the kind of syrup you use to make an Old Fashioned or a Classic Lemon Drop.

Superfine Sugar

This is very similar to your regular granulated sugar, but it is better for making cold infused simple syrups. It also goes by the name ‘casters sugar’ and can be kind of hard to find and more expensive. Luckily, there is an alternative: Make your own. Take your regular table sugar and run it through a blender or food processor for a few moments and BAM superfine sugar. You might have to buzz it then shake it a bit to get all the sugar. At least, that’s what I do with my magic bullet.

Brown Sugar

Using brown sugar is one of my favorite ways to add a new dimension of richness to a lackluster syrup. It’s just as easy to use and goes very well with apple and cinnamon. The biggest problem I have with brown sugar is keeping it and measuring it. To that end, I strongly recommend looking for “free flowing” or granulated brown sugar, which has all the flavor but is drier and behaves more like granulated white sugar. Also, you can make it superfine-style for your cold infusions.

Turbinado Sugar

Whereas brown sugar has the molasses flavor added back in, Turbinado/ Demerara/Raw Cane sugar, never had the molasses filtered out. I particularly like this one for simple syrups since it gives them a much richer flavor and texture. This is what I will be using in almost all of my DIY simple syrup kits.

Muscadavo/Barbados Sugar

Honestly, I’d never heard of this one before I looked at Sugar.Org, but it sounds delicious and perfect for homemade simple syrups. Particularly, I think it will be excellent with any syrups you plan to serve with Whiskey or Rum. It looks like it’s widely available online but not in any regular stores near me right now. Also, way more expensive. Get it if you want to get fancy (and funky) but it is by no means a requirement.


If you drink a lot of tea, it might be worth having a honey syrup around just in general, since honey doesn’t play nicely unless it’s been watered down. You also *really* have to keep this one refrigerated, since it ferments easily and we wouldn’t want that.

I strongly recommend this one as a cold infusion, since there is no good reason to heat it up. In Dave Arnolds ‘Liquid Intelligence’, he recommends 64 grams of water for every 100 grams of Honey. Just shake and go.

Maple Syrup

There are not that many occasions where maple syrup is the best choice for making homemade simple syrup… you pretty much have to know exactly what you’re going to be making in order to bother. Maybe a Maple Syrup Old Fashioned or The Honeycrisp Cocktail. Personally, I think it’s just good in lemonade too. Either way, I don’t actually recommend watering down your maple syrup into a ‘simple syrup’ texture, just since it will go bad faster. Maple syrup is already pretty easy to work with. If you want to infuse the flavor I would probably just simmer it (with a little extra water) and whatever flavor you’re adding.

Agave Syrup

Most recently Americas new Darling, Agave is unique in that it is the only sweetener that we perceive as sweeter the colder it gets. Most sweeteners taste sweeter the warmer they get. This quality is what makes it ideal in Margaritas and other blended drinks and less ideal in hot teas and toddys. Like the maple syrup, it doesn’t need watering down to be usable, so if you want to infuse this one, just a little extra water and a simmer will do.

Shelf Life

Since this is a homemade product, the shelf life will vary dramatically based on what you do and how you keep your simple syrup. ALWAYS double check your syrup before using it for any signs of mold or discoloration. The ‘use by’ date you give it is a guideline, not a rule.

Cold InfusedNo AdditionsNo Refrigeration2-3 Days
Cold InfusedVodkaNo Refrigeration4-5 Days
Cold InfusedVodkaRefrigeration1.5-2 Weeks
Hot InfusedNo AdditionsNo Refrigeration1-1.5 Weeks
Hot InfusedVodkaNo Refrigeration1.5-2.5 Weeks
Hot InfusedVodkaRefrigeration1-3 Months

As you can see, there is a lot of variety here. The Hot infused will definitely last longer in general, but as I said before, will yield a different flavor. The Cold infused can also last longer if you take steps to protect it (and yourself). Needless to say, I strongly recommend Vodka and Refrigeration unless you know for sure you are using 100% of it the day you make it.

Recommended Flavors for Simple Syrups

While you can check out y other post on Simple Syrup Recipes that will be much more specific, this is just a quick list of the most popular and easy to use flavors you can create at home.

GingerBasilMintThymePrickly Pear
Chinese 5 spiceStrawberryLemonBlackberryRaspberry

While that list may be a little overwhelming, there are a few things to keep in mind… First of all, I find that simple syrups, like many cocktails, really shine with 2 or 3 major ingredients. Blackberry Vanilla, Hazelnut Coffee, Lemon and Lemongrass. You might put a little extra in there to back up your main flavors, but keeping it simple is a really great way to guarantee great results.

The second thing is that you Don’t have to Reinvent the Wheel. There are great flavor combinations all around us and all over the internet. My number one resource for things like this is The Flavor Bible by Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg. If you know you want a Peach infusion all you have to do is look up Peach and follow their recommended pairings. Go withwhat feels right and what comes natural and you’re almost always going to be right.

Keep an Eye out for Part 2: Step by Step Instructions, with Pictures!

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Published by Spirit Sirens

Head Mixologist and Class Coordinator at Lucidi Distilling Co. in Old Town Peoria, Arizona. In my free time I eat good foods, drink good drinks and make mead with my brother. Soon to be on YouTube with Lucidi Distilling Co. making drinks and talking history and under Spirit Sirens, where myself and my partner Mariah talk about women in the alcohol industry and our experiences!

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