Simple syrup is incredibly easy to make, so if you’re looking for a substitute simply because you’ve run out, don’t worry, just make more. All you have to do is combine equal parts sugar and hot water, stir until the sugar fully dissolves, and let it cool. I normally do one cup of hot water — hot enough for sugar to dissolve, but not boiling — and one cup of sugar. Then, transfer the syrup to a bottle and store it in the fridge, ready for cocktails at a moment’s notice.
But if you don’t have time to make more or wait for the liquid to cool — it’s cocktail hour now, after all — or if you would prefer to not use sugar, there are several alternatives you can try. The easiest substitution is agave nectar, as you can usually use this as an even one-for-one substitute in a drink, without having to dilute it. For example, if the drink calls for a half-ounce of simple syrup, you can use a half-ounce of agave nectar instead.
If agave nectar isn’t your thing, you can also substitute honey or maple syrup, but for these, I like to dilute with water before using. Using the above example, if the drink called for a half-ounce of simple syrup, I will instead mix a quarter-ounce of honey or maple syrup with a quarter-ounce of water in order to achieve a sweetness that is not too cloying or overpowering.
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So, don’t freak out the next time you find a drink recipe you love that calls for simple syrup. Making it is a breeze, and there are many suitable substitutes.