Cocktailing at home requires a few accessories. Beyond a shaker, a stirring glass, a spoon, etc., a home bar isn’t really complete without bitters, citrus, and syrups. The first two are fairly straightforward purchases, but syrups are extremely easy and cost-effective to make at home. They’re also almost infinitely riffable, which makes them a nice evening/afternoon/weekend project, depending how much free time you have, and the variety of flavours you desire.
You really don’t need any syrups beyond “simple” and honey. With them, you can make a wide variety of fancy cocktails—both shaken and stirred—and they keep forever in the fridge. They’re also extremely easy to make. To make a simple syrup, just heat equal parts sugar and water (by volume) in a small saucepan until the sugar dissolves. Let cool, then funnel into a squeeze bottle for easy pouring. For honey syrup, use a ratio of three parts honey and one part hot (not boiling) water. Stir throughly to combine, then strain into a squeeze bottle (bonus points if you can find one shaped like a bear).
If you want a simple with a little more body and flavour, try swapping out your standard white sugar for a darker, richer turbinado, and use a ratio of two parts sugar to one part water. Use this one instead of the standard simple in drinks that call for a deeper, more caramel-like sweetness.
If you have frozen berries—or any berries, really—you can make a jewel-toned, slightly tart honey syrup that works equally well in cocktails, lemonades and plain seltzer. Add 1 cup honey and 2 cups berries to a small saucepan and bring to a simmer. Give everything a stir to break up any frozen honey and berry chunks, then return to a simmer once more. Strain through a fine mesh sieve and save the solids for smoothies or use them as a yogurt topping. Let honey cool to room temperature before storing in the fridge.
Ginger is one of my favourite flavours, and the no-cook ginger syrup in Sasha Patraske’s Regarding Cocktails is a spicy, vibrant masterpiece. Rather than extracting gingery goodness with heat—which gives the syrup a “cooked” flavour—you do so with the blade. It’s a slightly involved, though not overly difficult process (which you can read about here); basically it’s a matter of juicing ginger in your food processor, then mixing that juice with sugar (again, in the food processor) until you produce a golden, super flavorful syrup for cocktails, teas, lemonades, and bespoke ginger ale.
If you have a bottle of soon to be oxidised wine or vermouth—or simply made a bad vino purchase—you can use it to make a simple with a little more character (and alcohol). Make it how you would any simple: Just heat an equal amount of wine and sugar in a small saucepan until the sugar dissolves, let cool, funnel and chill. Crappy rosé makes a particularly pretty syrup.
Woody herb stems, such as thyme and rosemary, often get tossed or composted, but there’s a good bit of flavour in those plant parts, and they make a surprisingly fancy simple. Just make the simple as you usually would, then toss whatever herb stems you have lying around into the saucepan, cover with a lid, and let steep overnight. Strain out the stems the next day and then strain through a fine mesh sieve into a squeeze bottle. Use in any beverage that asks for a little bit of refinement.