If you've ever looked up the recipe for a cocktail and seen the phrase "simple syrup" listed in the ingredients section and not known what this means, this post is for you.
Simple syrup is - essentially - sugar water. If you've ever tried to mix a packet of sugar into your iced coffee and ended up splashing half of it on your shirt because you can't quite get it to mix in (I have) you might need some simple syrup. (Many times, coffee shops have a bottle of it out with the milk and sugar.) So - when we're talkin' 'bout makin' cocktails - which are normally served on ice or chilled - simple syrup becomes a must - have.
Simple Syrup in a bottle with a speed pourer
Ok, so how do you make it?! Easy. Simple syrup is just a 1:1 mixture of sugar and water (1 cup of sugar, 1 cup of water...). Just heat up the water until it's hot but not boiling, and stir in your sugar (think of making a giant cup of tea -- it's much easier to dissolve sugar in hot water than in cold). Then, you'll want to let your syrup cool to room temp.. Throw it in the fridge and it will keep for a month or two.
That's it. Seriously. And, for cocktails such as The Bee's Knees (gin, honey simple syrup, lemon juice) that call for a certain "type" of simple syrup, it's pretty easy to adjust your ingredients (sub honey for sugar to make "honey simple syrup"). It's also not too difficult to make an herbal simple syrup.
As an example, I recently made some hibiscus liqueur, which utilizes a simple hibiscus syrup and vodka to make a nice, floral liqueur that one can mix with any number of drinks to add a little floral note. The recipe? Easy: make a "giant cup of tea" by steeping three bags of hibiscus tea in some hot water, then make simple syrup (using the tea you've made as the water ingredient) and...add vodka!
You can see how simple syrup can become a pretty versatile ingredient in many cocktails once you start experimenting with different sugars (brown, demerara, etc.) or different herbal infusions.