Do You Need Simple Syrup For Cocktails Or Can You Use Sugar?

Despite their alcoholic nature, cocktails often come sweet as sugar — or, rather, syrup. Simple syrup typically acts as a cocktail sweetener and is a common ingredient across your favorite drinks. Whether you're a fan of the Prosecco-heavy French 75 or swear by an ultra-minty refreshing mojito, simple syrup is the key ingredient that transforms your drink from bitter to delicious.

Just as its name suggests, simple syrup is straightforward. Making the syrup requires nothing more than dissolving sugar in water. While you can use heat to expedite the process, you certainly don't have to. Depending on the nature of your cocktail, you can even add spices to make a flavored simple syrup that plays with both sweetness and spicy.

Given the simplicity of simple syrup's ingredients, you can't help but wonder whether plain sugar will suffice. After all, the syrup is nothing more than the classic sweetener, albeit in another form. While standard cocktail recipes call for simple syrup, you don't necessarily have to leave the sugar on the shelf. Sugar can occasionally work in cocktails, though it's not always the best idea.

Simple syrup dissolves better than grainy sugar in cold cocktails

There's a simple reason cocktail recipes call for simple syrup. The syrup ensures that your cocktail will have a smooth consistency and sweet flavor — and that you won't have to wait for your sugar to dissolve.

The flavor benefit is obvious; syrup brings sweetness to your cocktail. As for the consistency and timing, however, syrup really shines. Unlike sugar cubes that have yet to dissolve, simple syrup has already done the work of dissolving sugar into water. So, by the time the sweetener reaches your cocktail, it's in the form of a liquid. You still get that element of sweetness but without the grainy consistency of non-dissolved sugar. Use simple syrup, and your cocktail is ready to drink. 

Because of simple syrup's liquid nature, it works much better than sugar granules in most drinks — but especially those that come cold or iced. Cold drinks are far less likely to dissolve sugar, so, by this same token, it's better to use simple syrup in lieu of sugar in a cold drink. When a drink comes cold, sugar grains may fall to the bottom of your cup, never to successfully sweeten your drink. That means the extra step of making simple syrup is likely a necessity if you want a sweet and smooth cocktail — albeit with a few exceptions. 

Use sugar instead of syrup in hot drinks or cocktails that require muddling

While simple syrup works well across the board, some cocktails intentionally opt for sugar cubes as their first choice. Hot cocktails — for example, coffee grog — can easily dissolve the cubes, so simple syrup isn't necessary. Likewise, mulled wine, hot buttered rum, and hot toddies all give the green light for you to use granulated sugar exactly as is.

Meanwhile, other drinks call for a muddling step, which similarly renders simple syrup unnecessary. To muddle sugar, you simply have to crush down sugar cubes, sometimes with the addition of water or other ingredients. Once the cubes have turned into granules, give the muddled concoction a stir and mix it into your drink. Muddling sugar ultimately helps it to blend more easily into your drink and works as a suitable alternative to simple syrup. Drinks that call for this step vary and are all-encompassing. You can muddle sugar for your mojitos, as well as caipirinhas and mint juleps. 

So, if you're not a fan of sticky syrups, go ahead and crush those sugar cubes. You can sweeten your cocktails in a few ways, but you'll still have to take an extra step to make sure your sugar dissolves. It's up to you to decide whether that step requires making syrup or breaking out the muddler.