Caramel syrup: a kick-ass way to add depth to cocktails

bottled caramel syrup - black gold!

While I was fooling around with making my own sweet vermouth (more on that later), I discovered the awesomeness of simple caramel syrup, an incredibly complex and overlooked ingredient.

Now that I’ve been playing around with caramel syrup for a while, I realize that “caramel” just doesn’t do this stuff justice. To me, caramel is a sweet, buttery topping for ice cream, or a chewy candy reminiscent of butterscotch.

The syrup recipe below is none of these things. It is dark, bitter, complex, and it doesn’t take any sh*t. So that’s why I’m going to call it burnt sugar syrup from now on.

How to make burnt sugar syrup

sugar in a cold pan

Get a bunch of sugar and put it into a pan.

sugar slowly caramelizing - picture #1

Heat it on medium-high heat.

sugar slowly caramelizing - picture #2

keep going…

sugar slowly caramelizing - picture #3

almost there…

sugar slowly caramelizing - 318F

this sh*t is HOT.

sugar slowly caramelizing - picture #4

sugar slowly caramelizing - picture #5

sugar slowly caramelizing - picture #6

This whole process takes about 5-10 minutes, depending on your stove and pan.

sugar almost done caramelizing - 349F

It may look like water, but melted sugar is more akin to molten lava. Use caution.

what happens when you add water to hot sugar

Add to the pan equal parts water to sugar by weight. Be careful – the liquid may sputter and the sugar will likely seize. Keep on the medium heat, stirring constantly, until all the burnt sugar is dissolved. Store in the refrigerator.

A burnt drink recipe

Burnt Whiskey Sour

Burnt Whiskey Sour

The complexity of burnt sugar syrup makes it a great choice for amplifying less complex spirits. This whiskey sour recipe has crazy flavors flying around from the syrup and anogstura bitters. I used the saline solution to help mellow things out and blend the bitter notes together.


  • 2 oz light Canadian Whiskey
  • 1 oz fresh-squeezed lemon juice
  • 3/4 oz burnt sugar syrup
  • 2-3 dashes angostura bitters
  • 2-3 drops 3:1 saline solution

Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker and shake hard. Strain into a chilled rocks glass. I prefer not to garnish, though the traditional garnish is a maraschino cherry.

How would you use burnt sugar syrup?


  1. Sam July 31, 2012 at 12:35 pm #

    Sounds killer! For the less well-equipped of us, is the infrared thermometer necessary? And could the water to sugar ratio be instead measured by volume or is weight the way to go here?

    Just recently found your blog (via Alcademics). Nice work!

    • Kevin July 31, 2012 at 12:43 pm #

      Hey Sam,

      The infrared thermometer is not at all necessary – I just used it to illustrate how hot the sugar gets. You can make the syrup by simply using the pictures I’ve provided as a guide.

      Weight is always the way to go for any recipe, but weight usually has a measurable relationship with volume. For example, 1 gram of water is always roughly 1 mL. A mL of granulated white sugar comes in at around 0.70g.

      But I think you’ll find over time that a cheap food scale really speeds up measurements and ends up making recipes easier and simpler. Also, when you start combining sugar, water, and alcohol, densities start getting really screwy, so I like to stick with mass.

      Hope that helps!

      • Sam July 31, 2012 at 4:07 pm #

        Cool. Thanks for the tips. I probably should own a food scale. And I covet the hell out of those nifty infrared thermometers. One day I’ll invest in one. I’ll give this a try and let you know how it turns out.


  2. todd April 19, 2015 at 3:12 am #

    Just fyi, if you use warmed to boiling water, there will be less hardening/splashback.


  1. MxMo Fire! : Burnt Sugar Syrup | Bartending Notes - August 19, 2013

    […] So, as promised, we bring you Burnt Sugar Syrup! Here’s How! […]

  2. Cocktail Science: Simpler Simple Syrup | Dessert Recipe Wall - September 26, 2013

    […] earthy notes that come from cooking the pomegranate syrup at high heat. Heck, I love the taste of caramelized syrup in […]

Post Comment

Current ye@r *

shared on