The honey “syrup” technique basically allows you to cut the sugar content of a honey down to a point where it can contrast an equal volume of lemon or lime juice with common harmony. The syrup is also rendered shelf stable by having just enough alcohol to fend off bacteria. The technique is also heat free so as not to destroy any delicate aromas or take up valuable burner time in the kitchen.
Contrary to popular belief raw honey has good solubility. Crystallized and waxy honeys can easily be dissolved into an alcohol-water solution (vodka, etc.) by merely stirring. This means that boutique, raw, rare-circumstance, single-varietal honeys can quickly migrate from the tea cup or cheese plate to the cocktail.
To preserve the honey syrup, an alcohol content of 20% will get you near the minimum of preservation. 20% is a nice number and all you have to add is an equal volume of honey and an equal volume of 40% alcohol spirit to get there. Most importantly, the equal volume measure also puts the sugar content at a point where it can elegantly contrast an equal volume of lemon or lime juice (common harmony!).
Most of these raw honeys are crystallized (lack of free water content) but this doesn’t mean you have to heat them to get them to dissolve. Heat risks destroying aromas. You simply scoop the honey out and then stir it patiently with the spirit. Everything dissolves easier than you’d think. First put the spirit into the scooped out honey jar to dissolve everything on the sides before mixing it with the bulk in a new container. Don’t even worry about filtering. Those who drinks comb solids should be considered lucky.
There you have it, preserved honey “syrup” that you don’t have to worry about using too quickly. No refrigeration necessary. A 20% alcohol content will give you shelf stability even with low sugar contents (think dry vermouth). Increase the sugar content beyond 170g/l (an estimate, think sweet vermouth) and you can be stable at as low as 16%.
The variation of aromas among single varietals is amazing. Far more fun than seeking out new gins.
The finished products are just as expensive as commercial options and we (Pomodoro, Brookline) keep a big library of them so people can try stuff. Nothing ferments. Nothing spoils. It would otherwise in a water based syrup because the sugar content is cut down to a point where it doesn’t desiccate the yeasts and bacteria. Also you can easily make tiny quantities if you don’t want to invest too much.
The bar at work only has one gin (and one aquavit) so keeping many honeys has been a great way to add significant variation to our small program. We also are patrons of artisans instead of large corporations (drambuie, irish mist, etc)
Honeys that have gone through our program:
Ames farm basswood (current favorite): green in color, pale, focused aromas slightly reminiscent of a men’s lime aftershave (in the most positive way possible) if this were a wine it would be a reisling.
Ames farm elderberry: labeled elderberry but I think they mean elder flower, smells more like fresh elderflower than st. germain, pale meaning that there are no dense “honeyed” aromas, when it dissolves you wouldn’t believe the source is honey.
Ames farm dandelion: organically earthy, sensual, slightly erotic, shares aromas in common with a truffle minus the fusel notes. gives the european versions a run for their money.
Floriano chestnut flower: dense and rich like a chestnut, tastes better as the evening gets later or the weather gets colder
Pozzolo tarassaco: varies with the vintage but can be quite potent, epicly earthy and sensual, has an affinity for geneva style gins!
Pozzolo melata di bosco: made from the sap of alpine spruce trees that get attacked by aphids whose excess secretions the bees collect (i’m not making this up!), dense and molasses-y, ironous and blood like (the sorrow of the trees!) from a high mineral content, a shade of spruce pininess that seems to exist almost between juniper and menthe.
Floriano rhododendron: poisonous flowers that produce non-poisonous honey, very hard to describe, not exactly pale because it has honey notes with an additional round quality that feels like the ghost of an apricot, contrasted by micro angular notes (aromas that decrease the perception of sweetness) that you can’t really attach words to.
Gaec de Lozari arbutus (“strawberry tree”, former favorite!): the famous bitter honey of corsica and sardinia, definitely not chestnut but quite rich in its roundness, lots of contrasting notes some reminiscent of chili threads, subtle bitterness probably tamed by all the sugar, simply epic, who knew honey could do this.
Golden Angles sourwood from singers glen, va: the most prized of the appalachian honeys, dominated by the same round aromas found in irish whiskeys, many tropical aromas, it probably loves being mixed with spirits dominated by angular aromas (because it creates aromatic tension!)
Lo Brusc chataigner (chestnut): another spectacular chestnut, the star of our bobby burns cocktail.
And of course it should be noted, we get most all these at formaggio kitchen.
The greatest unsung ready-made honey liqueur is “brandymel” from the algarve in portugal. They use a raw seeming honey that is probably local and fortify it with Medronho which is a distillate made from the strawberry tree that produces the famous Corsican/Sardinian honey. Medronho brings that same chili thread like aroma as seen in Lozari’s arbutus honey. Brandymel uses a different sugar ethic than my 1:1 template which make it slightly less sweet and their alcohol content is slightly higher. Their honey could even have a high percentage of arbutus because its local to the area. Simply spectacular. One of the greatest unsung culinary treasures. It still retails for $13.99 a 750 ml. If it were made in Corsica it would be more like $70.00.
1.5 oz. gin or linie aquavit (we use aquavit under the same name)
.75 oz. honey syrup
.75 oz. lemon juice
2 oz. compass box great king st. blended scotch
1 oz. vergano americano (bitter sweet vermouth with a spectacular wine base [grignolino from monferrato!])
barspoon chestnut flower honey syrup
völstead (that is a rock’n roll umlaut)
1 oz. rye
1oz. linie aquavit (rye-caraway-anise, classic creative linkage)
1 oz. punt y mes (when you push sugar beyond a 2:1 manhattan’s ethic, a bitter vermouth is nice)
spoonful malata di bosca honey syrup