I love cucumbers. As the summer months approach and the days get longer, there’s nothing more pleasant than the first freshly-picked one from your garden or the local farmer’s market. Over the last several years I’ve enjoyed seeing this fresh flavor included on cocktail lists across the country. I even spent an entire summer obsessing over the delicious Hendrick’s G&T, which uses a simple cucumber garnish to bring out the flavor in the gin. Soon after, I was yearning to incorporate it into my drinks in more ways. This is what led me to start making my own cucumber syrup.
The recipe is pretty simple. I find the freshest organic or locally-grown cucumber available (which can be very cheap when in season), and I slice it into straw-sized slices. Using quality ingredients for infusions is important for several reasons, but most importantly, it can really cut down on the time it takes to reach the flavor you want.
Next, I make a traditional simple syrup (recipe here), and after the sugar is fully dissolved but while it’s still warm, I bottle the mixture and add my cucumber slices. I let this solution sit at least overnight, sometimes up to 72 hours, then strain and re-bottle the finished mixture.
My favorite thing about infusing simple syrup is that it allows you to incorporate whatever flavors you’d like into some of your favorite drinks or spirits without changing the alcohol content. Any standard Old-Fashioned can become something fresh and new when a subtle savory or sweet flavor is added sparingly.
While I’ve experimented quite a lot, the original drink I’m most proud of using cucumber syrup is called the Finley Cocktail.
It starts with the base of a Gin & It cocktail, where the “it” is used to refer to Italian or sweet vermouth. Next, I add my cucumber simple syrup and several dashes of Peychaud’s bitters. The drink is full and aromatic, yet sweet and strong. The vermouth-syrup-Peychaud’s combination creates some beautiful caramel flavors, and the gin keeps the drink light and clean. Finally, a simple lemon rind is twisted over the drink to release its essential oils.
2 oz Dry Gin
¾ oz Carpano Antica Italian Vermouth
½ oz Cucumber Simple Syrup
Several dashes Peychaud’s Bitters
1. Stir ingredients in a glass with ice until chilled, then strain into a chilled cocktail glass
2. Garnish with a lemon rind
Once you’ve gotten the hang of infusing your own cucumber syrup, I’d highly recommend playing around with some of your own ideas. It’s a simple way to make some really wonderful twists on your favorite recipes, and it’s always a fun excuse to do some experimenting in your home cocktail lab!