Cocktail bar menus are awash with drinks that use various syrups. Most drinks on a menu list usually require sweeter syrups - e.g. Grenadine for a Tequila Sunrise. Every now and then, a more sour tasting syrup - e.g. Blue Curaçao for a Blue Frog - will be needed.
Nowadays, with the ‘Craft Cocktail’ craze, bar owners and bartenders alike do their best to force their ‘unique’ stamp on the bartending fraternity; often creating fresh exciting syrups for new recipes to compete. Often, they look through old recipes and manuals, sometimes dating back centuries for fresh ideas or to reinvent old recipes.
Oleo Saccharum is one classic syrup that’s made a recent comeback. Traditionally, the main component in punch bowls, Oleo Saccharum - Latin for ‘oil sugar’ - is a syrup named for its hygroscopic properties. Essentially its made by placing citrus fruit peel, with the white pith removed, in a jar. Then, sugar is added to aid in releasing the essential oils trapped in the skin. The whole mixture is left alone to macerate, usually for a few hours. The final syrup will have a typical citrus flavour, minus the bitter aftertaste that's ready for use. Thanks to the sugar-oil crossing, the added sweetness compliments the mixtures citrus core that surpasses regular simple syrups or juices.
Following from a rich heritage, its complex flavour was able to rouse and muse bartenders worldwide. There’s no wonder why Oleo Saccharum has snuck its way back onto cocktail menus.
According to Difford’s Guide, first recorded mentions of Oleo dates back to 1670! Published in 1827, Richard Cook’s book Oxford Night Caps, explains how to “extract the juice from the rind of three lemons, by rubbing loaf sugar on them.” In his 1862 The Bartenders Guide, legendary bartender Jerry Thomas wrote: “to make punch of any sort in perfection, the ambrosial essence of the lemon must be extracted.” He also advised, “rubbing lumps of sugar on the rind, which breaks the delicate little vessels that contain the essence, and at the same time absorbs it.”
Making Your Own Oleo Saccharum Batch
Making a standard Oleo Saccharum sounds complicated to make. Fortunately, it’s easier than ordering drinks in a swamped club on a Friday night:
- Gather 4 to 6 organic, non-waxed lemons. If you’re feeling adventurous, grapefruit, oranges or other citrus fruit can be used. (Note: different citrus fruits are sometimes mixed together). Non-waxed citrus fruits work best since the natural zest can blend with the other ingredients faster.
- Wash the fruit.
- Use a vegetable peeler to strip the citrus fruit of the skin. (Note: you can use a knife but a vegetable peeler is more accurate at removing the peel minus the white pith). Long, thin strips are best. Then, throw the peels in a rubber-sealing Kilner or screw-top Mason jar.
- For each lemon you use, pour 45ml’s or an espresso cup worth of caster sugar into the jar.
- Seal your jar, shake thoroughly and leave to macerate for 10 hours. For better results, leave the mixture alone for up to 1 full day (Note: Stirring the mixture every few hours helps).
- You should find a clear, oil-like syrup floating over the caster sugar. This is the famous Oleo Saccharum. Thanks to the maceration process, you will find a smaller amount than expected. However, by dissolving the sugary residue, you can lengthen the mixture.
- Along with a matching caster sugar volume, add the same amount of citrus juice from Step 4 in your jar.
- Reseal your jar and shake thoroughly. Make sure all the sugar has dissolved. After leaving and refrigerating the mixture for 1 more day, you should have a delicious lengthened Oleo Saccharum batch ready to go.
If you don’t have access to a rubber-sealing Kilner or screw-top Mason jar, you can use a vacuum sealing bag:
- Using a muddler, pestle your chosen citrus fruit peel with caster sugar in a bowl.
- Pour the muddled sugary peels into your vacuum-sealable bag. Zip it shut. Ensure there's no air left over.
- Leave the mixture to soften and macerate. 6 hours at room temperature is fine. To ensure all the caster sugar has seeped through and blended thoroughly with the lemon oil, 12 hours is better.
- Label the date and refrigerate until you need it next.
One cocktail that puts Oleo Saccharum to great use is the One-Two Punch. This particular drink is more for the Whiskey aficionados. But, its intriguing list of ingredients is great for the adventurous looking for something new:
- 45ml of Scotch whiskey
- 15ml Lemon juice
- 15ml Grapefruit juice
- 15ml Oleo-saccharum
- 90ml Pilsner lager
Once you have the ingredients ready, place them in a mixing glass filled with ice, minus the pilsner. Stir for 10 to 15 seconds. Then strain into a Pilsner or Highball glass filled with fresh dry ice. Top the glass with Pilsner lager. To garnish, slice a grapefruit half-wheel and rest on top. Now, you can sip on a fruity, slightly fizzy cocktail with a sneakily smoky finish that can tingle your taste buds.
Remember: When making your own Oleo Saccharum batch, be sure to avoid as much of the white pith as possible. Oleo Saccharum is a sweet syrup. The white pith taints the flavour, making it sour. The finer the zest, the easier it will be to blend with the sugar. If available, use a grater or microplane zester. If your bar happens to be in a restaurant, pinch one from the kitchen staff.