Almost every Tiki drink calls for some sweetening...
You've probably seen the names in various drink recipes - Rock Candy Syrup, Simple Syrup, Sugar Syrup, etc. Inevitably we have questions, "What's the difference?", "Should I buy it or make it?", "Can I just add sugar?" Well, don't worry. In about 5 minutes you'll know it all.
Sugar syrups are simply mixes of water and sugar that are cooked so that the sugar is suspended in the water and therefore easily mixes with other things in your drink instead of sinking to the bottom of the glass like granulated sugar. The word in front of syrup tells you where the sugar came from. Unless otherwise noted the mix is 1:1 (as in 1 cup of water and 1 cup of sugar). If it is otherwise it is typically noted in the name (like 2:1 Simple Syrup)
Types of Sugar
Rock Candy - I guess bartenders of old would dissolve rock candy in water. I've never seen anyone do it and I don't know why it was taste any different than granulated sugar. I suggest moving on to granulated sugar
Simple Syrup - To make this one just use white granulated sugar. Look for "Pure Cane Sugar" on the package. Rum and beets should never meet.
Demerara Syrup - This is the amber colored sugar made from sugar cane juice. It has a flavor that is richer than processed sugars with hints of toffee.
Turbinado Syrup - Turbinado sugar can also be used though it is even less refined than Demerara. It retains a bit of molasses in it for a stronger flavor. It's sold as "Sugar in the Raw".
Other - There are more plant extracts that we taste as sweet and more ways to turn sugar cane into a particulate than you can imagine. I tend to stick with those made from sugar cane due to the fact that it's also the source of rum. (Though I have used agave syrup as does Trader Sam's and no one complained) Sticking with sugar cane alone gives you Demerara, Muscavado, Turbinado, Sucanat, and brown sugars. Once again, I will remind you that the spirit of Tiki includes a sense of adventure (and pirates) so strike out on your own and don't feel like you have to follow any set rules, including my own. Although, if you are going for authentic Tiki, stay away from artificial sweeteners and corn syrup. You can branch out and still stay organic. Jaggery, Agave, Coconut, Monk-fruit, and Piloncilo sugars are all made from plants that are not sugar cane and all have unique flavors that can really set a drink apart.
Making the Syrup
First, heat the water but don't let it boil. Next, mix in the sugar. Continue to stir (I prefer a whisk) until all sugar is dissolved and the mixture is clarified. Let cool and bottle. Piece of cake, right?! There's a reason they call it Simple Syrup. Once cool, store in a closed container in the refrigerator where it'll keep for about a week. For a while I used Grolsch bottles with the swing top lids. As I began to succumb to Tiki mania, my weekly syrup making sessions began to get out of hand and I went ahead and bought a case of clear glass bottles with the wire lids - and a label maker. Why would I need so many? Well, that's what we call a segue.
As you start making more drinks you start noticing that Donn & Vic (as in Beachcomber and Trader) didn't take long before they started branching out with other sweeteners like maple syrup and honey in addition to mixing other flavors into their sugar syrups. The first you'll probably run into will be Cinnamon Syrup as it's required for a Zombie. However, it won't be long before you'll want to make some drink that will have you making Vanilla Syrup, or Molasses Syrup, or Honey Syrup, or Passion Fruit Syrup, or Coconut Cream, or Li Hing Mui Syrup...