"Sour mix is a gateway drug," renowned bartender and blogger Jeffrey Morgenthaler once claimed. "It can lead you down a very dark path, or it can open up a new world."
Unfortunately, many of us turn to the dark side, buying plastic bottles of cloying, pre-made sour mixes. Most drinkers don't realize that creating fresh, homespun sour mixes and syrups is as easy as squeezing fruit, buying a bag of sugar and simmering hot water. Try it yourself:
Sours mix consists of equal parts "simple syrup" and fresh lemon juice. To make the syrup, combine equal parts sugar and water in a saucepan and cook on low heat (never boil, unless you want taffy). Stir until the sugar granules dissolve. Remove from heat and let cool. Then add an equal amount of strained, freshly squeezed lemon juice.
Varying that recipe can personalize your mix: Tom Mastascusa, who tends bar at Lawrenceville's Tamari, uses slightly more lemon juice, adding a hint of lime to enhance the citrus base. (He also uses natural "Sugar in the Raw" rather than processed sugars, which can over-sweeten drinks.)
The mix will last about a week if refrigerated in an air-tight container. Try making a classic Tom Collins (2 oz. of gin; 1.5 oz. of sours; finish with soda water) or a more obscure Pisco Sour (2 oz. Pisco -- grape brandy; 1 oz. fresh lemon juice; 1 oz. homemade simple syrup; 1 egg white; and a dash of Angostura bitters).
Simple syrups can stand alone, too. Steep fresh spices/herbs (e.g. thyme, mint, ginger) or fruits (like blueberries) in the syrup as it cools: It will add a distinctive flavor. Mastascusa infuses syrup with jalapeños for his spicy margarita, for example. Or steep vanilla pods in the syrup, and add to 2 oz. vodka and some ginger ale.
"When you build a house, all good things start in the foundation," Mastascusa says. "When you build a cocktail, all good things start in the foundation of that cocktail."