The first time I realized that maple syrup could be part of an enjoyable cocktail came, not surprisingly, at brunch. I was at the Bachelor Farmer in Minneapolis a few years ago and ordered a drink that was, for all intents and purposes, an Old Fashioned at three-quarter scale, with maple syrup used as the sweetener. (The restaurant has since stopped serving brunch, to the sadness of many a Twin Cities diner.) The resulting drink was something impressively refreshing—given that maple syrup’s different grades often reflect markedly flavors, those same flavors can be reflected in the drinks themselves.
“Maple syrup in cocktails is nothing new,” said Rick Paulger, head bartender at Detroit’s Roast. “It has been used in cocktails dating back to the early 1800s.” It may be a timeless ingredient, but it isn’t necessarily a common one in the bartender’s toolkit. Still, there are a number of noteworthy cocktails utilizing maple syrup to be found. Some embrace maple syrup’s associations with breakfast: The PDT Cocktail Book, released in 2011, contains a recipe for the Benton’s Old-Fashioned, which blends Grade B maple syrup with bacon-infused bourbon, creating a late-night drink that harkens back to a hearty breakfast. (A different blend of bacon-infused bourbon and maple syrup also shows up on the menu of the Las Vegas branch of the Southern restaurant Yardbird.) What follows is a look at some other cocktails that incorporate maple syrup in a variety of ways. Some embrace its essential flavors; others view it as an ingredient that can be modified like any other aspect of the drink.
Prospect Park Sour (Flatiron Lounge, New York, NY)
Maple syrup coincides with multiple citrus flavors in this cocktail at Manhattan’s Flatiron Lounge. On the spirits side, drinkers will detect both rye whiskey and Amaro. All of which begs the question: Are some spirits particularly well-suited to being mixed with maple syrup? “Bourbon or rye are the obvious choices, but really any spirit can go well with it,” said the bar’s general manager, Ezekial Miller. “It just depends on the direction of the cocktail and the flavors you’re trying to achieve."
Maple-Walnut Sazerac (Saxon + Parole, New York, NY)
Rye also plays a role in this cocktail at the New York restaurant Saxon + Parole, alongside cognac and the walnut liqueur Nocello. Walnuts are something of a theme here, as toasted walnuts also play a part in the drink, blending with the maple syrup and infusing the whole thing with a nice hint of autumn—if autumn itself could get you lightly buzzed.
Cabin Fever (Clyde Common, Portland, OR)
Some of the most innovative cocktail work happening right now is taking place at Portland’s Clyde Common. The Cabin Fever brings together two underrated spirits, Pineau des Charentes and Cardamaro, along with rye, creating a complex blend of flavors that’s offset by the hearty sweetness of maple syrup.
Brown Derby (Roast, Detroit, MI)
Whiskey isn’t the only base spirit that meshes well with maple syrup. One of the cocktail options at the Detroit steakhouse Roast is the Brown Derby, where rum and lime juice are the other components. “Maple syrup as a sweetener adds a depth of flavor that is far more complex than any simple syrup,” said Roast’s head bartender, Rick Paulger, and this drink helps make that point.
Liberal (Anvil, Houston, TX)
The cocktail menu at the Houston bar Anvil offers a host of drinks with enticing and, in some cases, unlikely combinations of spirits. One of these is the Liberal, in which maple syrup, bonded Bourbon, and the liqueur Amer are brought together in a single glass. It’s a study in contrasts, with Amer’s bitterness and the full-flavored sweetness of maple syrup each occupying a distinct place on the taste spectrum.
Fairgame Sazerac (The Vault, Asheville, NC)
Many a cocktail featuring maple syrup taps into a mood sparked by the cooler months. Much as maple syrup calls up memories of pouring it over oatmeal, waffles, or pancakes as the temperature drops, these drinks suggest sweater weather. The Fairgame Sazerac at the Vault in Asheville doubles down on the autumnal for a drink that brings smoked maple syrup together with apple brandy. It’s the heartiest breakfast you ever drank.