In this post, we will look at the different sweeteners that you can actually buy to put into a cocktail or liqueur.
If we start with glucose, the first of our three main sugar building blocks, we find that it is not usually found by itself. An exception to this is corn or sorghum syrup which is made by breaking down starch into the individual glucose molecules. Sweetener made this way has two problems from a flavoring point of view. First, it is highly purified and therefore a bit bland. Second, since glucose is less sweet than the other two candidates, you get more calories and cost for the same sweetness. So there is not a lot of motivation to use corn syrup. Maybe to back sweeten corn or sorghum moonshine? It's a stretch, but crazier things happen.
Moving on to mixtures of glucose and fructose, there are a number of choices. Fruit juices fall into this category and can make excellent sweeteners when paired properly. Obvious combinations occur when the juice and spirit have the same origin, such as pommeau which is a French libation made from apple brandy and apple cider. Interesting complementary tastes can occur when the spirit and juice have contrasting character. The acidity of a good apple juice can enliven a slightly sweet spirit such as rum or bourbon.
Honey is a great natural sweetener that is actually a blend of glucose, fructose, and sucrose. It also has micro constituents that vary depending on what kind of flowers the bees used to make the honey. Like the fruit juice, you can sweeten blackberry liqueur with blackberry honey and really enhance the fruit character. Contrasting pairs are open to your imagination as honey is made from many sources including clover, mangroves in the tropics, berries, and more.
Although not pure fructose, agave is pretty close. The good news is that it is very sweet and you can back off on the amount somewhat. The bad news is that there is growing evidence that the different metabolic pathway for fructose can lead to high triglyceride levels or even insulin resistance if there is too much in your diet. Obviously, moderation is the key. Agave is produced in light, amber, and dark versions which have increasing amounts of caramel-like flavor notes along with the distinctive flavor of the blue agave plant. Tequila from fermenting and distilling this juice and is a natural for pairing with agave. Other tropical and citrus flavors seem to combine well also.
Maple syrup (mainly sucrose) and birch syrup (glucose/fructose mixture) can be interesting sweeteners. However, their taste is strong and distinctive and can easily overpower the rest of the drink. Try blending a little with another milder sweetener for optimal effect.
In final installment 3, we will examine the many forms of culinary sucrose.