As I started my exploration of various cocktails, I began to acquire more varied liquors and liqueurs. It’s to the point where if I go out to a bar, I have to remember that they are not likely to be able to mix a good many drinks I take for granted. As an example, there is an excellent restaurant within walking distance that is typically stocked. I can order a Manhattan, an Old Fashioned, a Martini (this is a bit of a surprise – they go through vermouth fast enough the result really is a Martini and not dreck), etc. But not a Negroni – that requires Campari which is not stocked.
My horizons broadened, and my taste improved to where I’ve now been accused of only drinking “top shelf” stuff when, really, I just know when the well stock isn’t good enough and go a step, or even just half a step, up. Now, I do appreciate top shelf stuff, but that is not always called for. An example is the Stinger – it’s pretty much meant to be a way to deal with low-end brandy and thus it would be stupid to make one with a good cognac.
I’d seen cocktail recipes that called for gomme syrup and wondered. It’s not quite simple syrup (which is really just sugar water), but also has gum Arabic/Acacia (gomme being the fancy French version of gum, see). This adds a smoothness or creaminess, so articles claimed. Well, I found one article that went into detail about sources and such and suggested rather than buying expensive “gomme syrup” or expensive food-grade gum Arabic, to get it cheaper, in rather bulk, when it has another claimed purpose: dietary fiber supplement – which means it darn well ought to be food grade. But instead of paying through the nose, it’s about $1 per ounce for a nice big 16 oz. canister.
The trade-off is that Do-It-Yourself gomme syrup is a bit fiddly and takes some time. Fortunately most of that time is “leave it alone for several hours” and nothing truly demanding of attention. Over the last day or so, I made my own gomme syrup. And I’ve run the recommended comparison of two near-identical drinks.
Two Old Fashioneds. Both with the same amount of the same bourbon [Evan Williams, so it’s not a crap low-end thing benefiting from any help it can get. I went with that rather than other choices as I was making TWO stiff drinks and that was lowest proof bourbon at hoof], the same amount of syrup, the same number of dashes of bitters, in identically shaped glasses, each with a set of steel “whiskey balls” for chilling. The only difference was one had simple syrup, the other had the gomme syrup. Now, neither was a bad drink – start with a decent liquor and the Old Fashioned will work just fine. BUT… the simple syrup drink was a bit ‘sharper’ or had more ‘bite’ – nothing objectionable, but it was detectable. The gomme syrup drink was smoother and creamier. I should note, that sampling occurred of each, repeatedly, long before either was fully consumed, so it’s not a “second drink effect” sort of thing going on where each subsequent drink is judged ever less critically than the one before.
My suspicion is that gomme syrup disappeared due to the idiocy known as Prohibition (which never really works – for anything) and that when that ended, simple syrup reigned due to simplicity and anything was better than nothing. And, of course, a Great Depression and the trade limitations that deepened/worsened it, followed by wartime limits on shipping meant that the key ingredient of gomme syrup was expensive or not to be had, after that, inertia. Only relatively recently, with the great cocktail revival, is proper gomme syrup making a return. I do expect I will keep a bottle of simple syrup around, for such cocktails that might have so much going on that gomme might seem a waste, but for any of the classics or just simpler cocktails that call for sweetener, gomme syrup seems to be the way to go.