I’m obsessed with cinnamon syrup. It’s easy to make, extremely versatile, and transformative in cocktails. Swap it into any recipe in place of simple syrup and it instantly tastes like autumn, winter and the holidays all rolled into one. I use it in the Autumn Whiskey Sour, Egg Nog, Harvest Sour, Hot Toddy, and Port of Call. It's also great in a French 75 . Just to name a few.
All you do boil simple syrup with cinnamon sticks or bark (details on the difference is across the page) and let it steep for a few hours. I know I'm often guilty of hyperbole, but honestly, if there's one ingredient worth the extra effort of preparing, it's this one. Your cocktail life will never be the same.
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
10-12 cinnamon sticks, or ¼ cup crushed cinnamon sticks (about 5 sticks) or bark
Combine sugar and water in a pot over medium heat and stir until dissolved (if you stop here you have simple syrup).
Add the cinnamon sticks/bark, increase heat and bring to a boil.
Let it boil for 1 minute, then remove from heat and cover. Don't let it continue to boil too much water will evaporate and throw off the balance.
Allow the mixture to steep off heat for at least 4 hours, but ideally 12 hours/overnight. The longer it sits the stronger it'll be.
If using crushed sticks/bark you can strain them out before storing, if using cinnamon sticks leave them in. Store in the refrigerator. This will keep for several months.
Crushing Cinnamon Sticks
Place sticks in a Ziploc Bag or sealable plastic bag. Press out any air before sealing.
Hit the sticks with a muddler, wooden spoon or blunt object of your choice until the sticks are broken into woodchip-sized pieces.
Don't be afraid to use force, some sticks are harder than others.
Cinnamon bark is what most cocktail bars use for cinnamon syrup because its aromatics are more penetrating and complex. It comes in either ceylon (aka true cinnamon), Vietnamese or cassia varieties. It's not as thick as sticks and comes either crumbled or in larger sheet-like pieces that break up easily. It's not as pervasive as cinnamon sticks, but can you can find it online - here's one example - or specialty food markets, particularly Indian or Middle Eastern ones. If you live in NYC they have it at Kalustyan’s on the upper east side, or Dual Specialty on 1st ave in the East Village.
Crushed vs Whole Sticks
Whole cinnamon sticks work just fine for cinnamon syrup, but breaking them up is more efficient. It creates more surface area and releases fresher oils that are more potent, so you can use fewer sticks and will get a stronger flavor. Though there's no denying the convenience of using whole sticks, which will also get the job done, you just need to use more of them and steep for longer. The end result is a touch rounder than the sharpness of bark or crushed sticks, but it's still perfectly functional. When using whole sticks be sure to leave them in the storage container - as pictured above - so they'll continue to infuse over time.
In general, whether you use bark or sticks, the more you use, the faster your syrup will be ready, and the stronger it’ll be.
When is it Ready?
Exactly when to strain the syrup is kind of up to you. A wide range of intensities will work, so you can't really go wrong. The nice thing about cinnamon syrup is that it's hard to make it too strong, don't worry about over-steeping, just make sure you do it long enough. It's ok if it tastes red hot candies. It may not be as pleasant by itself, but remember this will just be one component in a drink and it needs to stand up to all the other ingredients.