Move Over, Simple Syrup: This Cocktail Sweetener Is Way Tastier (And Just as Simple)

May 19, 2017

Every few months, there's some new concoction that the mixology world trots out, hailing it as the "next big trend." Trend or not, familiarize yourself with oxymel—it's wonderful, and it's coming to a cocktail menu near you.

"What the hell is oxymel?" You might be thinking, and you wouldn't be the only. It's similar to shrubs, in that they are both made with vinegar, but predates it by thousands of years. You could sort of think of it as the grandfather of shrubs, or a distant ancestor, rather, since oxymel (oxy + mel means “acid + honey”) dates back to antiquity. It was used by the ancient Greeks, Romans, and Persians (who referred to it as serkangabin) for all sorts of medicinal purposes, from asthma to arthritis to the common cold. Sekanjabin, sometimes infused with mint, is still enjoyed in Iran today, either as a dip for lettuce or an addition to cool drinks (sharbats). But in Europe, oxymel fell out of popular favor.

Oxymel makes a lovely addition to cocktails, salad dressings, and more. Photo by James Ransom

Humberto Marques, the owner and manager of Curfew Cocktail in Copenhagen, found out about oxymel while perusing his vast collection of vintage books about cocktails and herbs. "I'm always on the lookout for something that may not have been [originally] used in cocktails," states Marques. "I decided to use [oxymel] as an ingredient that works between sweetness, sourness, and bitterness." As such, it acts as a flavor enhancer to the other ingredients in the glass, for example, the apple and rosehip marmalade in Marques' "Scarborough Fair" gin cocktail, inspired by the eponymous Simon & Garfunkel song.

The perfect gin cocktail for any season. Photo by James Ransom

Not only is oxymel delicious, it's easy to make at home yourself, as it consists of just three ingredients: honey, vinegar, and water. But you can infuse it with herbs, too. Marques infuses the oxymel featured in "Scarborough Fair" with, you guessed it, parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme.

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Marques suggests giving infused oxymel a try, but a simple mix of local honey and raw apple cider vinegar will do. It will let the flavors of any cocktail echo; try adding 30 ml (about 2 tablespoons) of it to gin cocktails like this Minty Orange Gimlet or Rhubarb and Rose Ramos Gin Fizz. Or attempt the Scarborough Fair yourself, which, by the way, can survive without garnishes; the honeyed, sunset-like hue is enough.

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Maria
  • SKK
  • Poodleranch
  • Yolanda Evans
    Yolanda Evans
I write. I drink. I travel. I rock. Global traveler, Cocktail Connoisseur and a mighty fine Freelance Writer


Maria January 15, 2018
Just started my oxymel infusion a few days ago! Any ideas on how it can be incorporated into non-alcoholic drinks?

SKK May 21, 2017
This recipe for oxymel is way more user friendly. https://blog.mountainroseherbs.com/herbal-oxymels-methods
SKK May 21, 2017
Why acacia honey?
Yolanda E. May 21, 2017
You can use any honey, but this is what the bartender in Copenhagen choose to use
Poodleranch May 19, 2017
A liter of honey? That's a big hug of honey!
Poodleranch May 19, 2017
Oops, I mean JUG of honey!