Our first installment discussed acidity, one of the primary building blocks of modern cocktails. Acidity can come from many different sources: citrus fruit, milk, wine, and vinegar. All have significant acidity, which helps balance out sweetness in a drink. One of the challenges of working with acidity is that often times the quantity of acidity in a drink is right, but the flavor profile is wrong. A drink that is perfect with ½ ounce of lemon juice will be significantly different with ½ ounce of lime juice, even though their pH are similar. Lime juice has a strong, grassy aroma and flavor that lemon juice lacks.
Luckily, the range of flavors inherent to sugar are much smaller than those associated with acidity. Sugar is a much older addition to alcohol than acidity, as it helps mask the unpleasant flavors of distillation impurities and the burn of alcohol. Sugar was in the first “cock-tail”, along with a spirit, water, and bitters.
The delicate, snowy white crystals of refined sugar at the grocery store have very little to do with sugar in ancient times. In fact, sugar is a relatively modern invention, gaining popularity in the 5th century in India as crystallization technology allowed sugarcane juice to be transported cheaply and efficiently. From India, sugar refining spread to China and eventually into the Middle East, where the refining process was industrialized. From there, it spread into Europe, probably in the 8th century.
Christopher Columbus brought sugarcane to the Caribbean from the Canary Islands. Huge plantations were developed, significantly decreasing the price of sugar in Europe and opening it up to wider use. In the 18th century, price increases led the British to create sugar plantations in India, bringing sugar full-circle back to its origin.
If you can find it, use Gracias a Dios agave gin as the Old Tom (the mezcal then becomes superfluous).
I've made this with the full amount of syrup and I've been quite happy, but a bit less also works.