Your bar might be stocked with the finest spirits and tools, but a good mixer is essential.
Mixers are the nonalcoholic components that serve as the base of your drink. While the word “mixer” might conjure up images of florescent bottles filled with artificial ingredients, things have come a long way and the market is abuzz with exciting new options.
“Companies are being transparent about what’s going into your bottle, and it’s not just a bunch of artificial flavorings,” says Kellie Thorn, beverage director of Hugh Acheson Restaurants. That desire to make a mixer with real ingredients drove Jennie Ripps to cofound Owl’s Brew. Using her experience as a tea sommelier designing programs for restaurants like New York’s Momofuku and Scarpetta, Ripps and her business partner, Maria Littlefield, make tea-based mixers.
“A lot of the time, mixes can be so juice-forward that you’re essentially recreating a juice and mixing it with the spirit, instead of letting the spirit shine through and pair with the flavor,” says Ripps.
“When I think of mixers, I think of sodas because I’m a purist at heart,” says Tiffanie Barriere, an Atlanta-based bartender and educator. She eschews most pre-made mixers for fresh fruit but can’t resist a tonic water or soda (she has a soft spot for Jarritos pineapple).
Whether you’re looking to give your cocktail, or zero proof drink, a bubbly oomph or just want to concoct something a little different, here are eight drink mixers to stock up on.
Bitters & Soda Lemon Lime
Hella took two important ingredients, bitters and soda, and put them in a can for easy drinking. Made with carbonated water, gentian tincture and a variety of aromatic bitters, these nonalcoholic drinks are great on their own or with a spirit. There are five flavors, including grapefruit, ginger turmeric, lemon lime and more.
It’s crisp and tart, and works just as nicely in a rocks glass with a large ice cube as it does mixed with tequila.
Jack Rudy Cocktail Co.
Charleston-based Jack Rudy Cocktail Co. makes several mixers. But their tonic syrup is a favorite of Thorn and Ripps.
This quinine concentrate isn’t a complete mixer, it still needs to be stretched with soda water, but it’s highly flavorful and great to keep on hand. The tonic syrup also comes in handy if you’re making a batch cocktail. You can add the tonic flavoring to your drink ahead of time, and then add soda water when you’re ready to serve.
18.21 Bitters might best be known for, well, their bitters, but don’t overlook their shrubs. A shrub is a tangy syrup that combines sugar, vinegar and fruit. They’re not difficult to make, but 18.21 makes an especially zesty blood orange and ginger shrub that’s easy to use.
A little goes a long way, and they can last a long time in the fridge (check that best by date, though). The blood orange and ginger is refreshing when topped with soda water. The blood orange and ginger shrub is an ideal companion to similarly-flavored aperitifs, though it also works well in a spritz or when topped with just soda water.
If you’re trying to cut back on the booze but love an aperitif, you’re in luck. Casamara Club makes four club sodas reminiscent of spritzes that hearken to aperitivo hour. While the sodas are great on their own served in a wine glass, Thorn thinks the Sera’s fruity acidity would be excellent with gin or vodka.
There are many standout Q Mixers, but their ginger ale is the star. It’s made with agave nectar which rounds out the spicy ginger and the bubbles aren’t too harsh. It also gets a flavor boost from coriander, cardamom and orange peel.
Spindrift makes sparkling water flavored with actual fruit. Despite incorporating fruit juice it’s not a total sugar bomb (only 3 grams in the pineapple flavor, for example) which makes it a go-to choice of Barriere. She particularly likes their grapefruit flavor because it makes an ideal riff on the Paloma when combined with tequila.
Made with tea, Owl’s Brew’s mixers offer a fun way to shake up your usual drink routine. The Strawberry Manhattan is one of their standouts, with a straightforward ingredient list of Darjeeling tea, hibiscus, sugar and strawberry juice concentrate. Just add whiskey or Gnista, a nonalcoholic substitute, and you’re good to go.
If you don’t have club soda on hand, can you call yourself a home bartender? It’s a key ingredient for cocktails and if you get a good one you can enjoy it on its own (with some citrus).
Fever Tree makes several types of carbonated drinks, but Thorn loves their club soda.
“It’s very clean, and has really nice bubble structure,” she says.