Cocktail mixers can make your life—at least when it comes to making cocktails—more efficient, according to mixology teacher Anthony “the Professor” Baker. "You don’t have to reinvent the wheel," says the veteran of high-end New York bars such as The Aviary and The Grill.
But, there's a drawback. “They dictate how your drink is going to taste,” says Julia Momose, partner and creative director of Chicago’s Kumiko. “Rather than homing in on the flavor profile you want, you’re at the whim of the mixer.”
That means your cocktail mixer better be good—and luckily, mixers have evolved for the better, according to Baker. Gone are the days of sticky-sweet, chemical-filled add-ins; today’s brands bring all sorts of handcrafted, natural mixers to the table, many of them made by bartenders themselves.
The garnish on top? “When you find one you enjoy, it provides consistency,” says Momose—particularly as the flavor combinations from delicate herbs, exotic fruits and spices become harder to make from scratch. Plus, mixers help minimize food waste.
Don't know where to start? We did the research to help you find the best handcrafted mixers for your next cocktail party.
BG Reynolds Orgeat Bar Syrup
Though Momose likes to make her own syrups, making orgeat is "quite time-consuming and intense,” she says. For a shortcut, she goes for BG Reynolds.
Amber-hued and interspersed with ground almonds, this cane-sweetened syrup adds "glorious texture” to classic tiki drinks like the Scorpion, the Mai Tai, and the Japanese Cocktail: a blend of cognac, Angostura bitters and orgeat that “doesn’t sound like it’s going to work, but then does,” says Momose. Add a touch of lemon, and “the roundness of this orgeat plays beautifully with the fruity notes in the cognac.”
Best for a Moscow Mule
Fever-Tree Premium Ginger Beer
Fever Tree is not only all-natural, but, according to Momose, the brand is transparent about where it gets its ingredients. Baker concurs, adding that the brand has been one of his go-tos for years. “With soda, I’m looking to get a clean flavor, and that’s why I go to Fever Tree,” he says. “It has some really outrageous flavors.”
His favorite is its ginger beer. Most ginger beers have very high sugar content, but “Fever-Tree's has a good amount of spice and low sugar. It’s not overbearing," Baker says. He also likes its subtle carbonation. In a Moscow Mule, it’s an elegant partner to the vodka.
Top Note Classic Tonic Water
Momose is a fan of this Milwaukee craft brand. It offers a “slightly larger, peppier bubble” than others, she says. It also uses both quinine and gentian as bittering agents, which gives it an earthy gravity. “It’s a bit more grounded than other tonics,” she notes. This means the mixer pairs nicely with the new class of craft gins—letting their bright citrus notes shine instead of overwhelming those flavors.
She also recommends Top Note’s club soda, especially for Japanese highballs. In general, she finds the Top Note’s carbonation level just right for “pulling the flavor out of the spirit.”
Related: The Best Gifts for Cocktail Lovers
Best for Bloody Mary
McClure’s Bloody Mary Mixer
The Bloody Mary is a big subject in the industry, according to Baker. In his opinion, the optimal ratio for the drink is 1-to-4 spirit to mixer. “Everybody has been accustomed to drinking it half and half. In my opinion, they’re convincing themselves that they like that," he says.
But he makes his Bloody Mary with far less vodka and says that “people suck them down.” For that kind of Bloody Mary, he reaches for McClure’s. He likes its balanced lime content and rich and hearty flavor. Plus, "it doesn’t have too much spice. It allows you to adjust the heat to your own level." Every mixer should offer this flexibility, he notes.
RSVP Skinnies Cocktail Mixers Variety Pack
For lean but lively cocktails, Baker suggests the powdered mixers by RSVP Skinnies. For one thing, they're easy to use. “It comes in little packets that you dissolve in club soda,” he says. "Mix that prepared soda with a spirit, and now you have cocktail.”
Made of just dried fruits and plants with a touch of stevia and the plant-based sugar substitute erythritol, it’s not only sugar-free, but it’s also aspartame-free. The variety pack gives you lots of options, with the flavors to mix up Margaritas, Moscow Mules, Mai Tais, Cape Codders and all their variations.
Related: The Best Margarita Machines
Jack Rudy Cocktail Co. Classic Tonic Syrup
When he’s creating new cocktails, Baker likes to play with a quality syrup. While tonic water itself can dominate a drink, this syrup from Jack Rudy offers loads of quinine flavor and sugar-cane sweetness, without the bubbles or overwhelming bitterness of regular tonic.
“It’s really great-quality: thick and rich, with a nice balance,” he says. He uses it to make an ingenious Gin and Tonic Martini, mixing a barspoonful of the syrup with gin, dry vermouth and lime bitters. The elderflower version is pretty awesome, too.
Tres Agaves Margarita Mix
Tres Agaves are tequila producers, so they understand the makings of a Margarita. This clean, all-natural mixer, made only of agave, lime, purified water and vitamin C, leans far more into its citrusy side than it does into its sweetness.
Baker thinks this was the right move: “It allows people to add more sugar, if they prefer, and it leaves your Margarita flexible enough to take on liqueurs or syrups without throwing it out of balance.”
Related: The Best Ginger Beers
Monin Classic Watermelon Syrup
With more than 100 years of syrup-making under its belt, the French company that makes this elixir has the chops to deliver a quality product at a good price. Monin produces a wide range of flavors, from cold-brew coffee concentrate to dessert pear.
Baker’s favorite, however, is the classic watermelon. “It’s very rich, and it captures the flavor of the natural fruit unbelievably well,” he says. Try it in a highball or a frozen Margarita.
Best for Old Fashioneds
Runamok Smoked Old Fashioned Cocktail Syrup
For summer nights telling tales around the campfire or winter nights sipping a warming drink, this maverick mixer makes a fantastically smoky and citrusy Old Fashioned.
Certified organic and bird-friendly, its eco-smart Vermont producers smoke pure maple syrup tapped from their own trees over pecan wood and then infuse it with cherry concentrate, orange extract and gentian. This combination makes for a concoction with a fruity, bittersweet punch. All it needs is whiskey to complete it.
Related: The Best Tonic Waters
There are so many approaches to tonic on the market now. For a brisk, clean drink, Top Note (view at Amazon) sparkles. But if you want to concoct your own and achieve a more luscious body and taste, go with Jack Rudy Classic Tonic Syrup (view at Walmart).
What to Look for in a Cocktail Mixer
Long ingredient lists signal artificial and, potentially, off-tasting additives. Momose says that, in general, the fewer ingredients are on the bottle, the better the quality of the mixer. “Ones with the fewest ingredients as possible express the pure essence of their main flavor,” she asserts.
“Look for flavor in a mixer, but also look for a good story behind it,” says Baker. Mixers like BG Reynolds that were crafted by bartenders themselves are the ones he trusts the most. “They get it. They understand it. You don’t have to worry about the quality,” he says.
Cane, agave and maple offer a richer, fruitier and earthier flavor than granulated sugar or artificial sweeteners. They blend more seamlessly into a cocktail, bringing roundness and depth.
Is alcohol already included?
Some seemingly non-spirit ingredients you mix into cocktails do contain alcohol. Bitters, for example, are made by infusing high-proof, neutral alcohol with herbs, spices, fruits and other flavoring ingredients. Angostura Bitters, just about the world’s most popular, is 44.7% ABV. But most syrups, tonics, sodas and pre-batched preparations are alcohol-free.
Related: The Best Bitters
Do mixers have more sugar and more sodium?
Some mixers do contain more sugar than you might add to a drink if you were making it from scratch. But nowadays there are increasingly more natural, low- or zero-sugar mixers. Brands like Skinnies are sugar- and calorie-free.
When it comes to sodium, some mixers are chockful of it. For instance, there’s 829 mg of sodium per 4 ounces of McClure’s Bloody Mary Mixer. That’s a lot in comparison to the 340 mg of sodium in the same amount of Campbell’s Tomato Juice. But other pre-batched mixers are low in sodium content. Monin’s Margarita Cocktail Mixer, for example, has less than 20 mg of sodium in a standard 3-ounce serving.
Is it more cost-effective to use mixers?
Generally, mixers are cost-effective. Take a margarita made with Monin’s: An $8.50 bottle of it contains enough mixer to equal two dozen limes, plus all the high-priced sweetener—in this case, agave nectar and cane syrup—and sea salt to make eight margaritas. It would be difficult to get away with spending less on scratch ingredients.
Some mixers, though, are pricey, because they are artisanally crafted for quality; that takes time, labor and money. At $5 for four 200 mL bottles, Fever Tree isn’t cheap, but you’re paying to make a much better highball than you would with other tonics or sodas.
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Betsy Andrews is a freelance journalist specializing in food and drink, travel, and the environment. She has been writing about wine and spirits for two decades, and has written for Liquor.com since May 2020. Betsy's work has appeared in Food & Wine, Eating Well, The Wall Street Journal, SevenFifty Daily, VinePair, Wine Enthusiast, Travel & Leisure and more.
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