Looking to shake up your cocktail game? Making cocktails is fun, delicious and easy, and with this list of the must-have cocktail mixers for your home bar, you’ll be on your way to great drinks in no time!
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What Are Cocktail Mixers?
Cocktail mixers are ingredients used to enhance the flavor and balance of mixed alcoholic drinks. They can be the difference between a whiskey & coke or a stunning cocktail infused with layers of flavors.
Mixers are typically added to spirits to create a more complex and enjoyable drinking experience, and they can be divided into several categories.
- Sour mixers
- Sweet mixers
- Savory mixers
- Bitter mixers
- Fizzy mixers
Mixers are an essential part of any cocktail because they enhance the drink’s acidity, sweetness, depth, carbonation, and texture.
The Different Kinds of Mixers
“Cocktail mixers can make or break your cocktail, so it’s essential to pair wisely to produce the desired flavor. For example, tonic water is a one of the most well known mixers, especially with gin. Tonic water contains quinine which is slightly bitter and it complements gin, which has a similar flavor profile.”— Mandy Applegate, Splash of Taste
The difference between a drink and a cocktail is the ingredients. Anyone can add soda to rum, vodka, or whisky, but to create a magical cocktail in your home bar, you must have mixers. Each mixer lends something different to a drink.
- Sour mixers, like lemon or lime juice add acidity and tanginess to your drink, helping balance the sweetness and alcohol.
- Sweet mixers, like simple syrup or grenadine, add sweetness to drinks, making them more enjoyable.
- Bitter mixers, like Angostura bitters, add depth and complexity to your drink, making it more exciting to sip.
- Fizzy mixers, like tonic water or soda water, add carbonation to your drink, making it more refreshing and lively.
- Creamy mixers, like cream or eggs, add richness and texture to your drink, making it more satisfying and indulgent.
- Infused syrups are flavor-infused, sweetened add-ins to transform humble cocktails into mixologist-worthy creations.
Sour mixers are ingredients used to add acidity and tanginess to a cocktail. These mixers are typically made from citrus fruits such as lemons or limes. Some popular sour mixers include:
- Lemon juice adds a bright, tangy flavor, like in a Lynchburg lemonade.
- Lime juice provides a zesty, citrusy flavor, as in a classic mojito.
- Orange juice brings sweet citrus notes to the beverage like the classic mimosa.
- Pineapple juice adds a sweet, tropical flavor to the Mai Tai, Zombie and more.
Sweet mixers are ingredients that add sweetness to a cocktail. These mixers are typically made from sugar or syrups. Some popular sweet mixers include:
- Simple syrup is a mixture of sugar and water that is used to sweeten cocktails.
- Grenadine is a sweet syrup made from pomegranates.
- Honey adds a natural sweetness to a cocktail or sangria. (Sometimes, it must be watered down to blend into cold drinks. This is called runny honey or honey syrup.)
- Agave nectar is a sweetener made from the sap of the agave plant, great for a classic margarita.
Savory cocktails like the Bloody Mary call for savory cocktail mixers. Tomato, cucumber, celery, carrots and other veggies can be blended into juices that make great cocktails.
- Bloody Mary Mix: This savory classic is a must for the classic brunch drink. Make it spicy with hot sauce if you dare.
- Clamato juice: Similar to Bloody Mary mix, clamato is tomato juice mixed with clam broth for a seafood-like flavor.
- Sangrita: Also a chaser for tequila, sangrita works well as a mixer with tequila or in a Bloody Maria.
Bitter mixers are ingredients that add depth and complexity to a cocktail. These mixers are typically made from various herbs, spices, and roots. Some popular bitter mixers, which are also alcoholic, include:
- Angostura bitters: a popular brand of bitters that adds a complex, spicy flavor to a cocktail like the classic old-fashioned
- Campari: a bitter liqueur that adds a unique, bitter flavor to a cocktail such as the negroni
- Aperol: a bitter orange liqueur that adds a light and refreshing flavor to a cocktail, like the Aperol Spritz
Fizzy mixers add carbonation and fun bubbles to a cocktail. These mixers are typically made from a base of carbonated water. Some popular fizzy mixers include:
- Tonic water adds a light, bubbly texture to cocktails along with a hint of flavor from the quinine — try it in a gin & tonic.
- Soda water adds a light, bubbly texture but has a neutral flavor, as in the vodka soda.
- Prosecco and champagne and other sparkling wines add lovely bubbles and light flavor to a cocktail, like the negroni sbagliato.
- Ginger beer is a must for mule cocktails and more.
Creamy mixers are used to add richness and texture to a cocktail. These mixers are typically made from cream or eggs. Some popular creamy mixers include:
- Cream: adds a rich, creamy texture to a cocktail, like a classic white Russian
- Egg whites: adds a frothy, creamy texture — try it in a whiskey sour
- Cream of coconut: adds a sweet, rich, creamy texture and tropical flavor to a cocktail like a coconut margarita or coconut mojito
Infused Syrups and Pre-made Mixers
- Infused syrups like ginger, rosemary or cinnamon
- Pre-made mixers include margarita mix, piña colada mix, sour mix and so on.
“Pre-made mixers and syrups are a great way to incorporate complexity into a cocktail. They’re often infused with botanicals that complement the spirit. Just check the ingredients to ensure they are made from natural plants and cane sugar, not artificial flavors or high-fructose corn syrup.”— Kat Duvic, Founder of Social Mixers
The best mixers for cocktails at home
Having several mixers on hand is a great idea; when friends drop by, you can offer them a cocktail instead of a beer, glass of wine or liqueur.
Stock up on a few mixers, such as ginger beer for Moscow Mules, club soda for highballs and tonic water for gin & tonics.
Buy bigger bottles of mixers if you expect a crowd; otherwise, cans are great for single servings. Cans are also perfect for cocktails while camping or when you’re traveling.
What you should have on hand
- Ginger beer or ginger ale
- Juices like orange juice and cranberry juice
- Tonic water and soda water
- Bitters like Angostura bitters
- Fresh citrus, limes or lemons or both
- Simple syrup (dissolve one part sugar into one part water, then chill)
Making cocktails isn’t hard, and there are so many different fun recipes to try. And, for a well-rounded cocktail experience, serve your drinks with tasty eats and appetizers like sauerkraut balls with sausage.
Whether you’re an expert mixologist or just a dabbler and a lover of cocktails, a good cocktail is a thing of beauty. Adding flavor, texture, and complexity to mixed drinks, cocktail mixers are an essential part of every home bar.
Jenn Allen is a retired chef turned cookbook author, blogger, and traveler. She lives at home with her family and the cats that rule them all. Get all of her travel tips, stories and more at AllTheBestSpots.com.
This article originally appeared on Food Drink Life.