Who doesn’t love sipping on a refreshing craft cocktail to unwind at the end of a long day? When when people make cocktails at home, they tend to prepare simple drinks with a spirit and whatever juice or soda they have in the fridge as a mixer. Thanks to the 8.6 billion dollar (and growing!) cocktail mix industry, you can create your own delicious craft cocktail at home — even if you haven’t put the 10,000 Malcom Gladwell-suggested hours into becoming a master mixologist. All you need are a few handy cocktail mixer brands to turn to.
That said, with so many options on the market, the elements of a mixology-worthy at-home cocktail mixer can be confusing for a mixology novice. According to Lynnette Marrero, co-founder of Speed Rack (an all-female global cocktail competition that raises money to fight breast cancer), MasterClass host, and award-winning bartender, fresh ingredients are the first thing you should always look for on the bottle. “I start with those ingredients from the back really to see how many things are in there. If there's a lot of things I don't recognize, a lot of chemicals and things like that, I try to put that down.” She always opts for a cocktail mix that, “Has a fresher style of juice in it.”
Marrero looks for “pretty clean [ingredients].” Because cocktail mixes are shelf-stable, there might be a few ingredients listed you don’t recognize, but they’re necessary to preserve the mix’s quality. “Things you'll see on there will be citric acid, malic acid, tartaric. That's okay.” She adds, “Especially with lime juice and lemon juice, once it's squeezed, they need some of those things to keep them fresh.”
If you want to go the juice route as the base of your cocktail, Marrero recommends juices that are naturally high in antioxidants like pomegranate or hibiscus. She is also a fan of using syrups like fresh ginger and pomegranate-based grenadine to boost the flavor of your home cocktail creation and again, ingredients are key. You don’ want, “[A syrup] that has a lot of crazy sugar, corn syrup. You want to look at ones that are using fresh fruit for that too,” she says.
Ingredients to Avoid in a Cocktail Mix
Speaking of high fructose corn syrup, for Marrero it’s one of the top ingredients to steer clear of. “High fructose corn syrup is probably one of the bigger ones [to avoid],” she says. Bartenders at craft cocktail establishments opt to use natural can sugar instead. If you want to duplicate a professionally made cocktail, Marrero advises using it. “It’s going to be a better ingredient, closer representing what you're going to get in your favorite cocktail bar.”
Other things she suggests avoiding? Chemicals and ingredients you don’t recognize. I don't want to see a ton of xanthan gum.”
Tips for Mastering Mixology at Home
There’s no doubt there’s plenty of cocktail mixes to make it easy for a beginner to play with mixology, but which ones are the easiest for a novice mixologist to master? “I do think the Margarita and the Paloma tend to be ones that lead to that. Agave-based [drinks].” Not to worry if you’re not a fan of tequila. Marrero has another suggestion: Moscow Mules. She continues, “You can find a really good ginger syrup on the market. Then you can take that Mule and make any kind of Mule depending on what base you want. If you want bourbon, or you want gin, you make a Gin Mule. That kind of idea of something that has a little citrus and then getting your spicy ginger syrup.”
Another way to enhance your cocktail mix is to add pantry ingredients you already have on hand. One Marrero is particularly fond of is maple syrup. “You can use it on its own or substitute it for simple syrup or agave nectar if you don’t have those on hand,” she suggests. Her other pantry pick? Cinnamon! “It can add really cool elements to your cocktail that are unique, bring out different flavors.” Her advice? Grating cinnamon into the cocktail mix to zhuzh it up. It goes particularly well with berry and grapefruit flavors.
Marrero curated a list of some of her favorite cocktail mixes that will turn you into a master mixologist without having to take a test. Let your craft cocktail journey commence!
One of Marrero’s favorite mixer brands is Cheeky Cocktails. She calls it, “A wonderful line of all-natural syrups and juices made by a former bartender.” Mix and match syrups and juices to create your own signature cocktail or try a cocktail kit to make a classic like Tom Collins or a Gimlet. Cocktail garnishes like candied ginger and dehydrated citrus are also available to give the presentation an extra oomph!
Twisted Alchemy juices are, “As close to fresh juice as you will get in commercial packaging,” according to Marrero. Their exotic juices — think blood orange, passion fruit, and watermelon — will allow your cocktail imagination to run wild and feel like a mixologist from the comfort of home.
Take it from Marrero, Liber & Co’s “Wonderful range of syrups can satisfy every cocktail need.” The craft mixers were created in 2011 after visiting classic cocktail lounges in top cocktail cities like New York, D.C, and Austin. Their syrups boast top ingredients to produce the most authentic syrups possible and range from Toasted Coconut to Caramelized Fig to Old Fashioned.
Another favorite of Marrero’s is Tomr’s Tonic. “Delicious. Elegantly citrusy and tart tonic syrup that you can control the intensity of the flavors.” Being able to control the depth of flavor in your cocktails will make you seem like a pro, but all you have to do is add the tonic, your choice of spirit, club soda, and stir!