When it comes to cocktails, the mix is often what makes the drink. You can’t have a rum and Coke without the cola and you can’t have an old fashioned without the bitters.
Here’s a really quick guide to some of the more essential mixers any home bar should have at all times. It’s these mixers that will allow you to craft just about any cocktail you can dream of. Without them, you’re drinking spirits straight, with them, you’re creating concoctions that will please just about any palate.
Cocktails are really just concoctions of a spirit or liquor that’s combined with a mixer. There are both non-alcoholic and alcoholic mixers, and thanks to modern laziness, there are even premixed cocktails you can buy that require no effort at all.
Whether you’re crafting a bloody mary, a Manhattan or a tequila sunrise, you’re going to need a mixer to combine with the alcohol. It doesn’t matter how simple or complicated the drink is, if you don’t want to drink the alcohol straight up, you’re going to need to stock your bar with more than just whiskey and rum.
The Mixed Essentials
There’s a wide range of mixers that a home bar should have and chances are you probably already have a few of the mixers in your fridge or cupboard.
From the tap is fine in some cocktails, but for others you’re going to need sparkling water. Carbonated water adds a unique twist that many cocktails need. However, when using any carbonated beverage, you want to be careful how much you drink as the carbonation causes your body to absorb the alcohol into your blood stream faster due to the increased pressure. This can be somewhat dangerous if you’re a lightweight as it will increase the speed of intoxication. The standard waters you’ll want to have on hand are the obvious club soda and tonic water which is needed for drinks like the popular G&T.
Carbonated Soft Drinks
If you have a basic home bar, the standards like cola, ginger ale and lemon-lime soda are fine. However, if you pride yourself on having a well stocked bar, you’ll also want to have orange, root beer, ginger beer, cherry, grape and sour soft drinks on hand. Ideally you want to keep them refrigerated and it’s always best to stick with brand names like Coca-Cola and Pepsi. Buying the no-name brands from your local grocery store will result in an inferior tasting cocktail and your guests will notice the difference.
Juices are one of the primary mixers that every bar needs to have. For a basic bar you can focus on orange, cranberry, lemon, lime, pineapple and tomato juice, but for a fully stocked bar you’ll also want to have lemonades, clamato or clam juice, grapefruit, cherry, grape, olive juice and apple juice. I always recommend using fresh juice that’s not from concentrate and for lemon and lime juice it’s worth the extra effort to actually squeeze the fruit yourself. If you have a juicer, that’s ideal and if you live in a climate that’s favorable to fresh fruit, you’re cocktails will taste far different than if you’re buying canned or boxed juice from the store. Try and stick with the brand names like Tropicana, Motts and other products that are more natural and intended for use in cocktails. Juice is one mixer worth having on hand as it can add sweet or sour flavor profiles to your cocktail.
Dairy has the unique ability to add creaminess and smoothing effects to cocktails that not only taste great but actually prevent the burning sensation many people don’t like about spirits. Milk and cream are the obvious choices to have on hand and using a denser milk like 2% compared to skim will provide you with a more flavorful cocktail. Other dairy products you’ll want to stock for a full bar include whipped cream, chocolate milk, vanilla ice cream, flavored ice creams such as chocolate and fruit based as well as seasonal mixers like eggnog.
Sauces and Syrups
Sauces and syrups are another essential mixer that you’ll want to have on hand. For a basic bar having a mild hot sauce such as Tobasco, Worcestershire sauce, chocolate syrup, caramel, grenadine, Rose’s lime, simple syrup, sweet and sour mix are all important. If you’re going to elevate your bar trying stocking a selection of hot sauces, honey, maple syrup, strawberry, raspberry and blueberry syrup and orgeat to compliment your bar.
Having Angostura bitters on hand is an absolute must. It’s inexpensive and it lasts awhile, but it’s always wise to keep a selection of bitters on hand from the classic orange bitters to some more unique ones you might find on your travels. Bitters aren’t actually bitter at all, but are used to elevate a range of cocktails including many of the classics like the old fashioned and Manhattan.
For many cocktails you’re going to need caffeine. Coffee is the standard and keeping a premium roast on hand is sure to elevate your cocktail. However, I also recommend having a concentrated cold brew as well as iced and hot teas, ciders and energy drinks like Red Bull on hand. One word of caution however is to be careful mixing energy drinks with alcohol as it can be extremely dangerous and in some cases even fatal. In some regions, the use of energy drinks mixed with alcohol in bars is prohibited due to the increased danger to life safety. If you are going to mix energy drinks with alcohol use discretion and take it slow.
I don’t suggest buying pre-made cocktails. They’re never as good as freshly made drinks and even the fun, layered shots are simple to make if you have a recipe or watch a video on Youtube. However if you’re serving a large group or aren’t comfortable making cocktails from scratch having bloody mary mix, long island iced tea, margarita, cosmopolitan, mojito, mudslide, daiquiri and other cocktail mixes can quickly produce delicious cocktails by just adding the spirit to the mix. If you are going to use these mixes, for the daiquiri and margarita ones I recommend having a few flavors such as a strawberry and lime.
Other Essential Mixers
Other items worth having on hand include eggs which can be used to add foam or thicken a cocktail, food coloring, sport drinks like Gatorade and flavored drinks like Tang or Sunny-D. Of course, they don’t necessarily count as mixers, but they are often used as such and it’s always wise to keep alcoholic liqueurs on hand. To learn more about them, read or guide by clicking here.
While they don’t actually count as a mixer, you obviously want to keep a selection of garnishes on hand. The essentials are limes, lemons, celery, olives, hot peppers, cocktail cherries, orange slices and fresh mint leaves. Others that you’ll want for a fully stocked bar include, but aren’t limited to cucumber, dill pickles, cinnamon sticks, rimming salt, table salt, nutmeg, fresh berries, pineapple and pickled onions.
Mixers are an integral part of every cocktail. You simply can’t have a well stocked bar without them. The aforementioned mixers are simply a selection of the essential ones worthy of having on hand, however, it’s worth it to use your imagination and to explore new cocktail recipes. I highly recommend having a good bartender book in your collection or downloading one of the many cocktail apps to your smartphone or tablet.