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Are Store-Bought Cocktail Mixes Ever Worth Buying?

When it comes to time-saving innovations in the world of home bartending, the easy availability of pre-made cocktail mixes counts among the longest-standing and most popular. After all, if you’ve just come to the end of a busy work day and want to settle down on the sofa with a potent mixed drink, will you really feel up for meticulously measuring out ingredients and making your own libation from scratch?

In the face of this quandary, a pre-made, store-bought margarita or Bloody Mary mix can seem like a glorious gift from the heavens. But when we asked pro bartenders to share their views on these grab-and-go conveniences, they largely advised caution and a fair bit of scrutiny before making that purchase. 

If you have the ability to make your own cocktail mixes, it’s worth the effort. 

It probably won’t shock you to hear that professional bartenders typically favor homemade cocktail mixers over their store-bought equivalents. Bar manager Melissa Davis of Evo Italian in Tequesta, Florida acknowledges that, “It is more cost effective and less labor intensive to buy mixers in bulk,” but she also insists that, “It is always better to make your own versions to ensure freshness, quality, and to be able to put your own creative spin on it.”

Walker Feed Co. cocktail mixes
Image used with permission by copyright holder

According to CEO Tyler Hollinger of HighLife Productions (an NYC-based company producing pre-batched cocktails available for delivery), making mixers on your own does take a bit of effort, but the results more than validate the extra time. “Create your own mix using fresh fruit juice and real sugar — if you don’t have a juicer to juice your own fruit, you can buy no-sugar-added fruit juice to enhance your cocktails,” advises Hollinger.

Many shelf-stable mixes are very high in sweeteners and artificial ingredients. 

The most commonly found cocktail mixes at grocery and liquor stores come in the form of shelf-stable bottles stored at room temperature — think giant plastic jugs of margarita mix and Bloody Mary mix. Hollinger warns that, in order to keep these mixers “fresh” on the shelf, they must contain chemical ingredients that compromise both the flavor and the nutrition of your cocktails. “When you go into a liquor store, what you find are shelf-stable, manipulated products that include things like preservatives, chemicals, and high-fructose corn syrup. These additives are not good for you, and don’t do much to enhance flavor. I do not recommend buying these pre-made mixes,” says Hollinger.

Bartender Ellen Talbot of Fable Lounge in Nashville, Tennessee shares Hollinger’s dislike for sweetened, chemical-laden, store-bought mixes, mentioning that artificial sweeteners are especially prevalent in margarita mixes: “In my opinion, it’s always best to make your own mixes for margaritas to avoid high-fructose corn syrup and artificial flavors. Making simple syrup and your own fresh citrus juice is easy and typically more affordable.”

If you decide to use a pre-made mixer, seek out small-batch versions from reputable sources.

Our surveyed bartenders did generally agree that store-bought mixes can save time, and if you decide that you’d rather not attempt to make your own, there are some reputable versions available for sale:

  • Talbot favors Walker Feed Co. cocktail mixes, all made in Nashville. “Walker Feed Company makes a delicious, vegetarian, all-natural Bloody Mary mix. The home bartender should try to find local products when possible. Not only are you supporting them with your wallet, but they are more likely to contain all natural ingredients.”
  • Fresh Victor, a brand that makes craft cocktail mixers, can be purchased in 7 states in the Western U.S.. Its flavors — including Mexican Lime & Agave, Pineapple & Ginger Root, and Lemon Sour — earned 5 Double Gold Medals at the 2020 San Francisco World Spirits Competition, and their refridgeratable bottles keep fresher (and include higher-quality ingredients) than the generic shelf-stable bottles you’ll find at liquor stores.
  • Owner/operator Andrew Volk of Portland Hunt + Alpine Club in Portland, Maine tells us that “since the onset of COVID-19, we’ve focused some of our work towards the production of non-alcoholic mixers that we sell both from our location and wholesale to retail stores for them to sell as well.” The Hunt + Alpine mixers include some of the bar’s most popular cocktails, like the Laura Palmer (lemon, honey, and tea), the Beach Drink (coconut syrup, grapefruit & lemon juice, ginger), and the Garden Party (cucumber, lemon and celery juice, lavender-juniper syrup). All you need to add at home is your spirit of choice.
  • If you’re craving frozen cocktails, then do yourself a favor and check out the mixers sold by Kelvin Slush Co. You can find flavors like Piña Colada, Blood Orange Margarita, and Frosé, and if you pour them into a blender with plenty of ice and your favorite spirit, you’ll end up with a spiked Slurpee that’s perfectly balanced, not too sweet, and exactly as potent as you want.
Taylor Tobin
Taylor Tobin is a freelance food, drink, and lifestyle writer based in Brooklyn. She's contributed content to publications…
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