Mixing It Up
Jeffery Lindenmuth - September 2013
Not content to simply stand on the shoulders of top shelf spirits, these bar pros are particular about their mixers.
We live in an era of great spirits. Whether craft-distilled, iconic brand, or vintage revival, there has never existed a greater palette of distilled beverages for the mixologist. When it comes to crafting great drinks, these artists cast the same critical eye upon traditional mixers—tonic, sodas, and juices—lest they adulterate the distiller’s art. Others endeavor to expand their repertoire, trolling the tropics for inspiration, raiding the chef’s pantry, or carbonating their own concoctions. Here, these pros laud praise on their favorite mixers, both fizzy and flat, every bit as crucial as quality spirits for concocting superior drinks.
Paul McGee, partner
Three Dots and a Dash & Bub City, Chicago
“Bub City does a lot of highballs, and when I was doing cocktail development, the challenge was how to improve those drinks and make them more interesting. That’s when I picked up a four-pack of Q Kola. It’s not overly sweet like other colas and has a really nice cinnamon, clove, and nutmeg flavor. For our Cuba Libre, aged rum, a squeeze of lime, and a dash of Angostura bitters really bring out the clove and cinnamon.
“To upgrade the classic Tiki, I’m really focused on fresh ingredients not readily available to the public. I use only fresh pineapple. There’s simply nothing on the market that can compete. My juicer is not a super expensive model—an Omega Vert—but I find it works for pineapple and coconut because it masticates at low speed. I drop in the chunks and the juice is rendered very slowly, emerging very thick with minimal foam and froth.”
Chris Hopkins, property mixologist
The Cosmopolitan, Las Vegas
“I’m excited by the DRY Soda Company. They have an all-natural flavor profile—bright, interesting flavors that really work in harmony with many different liquor categories. The carbonation is Champagne-like, with really fine bubbles that hold their fizz for a longer period of time. I’m particularly interested in the juniper berry, wild lime, lavender, and rhubarb. At Vesper Bar, we’re able to upsell Gin and Tonic by offering Fever-Tree tonic water. It’s a premium mixer that appeals to a more educated customer.
“Perricone Juices are 100 percent fresh, and they’re amazing! Even without pasteurization, they hold their crispness with very consistent pulp and color. We press lemon and lime, but these are the best alternatives for fresh orange, apple, and grapefruit, which is amazingly impressive. “We use the Yuzu Luxe Sour, with lemongrass and kaffir lime, from The Perfect Purée of Napa Valley. When used in drinks like a Lemon Drop, Long Island Iced Tea, or our Verbena, it sets us apart.”
David Welch, co-owner/bar manager
Lincoln Restaurant & Sunshine Tavern, Portland, Oregon
“If one is buying tonic water as opposed to making it, Q Tonic is the most flavorful and natural tonic you can find. You can really taste the quinine, and it has only about half the sugar of regular products. At Sunshine, we also get creative with our Collinses, finishing them with a splash of blood orange DRY Soda. Our IPA Collins replaces soda water with India pale ale, using whatever craft brew we currently have on tap. It crosses over to beer lovers and gives the drink a malty backbone.
“Instead of using cranberry juice, in a Cosmopolitan, for example, I’ll use POM Wonderful pomegranate/cherry juice. You have to scale it back a bit, but it adds a wonderful cherry flavor, while giving beautiful color.”
H. Joseph Ehrmann, owner
Elixir, San Francisco
“I’ve been skipping packaged sodas in favor of experimenting with my Perlini cocktail carbonation system to make my own flavors with non-soda ingredients. One of my favorites is the house-made September Soda. I’m a big fan of using teas to find unique flavors, and in this drink I combined some fresh citrus ones, sweetened by Cointreau and spiced up with a Rooibos chai tea that I infused into the rum.
“I love young coconut water with pulp so I use Amy & Brian coconut juice. I discovered it while my fiancée was pregnant and I had to really up my nonalcoholic drink game. We tried many brands and narrowed it down to this one from Thailand, for its concentration of coconut flavor, with the perfect amount of sweetness. I like using both pulp and no-pulp versions, but I have an affinity for “country-style” drinks with texture. It’s a light and refreshing liquid. Anything too heavy and its subtleties are lost. It can also be cooked into a nice one-to-one ratio, as the sugar will amplify the flavor.”
Ezra Pattek, consulting mixologist
Meat Market, Miami
“I love the Fever-Tree line of tonics and sodas. The lemon tonic lets you add an element of citrus, bitterness, and fizz to any drink, all in one swoop, which is great for Collins-style cocktails, and it works well with raspberries, blackberries, melons, apéritifs, and herbal liqueurs. Fresh Ginger Ginger Ale by Bruce Cost is another favorite, technically a ginger beer because it has a slight bit of fermentation from the natural ginger. Unfiltered and with natural particles of ginger, it adds a zing of fresh ginger to any cocktail.
“I also really like Les Vergers Boiron passion fruit puree. It’s tangy, with very bright citrus flavor and works well with a number of base spirits—rum, Tequila, Bourbon, brandy, gin, vodka. Some of their flavors come in bartender-friendly squeeze bottles. And Pok Pok Som drinking vinegars are a great way to add a gastrique element, fruit and spice to cocktails. These readily available bottled drinking vinegars come in flavors of honey, apple, pineapple, tamarind, raspberry, and pomegranate.”
Jason Hopple, beverage director
North End Grill, New York City
“I try to avoid mixers with high-fructose corn syrup, so Fever-Tree bitter lemon is one I’ve always loved because a good mixer should also taste great on its own. We try to support local products in the kitchen, so we do the same at the bar. Our middle tap is a rotating soda from Brooklyn Soda Works, and my current favorite is their apple and ginger soda. The staff and patrons love it as a nonalcoholic drink, but I’ve played with adding some smoky Laphroaig 10 Year Old whisky, The Bitter Truth Pimento Dram allspice liqueur, and sparkling wine, and it makes a great cocktail.
“I’ve been working with The Chuck Blueberry from the American Juice Company in New York City. This product is really consistent, and people are drawn to the color. I shake it with a shot of Tito’s vodka and 1/2 ounce St. Germain elderflower liqueur, then strain it and top it with Fever-Tree bitter lemon. Our other favorite juice is homemade in a Champion juicer and mixed with gin in our Cucumber Cooler cocktail, which came from Tabla. We juice together eight cucumbers, five bunches of cilantro, and four to five green chiles. It’s based on an Indian salad, and it’s also delicious on its own.”
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