Mixers are an essential component for any home bar; even though many cocktails can be made with liquor alone, you would still need to stock up on juices, syrups, and sodas to make most classic cocktails. Fortunately, most essential mixers are affordable and easily found in the local supermarkets. It is always good to have the following on-alcoholic ingredients stocked up at home; make sure that they stay fresh and away from their expiration dates. And most importantly, work with the best quality ingredients you can find.
Before we get to any of the standard mixers, we must acknowledge the unsung hero of any bar, quality ice. We use ice in about 98% of cocktail recipes out there, and it can make or break how good a cocktail turns out. It is essential to have some good ice on hand, either store-bought or homemade. Two things to note are that you'd want to have ice made with good clean water and the ice cubes are not too small; these factors will prevent any nasty flavors and over dilution, respectively.
Juices are easy mixers to have ready at home. You can pick up these ingredients on your weekly grocery trip. Fresh is best for all accounts; however, store-bought quality juice is a convenient alternative. Below are some of the essential juices you'd want to have for your home bar when starting.
Lemon & Lime Juice: These two citrus juices will be the most used in your home bar because many classic cocktails will demand these. These two I recommend having fresh fruit ready and juice when needed. It will make a difference in balancing out the sourness of your drink. Store-bought lemon and lime juice will never compare to freshly squeezed juice.
Orange Juice: A staple for breakfast, orange juice is another citrus juice good to have on hand. And will come in handy when serving up brunch cocktails at home like the mimosa.
Pineapple Juice: This juice will be another to have ready in the fridge. I like my tropical cocktails during the day, and pineapple juice will be an essential ingredient.
These would be the next essential mixer to have on hand. Unlike juices, syrups can be made homemade in advance and kept for weeks. There are also quality ready-made syrups for convenience. Here are two you can make at home.
Simple Syrup: Found in the recipes of many cocktail recipes, simple syrup is as simple as they come. One part refined sugar with one part water; you can make it in a pinch. Also, note that you can replace the refined sugar with brown sugar or demerara sugar for some variation.
Honey Syrup: I also like to have honey syrup in my bar for an alternative sweetness. Like the simple syrup recipe, the honey syrup is made with one part honey and one part water. We add water to honey to make it easier to pour.
The last essential mixer category to have at your home bar, sodas are essential in highball cocktail recipes and sometimes are used to add an extra refreshing layer to a cocktail. These can easily be found in the local supermarket and can keep for an extended period. Although premium and craft sodas can elevate a cocktail's flavor, it is unnecessary to break the bank. Decent and affordable brands of sodas will still create a delicious cocktail. I'd recommend buying small bottles or cans for regular consumption, but when entertaining a group, go for the liter bottles. Here are the sodas you should have stocked up.
Soda Water/Club Soda
Don't underestimate the importance of having quality mixers in your cocktails. You wouldn't want to compromise and negatively affect the flavor of the cocktail. From this essential list, you can expand further in the future, adding other juices, coffee and tea, and coconut water, for example.
Don't Miss Part 1 of Starting a Home Bar: Spirits