Friday, 21 February 2014

In the Mix: Delicious Mixers You're Missing Out On

While the recent rise in craft spirits has been well documented (see my last post, about gin) one interesting consequence of this trend has been a long overdue pickup in the quality of mixers.

Until the last few years, bars have been limited to post-mix, which is essentially soda water mixed with a concentrated flavoured syrup.  While I grudgingly admit that the watery artificial sweetness is somewhat of a guilty pleasure if I have over indulged the night before, post-mix has all the gastronomic quality and charm as a rustlers burgers.  Even the places that go for bottled mixers generally don't go for anything more adventurous than Schweppes or Britvic.

On the one hand, it could be argued that keeping mixers cheap is a way to off-set the cost of more expensive spirits, allowing for quality brands to be poured while still being affordable.  In my opinion, though, this is causing people to lose out on a large part of the experience.  A surprisingly common trend is the amount of people I've encountered who claim not to like gin when in reality its the bitterness of cheap tonic that has ruined the experience.

Two companies leading the way are Fentimans and Fever-Tree.  Fever-Tree put it as well as anyone on their website 'if 3/4 of your drink is tonic, make it an excellent one.'
Their range of mixers - that has recently incorporated a lovely delicate elderflower tonic (£1.69 for half a litre at Tesco) - uses only natural ingredients and no artificial sweeteners. The result is light and fresh, much more delicate, and really allows the spirit to do the talking.

Fentimans 'botanically brewed' soft drinks have recreated a lovely range of mock Victorian mixers, ranging from a banging Dandelion and Burdock and 'Curiosity Cola' (both £2.79 for 750ml at Tesco) through to a classic cloudy lemonade (£1.07 at TheDrinkShop).  The real star of their range for me is the rose lemonade (£2.79, Waitrose): delicately sweet, it uses rose water sparingly, so the finish is floral but not soapy.

In the upper echelons of the bar world, many venues now make a lot of their own mixers in-house.  While tonic can be a little tricky, the use of blenders and centrifugal juicers has allowed a whole spectrum of cordials and juices.  Homemade ginger beer is common and used in conjunction with good quality fresh citrus as a garnish - and you can even get in on the act yourself by buying this 'ginger beer making kit' for £15.99 from Firebox.

I also couldn't write a post about mixers without mentioning Ting (currently 3 for £1 at Tesco).  Basically a hipster lilt, this sugary little devil is great with rum and fresh lime.  Or if you are feeling more adventurous, throw a salt rim on your glass and mix with lime and tequila to give a slightly sweeter take on the Mexican classic, Paloma.

So next time you are perusing the back bar looking for just the right spirit, spend a few seconds considering what's going to fill the rest of your glass...

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