When you are first starting, stocking your home bar can seem like an overwhelming and expensive task. You must account for cocktail mixers, cocktail glasses, and other home bar essentials. Fortunately, there are plenty of non-alcoholic, low-cost mixers that you can purchase to add variety and flavor to any homemade cocktail or mixed drink!
Once you have purchased the basic home bar liquors and liqueurs, you can pick up the home bar essential mixers. These mixers are widely available, so this is one of the easiest and most budget-friendly steps to building your bar or bar cart!
What Are Mixers & Why Are They Important?
Before we get into our list of home bar essential mixers, it is helpful to briefly explain what a drink mixer is.
Essentially, mixers are the non-alcoholic ingredients added to mixed drinks and cocktails. For the most part, they help dilute the alcohol in the beverage, so it is not quite as strong. They can also change, enhance, or add new flavors to the drink, opening up a whole new world for making cocktails, mixed drinks, and even flavored shooters.
In some cases, a cocktail mixer is even added simply to increase the volume of a drink or to change its appearance. You can even use mixers to add caffeine to an alcoholic beverage, which can be useful for making after-dinner cocktails or a tasty morning beverage around the holidays.
While some mixers are explicitly prepared to mix up cocktails, others are standard grocery store beverages you are already familiar with. By keeping a few dedicated mixers near or behind your home bar, you can make yourself a wide range of delicious cocktails and mixed drinks!
The Essential Mixers for Home Bars & Bar Carts
Now that you know what mixers are and why they are so important for amateur and professional bartenders alike, we can get into some of the most popular varieties.
Carbonated Mixers & Sodas
Tonic water is a carbonated soft drink that contains quinine, which gives the drink its unique, bitter taste. Today, tonic waters are often sweetened with sugar in different cocktails. However, it is possible to purchase unsweetened versions in certain specialty shops.
You can use tonic water to add carbonation to cocktails and enhance a cocktail with its sweet and bitter flavor. It is most well-known for its role in the classic gin and tonic, as well as the vodka tonic.
Seltzer water contains dissolved carbon dioxide gas, causing tiny bubbles to form within the water, giving it a more refreshing quality than still water. It can be useful for adding carbonation to mixed drinks or to simply dilute the flavors of alcohol content of the beverage.
Club soda is very similar to seltzer water but often contains added salt. Like seltzer water, club soda has zero calories, so it is an easy, diet-friendly way to add carbonation to your mixed drinks and cocktails.
Ginger ale is a carbonated soft drink flavored with either natural or artificial ginger. Thanks to its unique flavor and availability, it is an extremely popular mixer, especially when combined with darker liquors like Canadian whiskey and dark rum.
By stocking a few cans of high-quality ginger ale behind your bar, you can create plenty of simple mixed drinks or even use it as an ingredient in more complex cocktails, like the Transfusion. It can also act as a low-cost alternative to ginger beer.
Dark Cola (Diet and Regular)
You would be amazed how many classic cocktails and mixed drinks call for cola. It is actually one of the most versatile and essential mixes to keep near your home bar. Cola also adds a hint of caffeine to your drinks, which is another reason why it is a quintessential mixer.
One of the most straightforward uses of cola is combining it with ice and your choice of vodka, rum, or various types of whiskey. These simple mixed drinks are delicious and refreshing.
Not only is cola useful as a base for a simple mixed drink, but it is also useful in more complex cocktails, like the Long Island iced tea. If you plan on hosting, it is a good idea to stock both diet and regular varieties of cola so you can cater to your guests’ preferences.
As the name suggests, lemon-lime soda offers carbonation, citrus flavor, and sweetness all in one beverage. It is a handy cocktail mixer for any bartender and can be used for simple mixed drinks or more complex cocktails, like the Tom Collins.
Orange juice can add sweetness and a refreshing citrus taste to your beverages. Thanks to its availability, it has been a long-standing favorite for bartenders, which explains why it is found in many classic drinks. It can be combined with vodka for a traditional Screwdriver or used in cocktail recipes, like the Tequila Sunrise.
Cranberry juice can add sweet and tart flavors to your drinks, making it a popular mixer. Many vodka-based mixed drink recipes will call for cranberry juice, so it is a good idea to keep some on hand.
Pineapple juice is a great way to add a tropical flavor to your mixed drinks. It is a common ingredient in various classic tiki cocktails and tends to complement rum and vodka.
While it might be somewhat surprising, tomato juice has many uses behind a bar. You can use it to neutralize the bitterness and harshness of drinks, and it even goes well with beer in certain recipes. It is also a primary ingredient in a classic Bloody Mary.
Lemon Juice & Lime Juice
Lemon juice and lime juice are true bar essentials. Whether purchased as a concentrate, or juiced from fresh lemons and limes, countless mixed drinks and cocktails depend on the sour and citrusy flavor that lemon and lime juice can add.
Whether making refreshing margaritas or serving classic whiskey sours, you will need plenty of lemon and lime juice behind your home bar.
Other Types of Mixers
Bitters differ from the other mixes on our list as they contain alcohol. They are so concentrated that you only need trace amounts to add a significant amount of flavor to your beverages.
There are plenty of flavors of bitters, but most have a spicy, smoky, and fruity taste. More than anything, they can add a unique aroma to your drinks. Not only can they balance out a cocktail and add a distinctive scent, but you can also use them to add color and sophistication to foamy cocktails.
Bitters are used in some of the most classic Prohibition Era cocktails, including the Manhattan, Martini, Negroni, Sazerac, and Old Fashioned, so you will want to keep a bottle of bitters on hand!
Grenadine is a pomegranate-based syrup mixer that can add significant sweetness to your drinks. It tends to be used in more tropical and fruity cocktails, as it adds bright color and sweetness. For example, the Tequila Sunrise depends on grenadine for its iconic appearance and flavor.
It is also useful to have if you want the option to make “mocktails” or non-alcoholic drinks like the Shirley Temple.
Simple syrup is a liquid sweetener made from water dissolving sugar. While it is possible to add flavor enhancers and an endless number of variations, its key is simply acting as a liquid sweetener. It is used in a wide range of cocktails to help make strong cocktails more palatable.
You can make simple syrup yourself, and you will need plenty if you plan on making classic cocktail recipes, like the Old Fashioned, Jungle Bird, Margarita, Whiskey Sour, Mojito, Mint Julep, and many more!
Sour mix is made from sugar, water, lemon juice, and lime juice. You can purchase it pre-made, or you can make it yourself. As the name implies, you can mix it with various spirits to create sour drinks or use it as a substitute for fresh lemon or lime juice.
There is a good chance you already have coffee at home, so you will not have to go out and buy it, but it is very useful for home bar purposes. Plenty of hot alcoholic drinks call for coffee, which can be a great way to introduce acidity, caffeine, and the earthy flavor of coffee to your bar.
Coffee goes exceptionally well with a wide variety of popular liqueur options, including amaretto, Irish cream, Kahlua, and Schnapps, and it even pairs well with vodka and bourbon.
Half and Half
Half and half is a mixture of cream and milk that is somewhat useful for making cocktails. Creamy beverages, like the White Russian, often call for half and half. It also goes well with coffee-based alcoholic drinks, as it helps to kill some of the bitterness.
For More Information
Consider reading Taste of Home’s guide to 46 Classic Cocktails You Need to Know for more information about mixers and how you can use them. This guide will help you learn which types of mixers you should keep on hand if you plan to build your own classic cocktail home bar.