From adding a dash of tonic to your gin to a shot of cola to your whisky, getting the right mixer is crucial for your next tipple. What mixer works best? And when should you leave it out?
You have the taste of the Caribbean in your tumbler but what mixer do you add to bring out the sunshine and spice notes of Captain Morgan’s Tiki Rum? Does a mixer always have to be full of bubbles and fizz, like a tonic with your gin? And what about flavoured mixers – are they best avoided?
These questions are important because the mixer in your drink can make up the majority of the liquid in your glass. There may be times when you leave the mixer out completely, taking in the 'star of the show' in all its unabashed glory.
How do you decide on the right mixer that brings the best out in your drink, rather than drowns it in effervescent fizz?
#1 Consider the flavours of the main drink
Whether it’s gin, whisky or a tot of rum, knowing the notes and spices of the drink helps you decide which mixer to use.
The reason why is because, no matter what anyone tells you, there are no hard and fast rules when it comes to what you can or should mix with your drink and what you shouldn’t.
By taking note of the flavours of your drink, you add a mixer than enhances and builds these flavours. For example, a straight-up gin and tonic such as Gordon’s dry gin works well with a quality tonic mixer because both have ‘dry’ notes.
But if you prefer a sweeter gin, as well as turning to one of the many flavoured, fruity gins you could choose a tonic with fruity, sweet notes.
However, it could be argued that there is one rule: choose a quality mixer every time. Opting for ‘cheap and cheerful’ might see you load your expensive artisan gin with a fizzy tonic full of artificial sweeteners and chemicals.
#2 It’s all about the balance
We often think of mixers as being something we must have in a drink to either sweeten it or to make it last longer.
But actually, a quality mixer isn’t just about those things – it is about balancing out your drink so it hits all the right notes in the right order on your palate.
Notice the use of word ‘your’. In other words, the mix of flavours and balance you like won’t necessarily appeal to someone else.
A bartender who creates their own cocktails does so by testing several different combinations before they alight on the right mix. The same can be true of choosing your favourite mixer.
And that means not being afraid to add extra ingredients because that slice of lime or lemon could make all the difference. Sometimes, the oddest pairing of flavours work too.
You may sweeten your strawberries with a generous helping of sugar but did you know the spicy warmth of pepper works really well? It’s also been discovered that black pepper works really well with strawberry gin!
You can either use a good quality artisan strawberry gin or make your own by using delicious sun-ripened strawberries soaked in gin and sugar, with whole peppercorns added. If you like the spice of pepper, you can use spicier peppercorns but if you find it too much on the dark side, add a little bit more sugar for a sweet zing.
#3 Think seasonal
We all have a go-to winter drink, one that signals the start of spring as well as a turn-to summer cocktail and a drop of red wine that welcomes in autumn.
We do this for a reason – certain flavours hit the notes of the season. The above recipe for homemade strawberry gin with black peppercorns is perfect summer because strawberries are not only in plentiful supply, but they are packed full of summer sweetness and flavour.
It comes as no surprise that when it comes to mixers, your taste may change as the seasons change too. Adding a seasonal twist really ups the ante of your next cocktail of favourite spirit and mixer combo.
In summer, for example, you can harness the sweetness of berries by making your own syrup. Great for when you have a glut of strawberries in the allotment or, as the summer retreats to autumn, berries in the hedgerows, you can boil them down to a thick ‘mush’. Pour the semi-cooled liquid into a fine-mesh sieve and leave the contents to slowly decant through into a wide-neck bottle or bowl. You might need to push the pips and flesh around in the sieve from time to time to encourage the lush syrup to makes its way into the bottle.
Use sparingly in your summer cocktails or with a mid-range London dry gin for a little summer decadence.
If you want other flavours come the autumn or winter, turn to syrups with a hint of spice or nut-flavours, such as almond syrup that brings the unmistakable taste of winter and autumn to your glass.
#4 Sometimes, the simpler the better
Bartenders and connoisseurs of spirits and cocktails are continuously experimenting to bring new drinks to the menu. The results are (mostly) glorious.
However, have you ever been at a point where it all seems too fussy, too full-on and too contrived? If so, paring your drink back to basics gives your palate a break from the cacophony of flavours being thrown at it.
Gin and tonic, whisky and coke (yes, that is allowed), rum and cola… or maybe you’ll try the spicy Caribbean drink with coconut water?
Either way, having your drink as you want it is down to you. But don’t drown the flavours of your spirit. For fruity flavours, add a fruity, sweet mixer and for warm flavours such as spicy rum and an aged whisky, add a chalky mixer such as tonic. Or just opt for it on the rocks…