Sunday, November 13

Nix Sour Mix

Sweet and Sour Mix is a shortcut. Unfortunately it is often taught as THE way to make a cocktail. It is very rare if ever that a bartender or an up-and-coming mixologist first learns about Simple Syrup mixed with fresh lemon or lime juice as the correct way to mix cocktails. That is a shame.

Sometimes sweet and sour mix is packaged under a drink name like Collins Mix, Margarita Mix or Sour Mix, but they are all just a mix of sour and sweet ingredients. The problem with using these mixes is that you as a mixologist can not control this very important ratio. Different drinks call for different ratios of the mixture and using a pre-mix does not give you that option.

Now… in high volume liquor and mixer type establishments I would pretty much expect to be served a Whiskey Sour with a mix (that means I won’t order it there). It is understandable that these places are using the mix. That is because they are doing such large volumes of drinks to people who most likely won’t discern the difference in the first place.

However… in higher end establishments I would expect the bar keep to be mixing up a mix of lemon juice, simple syrup, and whiskey in my Whiskey Sour. Unfortunately, from my experience this is not the case.

A lot of times when I ask how come they don’t use simple syrup I get the, “because that is the way management wants it” answer or a blank stare. The blank stare tells me they just don’t know any better. However the information in this post will change managements mind for those others.

If you work in an establishment that has a chef who prepares epicurean delights and takes pride in the menu and ensuring the correct flavors go well together… this will be easy. The cocktail is the first course of the night for any dinning experience. Tell your chef this and you will have a strong ally instantly.

Would chefs use gravy from a jar? (You might be smacked down at the suggestion) Hell no! They will make their own so that they can control the consistence of the gravy. So why is it that Ragu is not used in the kitchen but sweet and sour mix is used at the bar? Bartenders are cocktail chefs, pitch yourself as this. (I would even suggest printing business cards with the title of Bar Chef. Perception is 90% of reality.)

Cost: Cost is one reason that management will hit you with concerning fresh juices and simple syrup. The price of the mix can run you around $5 for a 32 oz container. Let’s compare that to the cost of the same amount of simple syrup and lemon and lime juice. Of the 32 oz, 18 oz is simple syrup and 14 oz is lemon or lime juice.

18 oz simple syrup:
9 oz water – Free
9 oz sugar – 6 cents per oz = $0.54

14 oz lemon or lime juice:
14 lemons - $3.50

Total homemade mix = $4.04

Time: The time it takes to mix up a batch of mix or time spent squeezing fruit would be another excuse. Simple Syrup can be made using 1 part water and one part superfine sugar. With these ingredients you actually do not need to heat the mixture and can have a bottle of syrup made up in seconds. This can be done on a Monday afternoon before the busy time and the syrup can last for weeks.

It is true that squeezing fruit on the spot can slow down the bartender as they are preparing a drink. However the time spent, cutting a lemon in half, and putting it in a hand juicer can be done in 5 seconds or less. Plus this will really impress the guests. If you feel you can't spare the 5 seconds you can pre-squeeze the juices for the night. Fresh juice can last 2 to 3 days if it is refrigerated.

Probably the best way to change the mind of management is to have them do a taste test. Make them a Whiskey Sour made with sour mix and then another made with lemon juice and simple syrup. Then ask the manager which drink a guest of this fine establishment would expect to be served.

Go ahead, join the crusade. I have a bumper sticker I can sell you… it reads Nix Sour Mix.



Anonymous said...

Great advice! I'm with you on Nixin' the mix, it tastes terrible! Great site, hope to see more stuff soon!

Anonymous said...

Don't forget the egg white! For a delicious whiskey sour:

1.5 oz. whiskey, 1 oz. simple syrup, 3/4 oz. fresh lemon juice and the white of one egg.

Shake all ingredients dry (no ice) then add ice, shake again and strain into rocks glass over ice and add cherry.

The egg white gives a nice smooth, slightly frothy texture.

barmixmaster said...

I really don't like egg white in a sour... but to each there own.

In my opinion if you shake the sour enough you can get the same frothy texture.

Anonymous said...

I have been a whiskey/whisky drinker for years but only recently had my first whiskey sour. I was at a decent bar but it was phenomenal. I am a newb bartender and we have don't even have sour mix at the place. I thought it was going to be complicated to make, glad to know it's not. I did break down and buy a sour mix ($3.99) and I just made a drink with it. I tossed it. It was AWFUL. Like lemonade from hell. I am going to mix a new drink with your ingredient list now. Thanks!

Pat said...

That's almost precisely how I make mine! I've been on the crusade to get a good whiskey sour while out at a bar for some time now and no one seems to have a clue. I was in a bar in HI and asked the barkeep for this recipe and he nearly snarled, and rejected my request. Anyway, at home I do 2.5 ounces or better of good bourbon, 1 oz lemon juice, and 1 tsp of light agave syrup, which I've found is awesome in place of sugar. No issues with dissolving etc. I'm also a bartender in training right now and I hope to serve some good sours in the days to come, management willing. Cheers!

Daddy-O said...

I totally agree with you nix the sour mix because it tastes like shit in any drink. It's also lazy bartending skills or management that cares more about profit or hiring boobs rather than a quality drink.

I personally use fresh lemon juice when making a whiskey sour along with powdered sugar, and an egg white. I like the recipe in Ted Haigh's book Vintage Cocktails and Forgotten Spirits.


John Apodaca

Terry V said...

I've always been a whiskey drinker and order whiskey sours quite regularly. I had an outstanding one this last weekend. The first thing I wanted to do was to Google premium sour mix in hopes of discovering this restaurants secret. Thats when I read about making your own sour mix, and naturally found this website. Just about two hours ago, I finished making my own based on the recipe here. I could tell from my first drink, I'd discovered the secret. This is a very well written piece and I highly recommend anyone reading gives it a try. I want to experiment with different whiskeys/scotches. So far I've tried Jack Daniels Single Barrel which was good, but this receipt with Johnnie Walker Gold Label was amazing.

Unknown said...

I make my own simple syrup for my whiskey sours. I use:

2 cups sugar
2 cups water
zest of one lemon

bring above ingredients to a boil then let cool completely. Strain into container and add 3/4 cup of lemon juice.

In my humble opinion, this makes the best whiskey sour, I've ever had. Bar none. I've also tried several different whiskeys and always come back to Crown Royal. Blends seem to work best. Your opinion?

Ben said...


I have just been learning a lot of bar techniques and using fresher ingredients is something I'm all for. For your simple syrup, do you need to heat it? I know you said you can make it in seconds but I also heard that you must boil it too. Whats the difference?

barmixmaster said...

You just have to dissolve the sugar in the water. Heating it is the easiest way, but if you use a superfine sugar you can usually just stir it in.

Unknown said...

Sour mix is nasty. It makes great drinks taste like ass. I can only assume it is intended for people who are to lazy to squeeze a lime (or lemon). Anyhow, how do I get one of those bumper stickers that you mentioned?

barmixmaster said...

kanaga, you are the first person to ask about acquiring an actual sticker. Perhaps if I get some more inquires I'll have to publish them. After all, "Nix Sour Mix" is TM by the barmixmaster.


Anonymous said...

I work in a large chain restaurant, i gladly bring my own mixes from home to concoct delishes cocktails, Its worth it with my return guests and I definitely have the largest pockets amongst my co workers :) btw id love a bumper sticker as well!

Michael Dearnley said...

Could you make a sour mix using gomme syrup and lemon juice or am I trying to cut corners?

barmixmaster said...

Yes, gomme syrup + lemon juice is perfectly fine.

Anonymous said...

anyone caught using sour mix in a margarita should be jailed.

Anonymous said...

Disarano (It ISN'T Ameretto, they got into trouble for saying that, and if your a bar tender you are not allowed to sell it as such) Bought out a sour mix in the UK, it was bad, it doesn't exist any more.

From what I have gathered your sour mixes seem to be sweetened lime OR lemon juices?
To me a sour mix is equal parts lemon and lime, sugar syrup, aromatic bitters, The only think i would use it for is a sours, The reason why egg white was used in a sours, was to create a frothy head and change the consistency of the drink. Modern Gommes have the same effect, same amount of sugar to less liquid ratio as most sugar syrups are a 2:1 ratio.

I heavily suggest that your try the sour mix pointed out above, (i would specify amounts but i tend to sight pour most ingredients under a shot)

Anonymous said...

How long will the homeade sour mix last? Do you need to refrigerate?

Thanks so much!

barmixmaster said...

How long will lemonade last? Should you refrigerate it?

I think the answer is the same. 1.5 months or so... and yes, but it could sit out for a while if needed.