Cocktail Mixers You Should Make, Not Buy (and How to Make Them)

A.J. Rathbun
Make your own (don't buy) grenadine

In a previous post, we talked about essential bar tools you can buy. But when setting up your home bar, and especially when getting prepared to host a happening party, there are a couple mixers that I suggest you make, instead of buy. Partially because it’s fun, but also because what you buy is rarely as tasty as what you can make (at least for the below). Also, when hosting a soirée of any kind, having an ingredient you made in the drinks you serve is cool.

Simple Syrup: This is your basic sugar and water syrup, used to add a touch of sweetness to drinks, as well as to coax stronger ingredients to come together nicely. It’s a snap to make, can be stored in the fridge for a month and is also key when crafting non-alcoholic drinks such as lemonade and home-crafted sparkling fruit drinks--there’s really no reason not to always have some on hand. In addition, you can easily make flavored simple syrup (see an example below the recipe).

Simple Syrup
Makes approximately about 4 -1/2 cups
3 cups sugar
2-1/2 cups water

1. Add the sugar and water to a medium-sized saucepan. Stirring occasionally, bring the mixture to a boil over a medium-high heat. Lower the heat a bit, keeping the mixture at a low boil for five 5 minutes.
2. Turn off the heat, and let the syrup cool completely cool in the pan. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

A Note: I tend to use my simple syrup all the time, but if you’re only going to use a bit here and there, you can add 1/2 ounce of a high-proof neutral grain spirit (vodka works) to the bottle for preservation purposes.

A Second Note: Mint Simple Syrup. Have a lot of fresh mint around? A mint simple syrup is a delight. To make, just add 1 cup fresh mint leaves to the saucepan in step 1 above. Try it with other herbs and fruit and such, too.

Grenadine: I can hear you whispering “But I can get grenadine in any store.” Sadly the majority of what’s being sold as grenadine is a chemically-sweetened dyed-red sloppy mess. Real grenadine should definitely have a kiss of sweetness, but it should bring serious pomegranate-y tang as well to add what it needs to add to drinks.  Good grenadine is swell for kids--it’s key for the classic non-alcoholic hits such as the Shirley Temple and the Roy Rodgers. The Grenadine recipe below is a version I picked up from Andrew Bohrer, who was one of Seattle’s top bartenders until he became Spirits Director at Vinum Importing.


Makes approximately 4 cups
4 cups unsweetened pomegranate juice (be sure you have the kind with no sugar)
1 pint fresh raspberries

4 cups granulated sugar

2 ounces orange flower water
1. Add the pomegranate juice and raspberries to a large saucepan on the stove, raising the heat to high. Heat for 15 minutes.
2. Let the mixture stay at a steady boil, stirring occasionally, 15 minutes longer, reducing the heat if needed to prevent burning.
3. Slowly stir in the sugar, stirring continuously. When the sugar is completely dissolved, remove the pan from the heat and stir in the orange flower water.
4. Let cool, and strain into bottles. Refrigerate in an airtight container for up to 1 month.

A Note: Only serving the grenadine to adults? Add 16 ounces of brandy in step 1, and an extra 2 cups sugar.

Tinctures: A great way to have a particular herb or spice flavor on hand and in manageable form, tinctures are usually added to a drink by the drops--so a little goes a long way. Though they’re sort-of cousins, they don’t tend to be as layered or as complicated as bitters (which take longer and have a wider array of flavors). If you, after getting exciting about making these three mixers, want to wade into the bitters’ realm, I suggest picking up the awesome book Bitters by Brad Parsons. The tincture recipe below is for cinnamon, and one I picked up from the superb Portland bartender Jeffrey Morgenthaler.

Cinnamon Tincture
Makes approximately 16 ounces
4 ounces whole cinnamon sticks
16 ounces grain alcohol or vodka

1. Add the cinnamon sticks and the grain alcohol (or vodka) to a clean container with a good lid. Store away from sunlight for three weeks.
2. Strain the mix through a fine-mesh strainer to remove any solids. Store in a glass bottle away from sunlight.

A Note: You can use this general recipe to make other tinctures as well. Fun stuff!