19 Mixers and Garnishes That Will Make You Feel Like a Bartender (While Drinking at Home)
Have you ever wondered why the drinks you order from a professional bartender taste so much better than the concoctions you usually whip up yourself? It’s probably because good bartenders are armed with a slew of secret ingredients, mixers, and garnishes that add a little somethin’ somethin’ to what would be an otherwise average drink.
For Kitchn Essentials: Bar Edition, we tapped our team of experts to figure out the very best mixers on the market. Here are 19 secret weapons that will have you cranking out cocktails like the best of them.
Budget Red Vermouth: Dolin Rouge
You want a standby that plays equally well with gin or whiskey and you don’t want to break the bank? Then you want to reach for this grocery store staple. Without blowing the budget you’re going to churn out fantastic Negronis and martinis.
Buy: Dolin Rouge, from $14.99 for 750ml at Drizly
High-End Red Vermouth: Del Professore Rosso
If you want to bring out the big guns, go for this collaboration between the famed Jerry Thomas bar in Rome and a Piedmontese distillery. You’ll be in good company, because “this stuff is legendary among the cocktail cognoscente,” says food and drinks writer Tammie Teclemarian. “Sip it with an ice cube or shake up something classy.”
Buy: Del Professore Rosso, $27.96 for 750ml at Astor Wines
Budget White Vermouth: Dolin Blanc
Dry and clean; sweet, crisp, and delicious. Whether you’re changing up your martini, riffing on a Negroni clear edition, or deglazing a kitchen pan, this is the standby the experts count on and so should the rest of us.
Buy: Dolin Blanc, from $16.09 for 750ml at Drizly
High-End White Vermouth: Cocchi Americano
Kitchn editors and experts agree: This is the quality white vermouth. Deserving of its almost fanatical fan base, thanks to a secret blend of herbs and spices, Cocchi is what you want when you want the perfect Aperitivo.
Buy: Cocchi Americano, from $21.49 for 750ml at Drizly
Bloody Mary Mix: McClure’s
Our staff had a mini (friendly) fight over which brand should win for this category, but our experts helped break the tie in favor of this mix from McClure’s, a pickle purveyor in Detroit city. “It’s made with the brand’s own pickle brine, dill, and garlic. It has so much going on, I don’t even feel like I need to have fun accompaniments to hang outside the glass,” says Lisa Freedman, Kitchn’s Lifestyle Director.
Buy: McClure’s, $17.40 for 32 ounces
Margarita Mix: Hella Cocktail Co. Habanero Margarita Mixer
We have a great recipe for pitcher margaritas on the site, but if you want something a little, well, spicier, go with this mix. It’s made with fresh lime juice, sugar, and real habanero peppers (no fructose or artificial colors or flavors). And it is Hot with a very capital H.
Buy: Hella Cocktail Co. Habanero Margarita Mixer, from $10.79 for 750ml at Drizly
Classic Bitters: Angostura Aromatic Bitters
Don’t be put off by the fact that these bitters are so widely available. They’re on every shelf because they’re seriously that essential. A few of our experts recommended them too, and we trust these bartenders that nothing does for a cocktail what a couple dashes of Ango will do.
Buy: Angostura Aromatic Bitters, $11.19 for four ounces
Off-Beat Bitters: Bittermens ‘Elemakule Tiki Bitters
Both Polynesian and Caribbean schools of tropical cocktails inform this “incredible blend of island spices and herbs,” food and beverage consultant Jordan Hughes says. Yes, it’s fantastic in tiki-inspired drinks, but you should totally try some in your next Old Fashioned, too.
Buy: Bittermens ‘Elemakule Tiki Bitters, from $19.99 for five ounces at Drizly
Polar “is one of those seltzers that looks unassuming as it sits on the bar at a wedding or in your fridge,” says Josh Gandee, a professional bartender in Columbus, OH. “I often elect to make cocktails for friends so I can top it with Polar and chug what’s left.”
Buy: Polar Seltzer, $12.07 for 12 bottles at Walmart
Tonic Water: Q Tonic Water
Your good gin deserves a co-star with equal billing. Tammie loves Q Tonic because it’s actually dry. Julia Herz, an award-winning home brewer, a Certified Cicerone and beer educator, says the “nuanced quinine, agave as the sugar source, and robust carbonation” totally work together to help this tonic stand out from other options.
Buy: Q Tonic Water, $34.19 for 24 bottles
Ginger Beer: Kroger Ginger Beer
Hiding in plain sight at Kroger, this ginger beer is drastically cheaper than other options and has the bite, the burn, and the sweetness that a lot of other brands are missing. You heard it here first: Jump on this before the rest of the country finds out about it.
Buy: Kroger Ginger Beer, $2.79 for six cans at Kroger
Craft Soda: Sanpellegrino Sparkling Chinotto
Sanpellegrino makes more beverage options than you realize. Josh calls this deep brown, lightly carbonated drink — redolent of Mediterranean Chinotto oranges — “magic” for working with spirits and non-alcoholic cocktails alike.
Buy: Sanpellegrino Sparkling Chinotto, $9.28 for 4 bottles at Italian Food Online Store
Drinking Vinegar: Liber & Co. Texas Grapefruit Shrub
They had us at champagne vinegar, but the punchy grapefruit flavors keep us coming back. “This bottled grapefruit shrub is the perfect introduction you need to the world of sipping vinegars,” Josh says. (“Careful,” he adds, “it only gets more funky from here.”)
Buy: Liber & Co. Texas Grapefruit Shrub, from $11 for 8.5 ounces at Drizly
Fruit Purée: Reàl Fruit Purée
Sure, it would be nice to always have a stock of fresh fruit on hand for drinks, but we live in the real world. But what if you absolutely must whip up a fruity concoction and are sans, say, lychee, passion fruit, or guava? Turn to whiskey aficionado, Felicia Corbett’s go-to: “These purées use real fruit so they don’t come off super syrupy,” she says.
Read more: Reàl Fruit Purée
Fruit Juice: L&A Pineapple Coconut Juice
Olives: Castelvetrano Olives
Any brand will do here, as long as you’re looking at Castelvetrano olives. “Castelvetrano olives should have their own flag, their own Instagram account, their own spokesperson,” Josh says. “I’ve yet to find a better martini olive that starts and finishes with salty vanilla flavors.”
Buy: Mezzetta Italian Castelvetrano Whole Green Olives, $9.64 for two 10-ounce jars at Walmart
Pickles: Famous Dave’s Devil’s Spit Pickle Chips
The label seriously says “For adults only!” and “XXX Hot,” so you know these pickles mean business. “They hurt so good,” Josh says. “One of those good mouth burns that is only fixed by eating more.” They’re not just for cocktail hour, either — be sure to try them on a sandwich.
Buy: Famous Dave’s Devil’s Spit Pickle Chips, $5.09 for two 24-ounce jars at Walmart
Rim Salt: Maldon Smoked Sea Salt
We want our rim salt to be pretty, yeah? But it’s also got a job to do. Done and done. “These large flakes not only look gorgeous on the glass, but they also sit on your tongue a little longer to add a new complexity to your mezcal margarita,” Josh says.
Buy: Maldon Smoked Sea Salt, $5.99 for 4.4 ounces
Cherries: Luxardo Maraschino Cherries
In the closest we got to a unanimous decision among our experts and Kitchn staffers, these Luxardo cherries won by a mile. “Anything else is an abomination,” Jordan says. End of story.
Buy: Luxardo Maraschino Cherries, $34.99 for two 400g jars