This week’s article is about craft mixers, and sponsored by a craft mixer company we really like – Q Drinks.

It’s made with quality ingredients and just the right carbonation level. I highly recommend it if you’re considering craft mixers at your bar.

Thanks again to Q Drinks for supporting A Bar Above!

Mixers are usually the “forgotten” component in craft cocktails. Whether it’s soda water from the gun for your Collins or Fresca in your Paloma, we put so much effort into making a great cocktail, then use “whatever we have” for the mixer – which is a bit ironic as the mixer can take up as much as 75% of the volume of the drink!

But if you are running a craft cocktail bar and you haven’t taken a good look at your mixers recently, it’s worth another glance. Many new craft mixer brands like Q Drinks have become much more available in recent years, giving you some easy ways to make your simplest two-part drinks truly “Craft”.

It may be time to consider taking your mixers up a notch. Here’s how:

1: Make a List

Looking at your beverage menu, what mixers are you using? Maybe you need Tonic, Soda Water, and Ginger beer – but not Grapefruit soda or Ginger Ale? Start with your “shopping list” so you know what to look out for. (Of course, include any items you aren’t using now if you would like to add them in the future!)

2: Talk to your Distributor(s)

Chances are, you already have an existing relationship with several distributors. Start there!  Craft mixers used to be hard to find, but now there are a lot of options like Q Drinks which are distributed nationwide.

Give your rep the shopping list you wrote in step 1 and ask what they offer. Ideally you’ll want to find a craft mixer brand that offers the full list of mixers you’re looking for. Q Drinks, for example, offer Soda Water, Tonic, Grapefruit, Ginger Ale, Ginger beer and even a Kola. You may be surprised what’s out there.

3: Get Samples

As with any new product, it’s important to taste it before buying in quantity. In my experience this is especially true with craft mixers. Not only are you looking for a product that tastes good, but you need something that will mix well. Taste the mixers on their own and in your existing recipes. It’s OK if you’ll need to tweak your recipes a bit – I’d be surprised if you didn’t. But make sure you actually LIKE the product before making any big menu changes.

Furthermore, if your distributor(s) offer more than one craft mixer brand, I’d recommend getting samples of all of them – that will give you the opportunity to choose what’s best for you based on taste, mixability and price point.

4: Adjust your Recipes

Once you’ve made a decision on which craft mixer you’ll be using, it’s time to adjust your recipes. While it’s a huge generalization, I have found that most craft mixers are less sweet than “plastic bottle” mixers.

Q Drinks‘ Ginger Ale, for example, is far less sweet than traditional ginger ale and has a subtle pepper heat to balance out the ginger flavor. It’s delicious but very different from common over the counter ginger ales – and you’ll almost certainly need to rebalance your cocktail to adjust for the new flavor profile. (Trust me, it’s worth it!)

5. Adjust your Menu

So you’ve gone through all of the effort to find, taste, and implement a craft mixer program. What good is all of that effort if nobody knows about it? I’d recommend rewording your menu to highlight the craft mixers you are using, and especially call out if they are local.

If you were offering a cocktail with a high-end spirit – you’d mention that, right?  Well this is very similar. You’re offering your customers a high end drink, and they should know it.

Likewise, it may be necessary to adjust your pricing. High end spirits mean slightly higher cocktail costs – and high end mixers are no different. But if you clearly communicate what you’re using and make it obvious to your customer that they are getting something better than “plastic bottle” product, they’ll be more than happy to pay the premium.

6: Train your Staff

You’ve just made a big change – your staff needs to know about it! Make sure your staff understands the new mixers, why you are using them, and be able to explain the value to their customers.

“Why aren’t you using Coke in this?”

“Why is this more expensive than it used to be?”

“I’ve never heard of Q Tonic. I usually get Schweppes. Does it taste the same?”

Think about what your customers are going to ask, and prep your staff with answers. By the way – don’t be defensive! Remember, you are offering craft mixers because you genuinely believe they are a higher quality, better product. You have nothing to apologize for (price or otherwise!)

Similarly, it’s worth taking a moment to make sure your staff knows the mixers’ story. When a customer asks about the mixer named on the menu, your bartender can say, “Oh, Q Drinks – it’s a local company started a few years ago in the founder’s kitchen. He’s taken a lot of time to find the perfect flavor and carbonation for each type of mixer and we felt they were really high quality. I think you’ll like it.”

7: Rethink the Experience

This is optional, but worth thinking about. I’ve seen some bars change the way they serve drinks after implementing a craft mixer program.

For example, one bar adds the spirit to a glass with ice, opens the bottle of mixer and serves the mixer and glass to the customer – letting them pour it themselves. Q Drinks even has a name for this – they call it the “Spectacular Serve”. This highlights the “high end” nature of the mixer, let’s them see the bottle, and lets them make it as strong as they’d like.

It’s just a more engaging experience for the customer. Of course, this won’t make sense in every bar: think about your customer, theme and style of bar and serve accordingly.

With so many great craft mixer options out there, it’s definitely worth considering putting them on your menu. They don’t taste like chemicals, have great flavor options and improve the guest experience. What’s not to love?

Julia Tunstall

Julia Tunstall is the co-founder of A Bar Above and Chief Cocktail Taster. She's in charge of keeping things running smoothly around here, but you'll also find her stopping by on the Mixology Talk Podcast or hanging around the Craft Cocktail Club.