These are the ingredients that make each cocktail unique. This guide explains how to choose fruit and juice it for the best taste. It covers citrus, cranberry, pomegranate, pineapple, peach, tomato and other popular juices. It also gives the inside scoop on raw eggs, creams, milk, soft drinks, soda water, tonics and more.
Most Popular Juices
The most popular juices used in cocktails are lime, lemon, orange, grapefruit, cranberry, pineapple, pomegranate and peach. They come in many forms like organic, local, fresh, cartons, bottled, frozen, canned, concentrate, freeze dried, and powdered.
Fresh squeezed juice is always best. Then as a general rule, if you can’t get fresh, look for 100% pure juice cartons in the dairy section, or bottled products that are not from concentrate.
Lime, Lemon, Orange, Grapefruit
If you can get organic, go for it. The juice won’t necessarily taste better, but at least the fruit wasn’t subject to ripening chemicals, or bathed in food grade oil, which can pick up all sorts of contamination from being handled.
Choose fruit that has small pores and smooth skin. It should be heavy for its size when compared to others. The color of the skin and blemishes don’t matter, because this produce is for juicing not garnish. That said though, if you can find fruit that works for both juice and garnish, get them.
Be sure to wash the outside of the fruit before cutting into it. It gets rid of any chemicals and residue on the rind. Besides that, you don’t know who else held this piece of fruit at the market, or where their hands were.
When it comes to extracting the juice, you can use a manual juicer if just doing a couple of cocktails. If entertaining a few guests, a large citrus press with lever arms will surely impress. If you want to save the strain on your wrist and arms, or if you love fresh juice daily, go for an electric juicer instead.
There is a myth that warming citrus fruit will yield more juice. It’s simply not true. The room temperature fruit will give up its juice more willingly, but won’t result in more volume. So don’t go microwaving your lemons.
All citrus juice tastes better when fresh squeezed on demand. If the juice sits out for just 20 minutes it gets noticeably bitter. This bitterness is caused by limonin, which occurs naturally once citrus is exposed to air.
If you can’t get fresh lemon and lime, a good alternative is powdered juice by a company called True Citrus. Their True Lime and True Lemon products are the result of a patented process for cold pressing and crystallizing juice, using 100% natural ingredients, making it easy to have ‘almost fresh’ citrus flavor from a freeze dried product.
All bottled lemon and lime juices have a notable bitterness due to limonin, just like the citrus from concentrate. So even though a bottle of lime juice may claim to have been fresh squeezed into the bottle, using only the finest organic ingredients, pass on it, because it will spoil your drink. Go for the dried True Lime instead. Most of your guests won’t know its not fresh juice once its mixed with the other ingredients.
Try to get 100% pure cranberry juice if you can get it. You’ll want to avoid any product that’s uses the word “cocktail” on the label, because it’s mixed with all sorts of other juice and may have added sugar and colors.
Usually it will say 100% juice, not from concentrate. It’s pricey but the difference in taste is well worth it. The next best would be 100% pure cranberry from concentrate.
Of course there’s always the option of buying a masticating juicer in addition to the citrus reamer type. That way, you can juice anything from carrots to wheatgrass. Then if you buy fruit like cranberries, strawberries and blueberries in season and freeze them, there’s the option of having great tasting juice all winter long.
It’s easy to make fresh pomegranate juice in the slow masticating juicer. The hard part is getting the seeds out of the fruit and cleaning up the mess afterward.
So the next best thing is to go for a bottled product called POM Wonderful. It’s from concentrate, but the juice is delightfully fresh tasting and all the hard work has been done. You can usually find it in the supermarket in the fresh isle, in the cooler, near the salads.
In addition to POM there are other bottled products called pomegranate molasses at specialty food stores. They make a decent grenadine (pomegranate syrup) when slightly diluted with water, or you can reconstitute them into juice, although it doesn’t even come close to POM in flavor.
Fresh pineapple can be hard to find in some areas. Cutting them up into juice size chunks for juicing isn’t much fun either, but it will give you the freshest flavor.
If the drink is a tropical concoction with coconut and other syrups, the flavor will be masked anyway, so a carton of the stuff will be fine. Look for 100% unsweetened pineapple juice that’s not from concentrate in the fresh isle near the other juices.
If you don’t find it near the OJ and milk, look in the specialty juice section, where you’ll find it in gable top cartons, or Tetra Paks. It’s almost as good as the fresh stuff. It’s just been pasteurized for greater shelf life.
Last of all, if you can’t find fresh pineapple juice, or 100% juice from concentrate, grab a can of the stuff, preferably unsweetened. You’ll find it along with the canned fruit and it will do in a pinch, but your drink will have a tinny overtone, even with all that coconut juice.
Peach is becoming more popular in cocktails, because the fruit is available all year round in large urban centers. If you can’t find fresh, or you don’t want to lug out the masticating juicer, look for cartons that are 100% juice, not from concentrate, in the fresh isle, or in the specialty juice section.
Another juicing option for peaches and other pulpy fruit are blenders like the Vitamix or Blendtec. They can make tasty, near instant juice without the mess of a masticating juicer. Just peel the fruit and roughly take the meat off the stone. Toss it into the blender with a little water and blend for 30 seconds on high speed. Strain the juice if you like, or leave it as is, if you don’t mind a little pulp.
Tomato is found in cocktails like the Bloody Mary, Caesar, Bullshot and a handful of others. If you’re not planning to make tomato based drinks, there’s no need to keep any on hand, because it’s relatively easy to find at any grocery store.
As with the other juices, fresh is always best. You could buy ripe tomatoes, put them in a masticating juicer and strain the pulp. Next up would be bottled products that are 100% tomato juice, not a mixture of veggie juice, which would throw off the flavor of the cocktail you want to make. If all else fails, head to the canned isle where you’re sure to find some.
Less Popular Juices
In a fully stocked bar, you’ll also find Clamato (a mix of clam and tomato), apple, coconut, mango, passion fruit, black current, blueberry and several others. Since the focus here is on making the most popular drinks, there’s no need to stock these items. You can always run out and grab them if you’re experimenting, or doing a theme party that needs them.
Gasp! Raw eggs in drinks? Yes, bartenders have been using fresh raw eggs in cocktails for decades. Reassure your guests that once mixed into the drink, they won’t be slimy or taste like eggs. What they do is give the drink a rich, thick, mouthfeel and a long lasting head of foam.
Are raw eggs safe? Yes, they are safe if handled correctly. That means buying the freshest eggs, using them within a week and keeping them cold until you crack them open. But if raw eggs bother you, leave them out, or get a gable top pint carton of egg whites that have been pasteurized.
As a safety measure, wash the outside of the egg before you crack it. This isn’t that big of a deal in America, because eggs are washed and passed through disinfectant before being delivered to the consumer. However, people generally open the cartons and fondle the eggs and check for breakage before buying, so you don’t know how many people have already touched the eggs.
Be sure to wash your hands with soap and water after touching raw eggs. Also wash any utensils, mixing glasses and spoons that the egg may have come in contact with.
Once in the shaker cap, the alcohol acts as a disinfectant, helping to eliminate any harmful microbes that may be present in the egg. In addition, most drinks with eggs have a citrus component that essentially ‘cooks’ the egg like a ceviche.
So don’t be scared by the eggs, just enjoy the cocktails. If anything, be scared by the glass washing techniques employed by some bartenders. Now THAT is scary!
As a general rule, the fresher the ingredients, the better the cocktail. So if you live close enough to a farm market, you can always have the best organic ingredients. If that’s not an option, head down to the supermarket and look for the organic section.
Does the organic really taste better? Yes, when it comes to dairy, there is a noticeable difference in the aroma, depth of color and character of the flavor. On top of that, it’s free of antibiotics, growth hormones and other nasties that may be permitted in the regular products.
If you compare a free range organic egg to a battery one (6-8 hens in 1 small cage) the difference in the color of the yolk is striking. The battery one is very pale yellow, lays flat and smells like the memory of an egg. The organic free range yolks are firm, round and deep gold, bursting with complex layers of flavor.
So if you can’t get organic, get free range. If there’s no free range, then go for the battery eggs, unless you don’t need the yolks. If that’s the case, or if bartending on location and you don’t want to pack eggs, get a carton of liquid egg whites. They are raw pasteurized whites that come in a carton similar to milk. There’s even powdered egg white in some specialty markets, but unless going camping, why use them?
Cream & Milk
Organic milk products are similar to the eggs. As you taste them side by side, milk tastes like milk, until you taste the organic. Your taste buds will shout, “Now that’s what milk should taste like!” Once you do a comparison test, you can’t go back to mass produced milk, because you’ve experienced the difference.
When a cocktail recipe calls for cream, they mean full fat coffee cream, which is usually about 18% fat. Some areas have a product called half and half, which is a lighter alternative at 10% fat. Large urban centers might even have light coffee cream at 6% fat.
Since the trend has been to go with less sugar and less fat, opt for the lighter creams if you can find them. Most recipes won’t suffer from it, and you won’t feel guilty when indulging in occasional creamy pleasures.
Can you use skim milk or 2% instead of cream? Yes, many people watching their diet want a milk element, but not the fat. So if you happen to have a carton of organic skim, or 2% on hand for the party, you might make some new ‘friends’ who prefer ‘skinny’ cocktails.
Coffee & Tea
Coffee and tea are essential when entertaining. Not all guests like to drink alcohol and the designated drivers should never drink. If you have a pod type hot drink maker it’s easy to have several kinds of coffee on hand. It can also make hot chocolate and boil water for tea, bullion and instant soup.
Soda aka Soft Drinks
Here is a partial list of sodas and bottled drinks, that you may want to have on hand. The generic name is followed by a few of the more popular brands.
Cola – Coke Cola, Pepsi, RC Cola, generic, local
Lemon Lime – 7 Up, Sprite, Slice, Shasta, Crush, generic, local
Ginger Ale – Schweppes, Canada Dry, Vernors, Americana
Ginger Beer – Fever Tree, Bundaberg, Barritt’s, Regatta, Schweppes
Root Beer – A&W, Barq’s, Mug, Dad’s (rare in cocktails)
Other – Orange Crush, grape, cherry, grapefruit (rare in cocktails)
Diet Soda – Various types by leading manufacturers
Energy Drinks – Red Bull, Monster, Rockstar, NOS, AMP
Bottled Water – regular and sparkling, import and domestic
Once upon a time, soft drinks (aka soda & pop) were sugar, carbonated water and natural flavoring. Things have changed, as you’ll see from the following list of ingredients, compiled from labels of popular American sodas.
Ingredients: sugar, glucose, high fructose corn syrup, natural and artificial color, phosphoric acid, citric acid, natural & artificial flavors, caramel color, tartrazine, acesulfame potassium, sucralose, sodium citrate, potassium citrate, calcium citrate, caffeine, glycerol, mono and diglycerides of fatty acids, sodium benzoate, potassium sorbate and sulphites. A couple of them had 3-7% real juice.
Thankfully there is a growing movement towards reinventing premium sodas. Brands like Q Drinks, with their Q Tonic, Q Kola and Q Ginger Beer, have all natural organic ingredients and no high fructose syrup. Fever Tree is another that boasts no artificial sweeteners, flavorings or preservatives, in their expanding line of tonics and sodas.
Other names for soda water, include seltzer, club soda, sparkling water and carbonated water. Usually its just carbon dioxide added to the water under pressure, although some brands have trace amounts of sugar or ozone added to the bottled product. The addition of carbon dioxide gas to the water creates carbonic acid, which gives soda water its characteristic zing, or sour flavor.
It’s easy to have constant, on-demand soda water at home with a product like Soda Stream. The kit contains a refillable CO2 cylinder, reusable serving bottles and a base unit that acts as a filling station. When the CO2 cylinder is empty, you can buy a new one and return the old one for a refund, from the same retailer that sells the kit.
In addition to making just soda water, SodaStream has an entire line of soft drink flavors from cola to root beer that you can make at home. For a healthier alternative, they also make organic and unsweetened extracts, which contain only natural flavorings.
Many people think that tonic water and soda water are the same thing, when they are very different. They both contain carbonated water, but the similarity ends there. You cannot substitute one for the other.
Tonic is usually very high in sugar content. The sugar is needed to hide the bitterness of quinine which is extracted from cinchona bark. Originally it was used to treat malaria patients in tropical climates. The only way they could get people to drink quinine was to mix it with sugar, citrus and sometimes gin.
These days the quinine content is only a fraction of what it once was. So what started as a tropical medicine evolved into a tonic, to stimulate the appetite and aid digestion, much like an aperitif and then into a popular cocktail called Gin & Tonic.
Two of the larger producers of tonic water are Canada Dry and Schweppes. Deluxe brands like Fever Tree and Q Tonic feature all natural ingredients and use real quinine instead of synthetic ones. There are also a number of tonic syrups on the market, that let you create your own flavor profiles.