Go to the grocery store and you’re likely to find a display of tempting, pre-made cocktail ingredients that promise to make your drinks taste so much better. But some of those “convenient” ingredients aren’t all they promise to be.
Sure, pre-made ingredients like bitters and orgeats are a godsend—making them at home can take weeks and a number of ingredients you probably don’t have on hand. But many of the others are nothing more than an artificially colored ruse. Most can be made at home in five minutes or less at a lower cost with ingredients you already have—not to mention they’ll taste a hell of a lot better made fresh. So keep your cocktails on point by avoiding these three pre-packaged ingredients. Your drinks will taste so much better.
It’s easy to understand why Margarita and Daiquiri mixes are so appealing—after slogging through the grocery store and trekking everything home, you want to be relaxing with a cold drink in hand as soon as possible. But please, resist the temptation to toss one of those bottles of sugary, neon-hued liquid in your cart. Not only are these mixes chock full of high fructose corn syrup and boatloads of other sweeteners, but one bottle will put you out at least $5. Instead, opt for a box of sugar and a bag of lemons and limes and make your own sour mix at home for less. Bonus: By making your own, you can customize exactly how sweet or sour your Margaritas, Daiquiris, Gimlets and Whiskey Sours will be. Trust us, you’ll never want to waste your money on pre-made mix again.
Simple syrup has “simple” in its name for a reason—it’s a foolproof mixture of one part sugar dissolved in one part water (a 50/50 mix). And once you have that formula down, you can adjust it accordingly to make rich syrup (two parts sugar to one part water) or any kind of flavored syrup, from berry and pineapple to rosemary and honey-thyme. Budding cocktailians take heart: Making simple syrup is a required skill, but even those who manage to burn mac and cheese can handle dissolving sugar in hot water.
Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell said it best: “Ain’t nothin’ like the real thing, baby.” They may have been singing about love, but darn if the sentiment doesn’t ring just as true for cocktail ingredients. Bottled lemon and lime juices are handy in a pinch, but that doesn’t mean they are anywhere as good as the real thing. It’s like SunnyD compared to fresh-squeezed orange juice. The truth is, the juice in those plastic lemon- and lime-shaped squeeze bottles—and many orange and grapefruit juices from concentrate—is more acidic and less flavorful than fresh squeezed fruit. So unless the world is suffering through another lime shortage, grab a fresh piece of citrus and put your juicer to work.