Often in a team effort the contributions of a few go unheralded. Such is the case with the drink mixes used at the bar. While content to remain in the background and play a supporting role, drink mixes play a vital role in the success of your beverage operation.
While most operators like the idea of serving the clientele made-from-scratch drink mixes, the idea frequently breaks down in execution. For one thing, there’s the question of time. Preparing scratch drink mixes is a labor-and time-intensive process. Then there’s also the issue of consistency. Even a recipe set in stone doesn’t ensure that your employees will prepare scratch mixes consistently. Or it may be that the necessary fresh ingredients are not always available. For whatever reason, scratch drink mixes don’t always measure up to expectations.
So the question remains. If a prepared drink mix is made with high quality ingredients, tastes great, requires little or no time to prepare and costs less than making the mix from scratch, would you incorporate it into your beverage program?
There are many prepared drink mixes that meet the above criteria. Selecting drink mixes requires sampling and comparing the attributes of each available brand to choose the one best suited for your operation. Since there is a vast difference in quality and taste between these products, a side-by-side comparison is essential. While you may opt to prepare all of your mixes by scratch, the potential cost and time-savings make it best to weigh all of your options.
If you use scratch recipes, formulate detailed recipes complete with exact measurements and specific instructions as to how the mixes are prepared. The drink mix recipes should be laminated and posted behind the bar. Par levels for each mix should be established such that there is always sufficient supply to meet demand, but not so much it runs the risk of spoiling. Refrigerated mixes should be dated on the outside of the container and rotated so that those with the earliest dates are used first. Bartenders should taste test the mixes to ensure freshness at the beginning of each shift and discard those that are questionable.
Prepared vs. Scratch — Bloody Marys
As every bartender knows, the secret to a world class Bloody Mary is the mix. The vodka may be the fuel, but the mix is the delivery system. There is something satisfying about building a classic Bloody Mary from the ground up, skillfully adding a few dashes of this and a healthy pinch of that. At a busy bar, however, preparing the mix in small batches better ensures freshness, consistency and quality.
Most scratch recipes start with a base of tomato juice. The next step is to add the modifiers. Worcestershire sauce, horseradish and Tabasco sauce are generally considered a must. The true creative artistry comes into play when adding the seasonings. Like most great works of art, you’ll probably have to sample several batches until you find a mix recipe that best captures the flavor of your establishment.
One pitfall to avoid is making your Bloody Mary mix too spicy hot. One viable option is to provide customers with the spicy condiments on the side and allow them to doctor their own Bloody Marys. If they make it too hot, a bartender need only add some more of the base mix.
However, many operators consider making Bloody Mary mix from scratch no longer feasible. In growing numbers, operators are turning to a new breed of Bloody Mary mixes as an alternative to scratch. In most cases these mixes are produced in small batches to assure quality and sold in local or regional markets. Others have caught-on nationally.
Many bottled Bloody Mary mixes rival even the most delectable scratch recipes. Possessing thick, rich bodies, great seasonings and well-balanced flavor, bottled Bloody Mary mixes offer a delicious, cost-effective alternative to making the mix from scratch.
Should you select a bottled product for your bar, consider transferring the mix from its bottle into reusable quart containers. In addition, there is no reason why you can’t make a few modifications to a bottled Bloody Mary mix to make it better suited to your particular tastes or beverage concept. Splash in some olive juice. Add a little crushed roasted garlic or a heaping tablespoon of horseradish. It’s your house specialty, after all.
Prepared vs. Scratch — Margaritas
If your mix is less than wonderful, what chance do your Margaritas have? Don’t short-circuit your efforts. Starting with a great Margarita mix will greatly increase your odds for success. Your mix should be delicious and completely devoid of any bitter or artificial aftertaste. It should have a light, fresh quality and be well balanced, meaning not too sweet or tart.
Making Margarita mix from scratch is easier than it might sound. The basic ingredients are lime juice, sugar and a little water. For this purpose, we’re looking for something not quite as sweet as limeade.
As for the taste profile, there are essentially two directions you can take your Margarita mix. The traditional slant is to use only a base of fresh lime juice. Since many bars and restaurants only stock a lemon-based sweet ‘n’ sour, the second option is to add lime juice to the sweet ‘n’ sour.
While there is a quality image associated with using fresh squeezed juice in a scratch mix, there are also frozen products already sweetened and far more convenient. If you use a frozen concentrate as a base, for consistency purposes it is advisable to use less water than called for in the product directions.
As mentioned, the finished Margarita mix should taste delicious in its own right. If you have an urge to improve on perfection, consider splashing in orange juice or grapefruit juice for added dimension and character.
On the other end of the spectrum, there are a large number of bottled Margarita mixes to choose from, many of which are excellent. Bottled mixes do have the advantage of being stabilized for a longer shelf life. So keep your options open and don’t disregard using a bottled mix.
Prepared vs. Scratch — Piña Coladas
Ask any bartender, piña coladas are about the messiest, most hassle-ridden drink made behind the bar. Many coconut syrups are oily, difficult to measure and even harder to pour. For scratch recipes, consider blending the coconut syrup with a proportionate amount of pineapple juice or half & half cream to decrease the syrup’s viscosity and increase its ease of use. Coconut syrup darkens and develops a brownish hue when it’s turning bad. Bartenders should taste test to ensure freshness at the beginning of each shift.
If searching for the perfect scratch piña colada recipe sounds more involved than time at-hand permits, there are a number of outstanding bottled mixes from which to choose.