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Are Packaged Cocktail Mixers Ever A Good Idea?

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[Photographs: Robyn Lee]

Call us skeptics, but we've never found a packaged sour mix—or any cocktail mix—that we've really loved. Juice concentrates, preservatives, sweeteners, and whatever makes up the "natural flavors" have never really stacked up to freshly made for us. We've found a few passable margarita mixes and some decent packaged Bloody Mary mixes, but we'll always prefer a fresh margarita (frozen or on the rocks) and a Bloody Mary mixed to our personal preferences.

But every so often a new drink mix will turn our heads. Sometimes there's pretty packaging involved, other times it's the promise of fresher flavor or unusual ingredient combinations. We tried a bunch of recent releases to see if any of them were sippable. Here are the results.

Perfect Purée's 'Beverage Artistry' Thyme and Citrus blend has lime juice concentrate, orange juice concentrate, lemon juice concentrate, apple juice concentrate, pear juice concentrate, pineapple juice concentrate, tangerine juice concentrate, and "natural flavors", and it winds up tasting like a pretty fresh citrus popsicle, though the thyme flavor makes it a bit like piney cleaning fluid. Their Chipotle Sour Mix is aggressive and only for the bold, though we could imagine it as a secondary ingredient in a more complicated cocktail—the citrus flavor isn't bad, it's just a big punch of savory chipotle that put us off.

Perfect Purée's Thai Basil and Black Pepper is the best of the three—made from pineapple, lemon, lime, and orange juice concentrates (plus "natural flavors") it's much drier, with a kick of black pepper on the finish (though no basil we could recognize. We'd mix it with a nice potato vodka like Karlsson's or gin and club soda.

Funkin Cocktail Mixers were less of a success, reminding us of the harsh soda-gun flavor of cocktails in days gone by. The sour mix has an aggressive lime-oil edge, and enough sweetness to remind us of Starburst candies. The mojito mix (which is made with mint extract) was a definite improvement, though nowhere near the flavor fresh lime and mint leaves. (One taster was reminded of chimichurri, which isn't really a good thing when it comes to cocktails.) Strawberry daiquiri is the best of the bunch—it tastes like fresh strawberry jam and would work just fine mixed with lemonade and ice. Though you might want to make your lemonade fresh.

We love the packaging design on the Powell & Mahoney mixes, but found their margarita mix way too orangey (though we appreciated its relatively balanced sweetness.) If you're tempted to make margaritas with orange juice, then this stuff isn't bad, but we don't usually make margaritas with orange juice. Their Old Ballycastle Ginger mix is truly spicy, but it has a medicinal sweetness that makes us want to reach for ginger beer instead.

Should we just give up? Are there any good bottled cocktail mixes out there?

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