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Better Cocktail Mixers from Bittermilk

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In general, we aren't huge fans of cocktail mixes. It's hard to capture the fresh flavor of citrus in shelf-stable or even refrigerated format, and the convenient drinks just don't tend to be as delicious as the fresh stuff. But Bittermilk has redeemed the category for us: these are cocktails mixes we're actually happy to use.

MariElena and Joe Raya are the folks behind Charleston cocktail destination The Gin Joint. These bar pros understand the need for balance in a cocktail, and their mixes rely on the trusty old punch standby, the oleo saccharum.

We've talked a bit about this mix of citrus peel and sugar on SE, and shared a classic method (and an easier ziploc-bag trick.) As easy as they are to make, nothing is as easy as popping open a bottle and pouring it into your glass with a little booze.

The Bittermilk Smoked Honey Whiskey Sour mix is made with organic lemon juice, cane sugar, and an organic orange oleo saccharum. That last bit is the key—this stuff has the bitter bite to balance the drink's sweetness, slicing through the honey and sugar. The other important ingredient: honey that they've flavored by enclosing the sweet stuff in a smoke box that contains smoldering pieces of bourbon barrels. Yum.

When mixed with bourbon (we tried Maker's Mark) the resulting drink is rich and rounded, with just slight whispers of smoke and quite a bit of honey and orange-zest flavor. The instructions are darn simple: shake equal parts Bittermilk and whiskey with lots of ice, then drink. You don't need to add anything else, but a squeeze of fresh lemon is a fantastic complement, adding the final touch of brightness to balance the drink if you're seeking something just a touch more sour. Don't have a lemon in your fridge? Don't sweat it. We liked it even better with rye, which offers a bit more spice and less sweetness to the mix.

There's also the Bittermilk Tom Collins Mix with Elderflower and Hops, made with lemon juice, a natural extract of elderflower and elderberry, and organic cane sugar. There's no oleo saccharum for bitterness here: instead, they use Centennial hops, which give the drink a touch of crispness. The mixed drink is remarkably fresh-tasting: fruity and slightly floral but not oversweet. We really like it with gin, but it's also quite nice as a natural-tasting non-alcoholic alternative to, say, Bitter Lemon soda.

Bittermilk mixes are available online for about $14.95 each at Bittermilk.com and Kaufmann Mercantile.

About the Author: Maggie Hoffman is a Senior Editor at Serious Eats, based in San Francisco. She founded Serious Eats: Drinks in 2011. You can follow her on Twitter @maggiejane.

Tasting samples provided for review consideration.

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