I am often asked about the importance of mixers and whether or not they have a significant impact on your drink. Given that a mixer is quite often two-thirds of the drink, the simple answer is a resounding yes! Choosing the right mixer is as important (sometimes more important) than choosing your spirit, as the flavours and ingredients of the mixer can change the drink significantly for better or for worse.
With so many of us trying to be more health conscious by counting calories, there’s been a growing market for low-calorie or calorie-free mixers, anything from lemonade to Coke and ginger beers. The lower calories are great – but be aware that artificial sweeteners etc. usually come with the price of compromising the taste of your drink. Below, I have run through some of the main suppliers. Ultimately, choosing the right mixer depends on your taste buds, although it’s always good to know what poison you may be drinking…..
Schweppes is still a popular choice amongst bartenders; many say they consider Schweppes the ‘classic’ tonic water and it tastes just how you expect tonic to taste. It has been rumoured that they have improved the taste of the original tonic water due to the growing competition, but I’m not sure if that is true. They have, however, added new flavoured tonic waters to their product range, such as lavender or ginger & cardamom, which are more popular in the rest of Europe than the UK. I’m not a big fan of Schweppes despite its ‘traditional’ role in the mixer market; it’s filled with artificial sweeteners, colours and flavourings which completely change the spirits it is added to. To me it remains the ‘lazy’ choice…
I wanted to add Britvic’s tonic range to the tables below only as a ‘traditional’ provider and good reference point, but I wouldn’t drink any of them due to several artificial sweeteners that are combined with sugars. The diet tonic is the worst, with a strong metallic taste, and it can completely ruin a quality spirit. Avoid.
It’s great to see more soft drinks coming on the market that are natural without any artificial flavourings, colourings or sweeteners. Fever-Tree, for example, has a selection of Indian tonic waters that go well with different gins and vodkas. They have a higher calorie and sugar content than most mixers on the market, but at least you can expect all-natural flavours, smooth taste and no added chemicals. Mediterranean tonic water, for example, gets its flavours from the oils of flowers, fruit and herbs and the outcome is slightly citrusy but subtle. It mixes well with gin without overpowering the botanicals of the gin. If you wish to go with a lighter option Fever-Tree Naturally Light is very good. It has more calories than the ‘slimline’ options provided by Schweppes or Britvic, for example, but that’s because it isn’t full of artificial crap!
You will either love or hate the Fentimans tonic water. It has been brewed with some botanicals (juniper, lime, kaffir & orris root), which can take some attention away from the spirit. It needs some work, in the sense that you’ll need to experiment with it to find which spirits go best with its mix of botanicals, but it’s a worthwhile journey if you are looking to vary your drink experiences. It tastes a bit like Sprite so I personally would recommend having it with vodka instead of gin, but it’s worth a try to see if you love it or hate it – let me know!!
So what do we know about sweeteners?
Most people feel sceptical about artificial sweeteners, including myself. And with good reason – they may be low in calories or indeed be a calorie-free replacement for sugar, but they can destroy the taste of even the best spirit and there remains significant concern about their health impact. Until recently, saccharin was banned in Canada and elsewhere with concerns that it could cause cancer (although it seems everything does these days!!). There has been some further research and now those warnings have been removed. However, does that make you feel confident? When you look at the most commonly used sweeteners, the ‘power’ of what are essentially man-made chemical compounds is scary:
Most commonly used sweeteners:
Aspartame – 200 times sweeter than sugar
Acesulfame K – 130–200 times sweeter than sugar
Saccharin – 300–500 times sweeter than sugar
Sucralose – up to 650 times sweeter than sugar!
Stevia – 200–300 times sweeter than sugar
Some sweeteners have a slightly metallic taste and some you may not taste at all. Research studies confirm sweeteners are generally safe in limited quantities, but how are we supposed to know how much manufacturers use when there are no indication on the drink labels? The sweeteners can play tricks on your body. Usually when you drink or eat something sweet, the body is expecting calories to accompany the food, but when there’s none, the body starts looking for them elsewhere. Basically, you think you will save by choosing diet options; however, you’re likely to drink or eat more calories somewhere else. And on top of that – it can ruin a bloody good vodka!!
The tables below are not to be used for calorie counting but to help you understand what is in the mixers we use and that way to make your own choices of what suits with your spirit.
|Fever-Tree Indian Tonic Water||38||9||N|
|Fever-Tree Naturally Light Tonic||18||4.8||N|
|Fever-Tree Bitter Lemon||36||8.6||N|
|Fever-Tree Mediterranean Tonic||36||9||N|
|Fentimans Tonic Water||34||7.6||N|
|Fentimans Light Tonic Water||24||5.3||N|
|Britvic Indian Tonic Water||26||6.2||Aspartame, Saccharin|
|Britvic Slimline Tonic Water||2||N||Aspartame, Saccharin|
|Britvic Bitter Lemon||35||8.2||Saccharin|
|Schweppes Indian Tonic Water||22||5.1||Saccharin|
|Schweppes Slimline Tonic Water||2||N||Aspartame|
|Schweppes Bitter Lemon||34||8.1||Saccharin|
Coke, lemonade and ginger beers are also commonly used mixers. Diet Coke and Coke Zero are actually the same, the difference is in the marketing; Diet appeals to the ladies and Zero is more for men. Personally, I don’t use any of these as I much prefer using soda with some fresh lemon or lime instead of lemonade, and even if I find myself enjoying the occasional ‘ambulance’ (can of Coke when hungover), I feel Coke doesn’t go with any spirit.
|Diet Coke||0.4||N||Aspartame, Acesulfame K|
|Coke Zero||0.3||N||Aspartame, Acesulfame K|
|Diet Pepsi||0.6||N||Aspartame, Acesulfame K|
|Schweppes ginger ale||38||9.1||N|
|Schweppes ginger beer||35||8.3||Saccharin|
|Old Jamaican ginger beer||61||15.2||N|
|Old Jamaican light ginger beer||0.5||N||Sucralose|
|Schweppes lemonade||18||4.2||Aspartame, Saccharin|
|Schweppes lime cordial||11||2.4||Aspartame, Sacchar|
Mixers are a critical component of any quality drink. There are a wide variety on the market so you should experiment with combining them with your preferred spirits until you find the combinations that work best for you. Don’t let the barman thrust any old rubbish in front of you – ask for your preferred mixers by name. If you are calorie counting then I would urge you to stick to brands where the ‘slimline’ versions are still natural and absorb a few extra calories by using products that avoid sweeteners. You will have a better tasting, better quality drink and the long-term health benefits are probably worth it too!!