…oft misunderstood, frequently (and wrongly reviled) and lately, lumped in the same camp as Crispy Cream doughnuts. When “cocktails” were at their height of elitism, popularity, and art – arguably near the turn of the 20th century – this additive probably consisted of something like sugar, bitters and lime. In popular/modern context, it’s come to mean a concentrated lemon additive for alcoholic beverages.
In reality, at the vast majority of bars, what you’ll find is that 95% of bartenders and bar management don’t give this stuff a second thought outside of how to obtain it as cheaply as possible. That’s really, really sad and extremely short-sighted. For most buyers, it’s simply another necessary bar supply – one for which corners must be cut to – uh – increase profits.
What that typically means is that your average bar owner will opt for “food service” distributed “Lemon-X” brand Sour Mix. It comes either in gallon jugs or syrup boxes to be hooked into the WunderBar or similar soda-gun systems. Furthermore, it’s name is misleading as it’s not really sour at all but rather, very sweet – at least the commercial crap is. As a result, you get a lot of customers that are terrified to go anywhere near the stuff. That’s probably because most bartenders (1) again, buy this junk instead of making it and (2) they overuse it.
The problem with cutting corners on Sour Mix is that LemonX is pedestrian crap. It’s chemical-laden, too sugary, loaded with preservatives, artificial coloring and lends itself to, you guessed it, an “average” tasting drink. Now for your run-of-the-mill dirt-ass dive bar, it doesn’t really matter. Most folks frequenting those kinds of establishments who order a Margarita, Amaretto Sour, Tom Collins or any other drink calling for Sour Mix, don’t know any better. It’s not really their fault. They’re simply ignorant. They’ve never been taught or have tasted any better. They’re willing to settle. Well, I’m not willing to settle. There is better – much better.
As I alluded to above, Sour Mix has taken on a dubious association with sugar and thus, calories. As a result, you get chicks ordering things like Skinny Girl Margaritas and Skinny Bitches. Look’em up. They’re real drinks sure enough.
Any bartender worth his salt, who cares about his ingredients, customers and art of the cocktail owes it to himself/herself and their customers to make their own Sour Mix. In essence, it’s nothing more than equal parts Simple Syrup and Lemon Juice.
Me? I’m an OCD nut job. Therefore, I wholeheartedly believe Sour Mix is not Sour Mix if it doesn’t have a foaming agent. Additionally, any drink with Sour Mix must be shaken to get that delicious froth. LemonX and competitors use chemicals to achieve it. When you make your own, it’s best to use a bit of Egg White.
What you’ll get upon shaking your drinks is a lovely frothy beer-like head and a slightly creamy texture to your mixed drinks. Done right, and not overused, it’s absolutely heavenly. Personally, I wouldn’t dare drink a Margarita that hasn’t been prepared in this manner – that is, flat looking.
Remember: just like with great food, a great drink is the combination of Taste, Texture, and Temperature – visuals and salesmanship aside. Drinks calling for Sour Mix require that frothy goodness to achieve the proper texture, something which adds significantly to the flavor and drinkablity upon hitting the palate.
As a bar owner, this is another really simple, and relatively inexpensive way to get a leg up on your competitors. Better ingredients = better product, period. Think long-term and repeat business.