Taste: Spirits: Mix It Upscale

It’s not enough to have top-shelf liquor. Your ­cocktails are calling for gourmet tonic water, too


FOR THE PAST TWO DECADES, we’ve been drinking less, but drinking better. From the worldwide fine-wine revolution and ground swell of support for local craft beers to the demand for artisanal spirits, modern drinkers have shown we’re willing to pay a little more for uncommon flavors and superior craftsmanship. Now the cocktail crowd is upgrading its mixers to match those luxury liquors.

In the ’70s and ’80s, most restaurant bars stocked only a dozen common soda and juice mixers; home bars offered even fewer options. But advances in packaging and global trade have removed such constraints on cocktail creativity. Enter the mango-rita and the chai-tini.

Once-exotic imported flavors are popping up on suburban supermarket shelves. Goya’s line of tropical juices offers tempting sweetened nectars like passion fruit and guava to add a dash of adventure to any daiquiri. Ting, a tart Jamaican grapefruit soda, blows away the polite refreshment of the gin-and-tonic when served with gin over ice, while Reed’s Caribbean-style Ginger Brew delivers the pungent blast of ginger heat sadly lacking in standard ­ginger-ale highballs. All-­natural Orangina with pristine vodka puts a sophisticated Continental spin on the classic American screwdriver — not too sweet, with a lingering finish of orange zest.

College kids may rely on caffeinated “energy cocktails” like Red Bull and vodka for clubbing stamina, but health-conscious adults are more interested in a different kind of “boost.” Antioxidant powerhouses like pomegranate and acai berry juices are almost too intense to enjoy alone, but are nicely tamed by a smooth spirit. Swap out that cranberry, and turbo-charge your cosmopolitan with POM Wonderful’s sultry pomegranate-cherry to help the medicine go down. Or choose Odwalla’s Strawberry C Monster or Mango Tango for a quick and easy rum punch.

Even the classic mixers have gone ultra-premium. Hyper-­carbonated deluxe tonic water and club soda in adorable ­single-serving bottles aim to muscle in on Schweppes and Canada Dry this year. Designed to showcase luxury vodkas and gins, they’re made with top-notch ingredients like cinchona bark and sea salt, and the difference is noticeable. The U.K.’s newly introduced Fever-Tree line is the first of these to hit local stores; it will be available at Wegmans this month.