Having a good sour mix on hand is an easy way to make dozens of interesting cocktails, from amaretto sours to margaritas with little umbrellas.
This sour mix recipe is simple to make, keeps for several weeks, and is a fantastic foundation for margaritas, sours, daiquiris, and other cocktails that use fresh citrus juice and sugar. It’s also infinitely customizable to your tastes and the drinks being served.
Making a great homemade sour mix is simple all you need is a few lemons, some sugar, a little water, and the ability to stir.
In this piece
A Better Sour Mix for Better Cocktails
Traditionally sour mix is a variation on simple syrup made with freshly squeezed lemon and lime juices.
Making sour mix at home is a simple way to improve the look and flavor of cocktails. Mixing up a batch takes around 10 minutes and is worth it with the fresh citrus creating refreshing cocktails with subtle flavors.
Unfortunately, sour mix, or as it is often referred to, sweet and sour mix, has gotten a bad reputation from the ridiculously sweet, neon green, radioactive commercial mixes served at bars and sold in liquor stores. Mixes laden with artificial flavors, corn syrup, and food coloring.
Most of these mixes are so cloyingly sweet that they overpower the alcohol they’re being mixed with and create drinks that are only good for nights you don’t want to remember.
How to Make Sour Mix
There are very few things easier than learning how to make your own sour mix. All it takes is some fresh squeezed lemons and limes, water, and sugar.
The ingredients can be combined in a pot or bowl using a whisk and stored in a tightly sealed bottle or airtight container in the refrigerator for 2 to 3 weeks.
Although a traditional mix includes both lemon and lime juice, one of the things we found developing this recipe is that our tasters universally preferred a mix made with lemon juice alone over versions that combined both.
They found that the fresh lemon juice version had a cleaner flavor profile and was packed with more of the flavors they wanted, something that got lost with the addition of lime juice. That being said, there are many reasons to use other types of citrus to make variations on this simple recipe – something we dive into below.
We also found the mix tasted fresher when it was made by combining the lemon juice, sugar, and water without the addition of heat. The heat tended to degrade the freshness of the citrus.
To fully combine the ingredients without heat, use a bowl or pitcher large enough to be able to whisk the mixture while generating enough stirring speed that the sugar fully dissolves without the liquid sloshing over the top and making a mess.
As we found in Does the Best Lemonade Come From Lemons, a Bottle, or Powder, one of the biggest advantages to using freshly squeezed lemon juice over bottled is that the small bits of lemon pulp create a depth of flavor and texture that elevate drinks beyond bottled juice’s wildest dreams.
It usually takes 4 good size plump lemons to get 1 cup of juice. A tip if you’re having trouble getting juice from citrus, microwave them for 15 seconds and roll them under your hand on the counter before cutting them in half and juicing them.
Also, if you use a juicer that keeps out the seeds, there’s no reason to strain the mix.
Simple Variations for a Multitude of Cocktails
This one simple mix can form the basis for hundreds of cocktail recipes.
This simple recipe for sour mix serves as the basis for endless variations on sours, margaritas, daiquiris, and collins.
Making this mix at home lets, you use natural ingredients and play with the proportions to match your preferences, and adjust the mix to fit with whatever you’re making with it.
Some easy variations are to add more or less sugar based on your preferences or to try different sweeteners, such as agave syrup, raw sugar, or Demerara sugar.
The variations are almost endless when it comes to the types and ratios of citrus being used, which can include lemons, limes, grapefruit, and oranges, to name a few. If you’re feeling adventurous, try mixing in some blood oranges, key limes, or tangerines.
To highlight the flavor of the fruit, use a vegetable peeler to remove strips of zest that can be added to the mix. Just make sure to strain them out before mixing any cocktails.
A good rule of thumb is to use a 3:1 ratio of water and juice to sugar when starting to experiment.
If you want something closer to commercial mixes, add a 1/2 cup of fresh lime juice to the base recipe, which will sweeten the mix without adding extra sugar.
It’s ok to substitute bottled juice for freshly squeezed juice for all types of citrus. A mix made with bottled juice will be a little sweeter, have less flavor, and have a smoother texture than one made with freshly squeezed citrus that can be hard to find or expensive at different times of the year.
Cocktails to Make with Sour Mix
As the foundation for so many classic cocktails, every good home bartender should have a go-to sour mix that they can whip up at a moment’s notice.
In cocktail recipes, the sour mix is often referred to as lemon sour or sweet n sour mix. It’s a versatile ingredient that can be paired with vodka, whiskey, tequila, rum, gin, and more.
A few of our favorite cocktails that highlight the flavors of this fresh sour mix are this clean drinking Vodka Sour that gets its frothy top when it’s shaken with an egg white or the way the mix brings out whiskey’s complex flavors in this Whiskey Sour recipe.
When making sours or other drinks that use egg whites, buy a carton of liquid egg whites. They are just as smooth and create as much froth as freshly cracked eggs, with the advantage of being much less messy and fully pasteurized.
Another one of our favorites is this Mezcal Margarita that uses a smoky mezcal and a pinch of salt to create a truly unique, smooth sipping margarita that will make you feel like you’re lounging on a tropical beach.
This mix will keep in the fridge for a couple of weeks. It’s also easy to make in large batches when you’re throwing a party and want to make lots of cocktails.
Frequently Asked Questions About Sour Mixes
Sour mix is traditionally made with freshly squeezed lemon and lime juices and is mixed in a 3:1 ratio of water and juice to sugar.
Sour mix made at home stored in a well-sealed container should have a shelf life of 2 to 3 weeks in the fridge. A sign that it has turned is when it gets cloudy or starts to have bits and pieces of mold floating around.
Substitutes include store-bought mixes, with a preference for one with easily understandable labels and that isn’t overly sweet. You can also use lemon-lime soda or some of the powdered mixes available at liquor stores.
The mix by itself does not have alcohol in it. It is, however, designed to be mixed with alcohol to make cocktails. It can also be used with sparkling water to make lemon-lime soda or as the basis for Homemade Lemonade.
- 1 cup lemon juice, fresh squeezed
- 1 cup sugar
- 2 cups water
- Start by juicing 4 or 5 lemons to get 1 cup of juice.
- Mix the lemon juice, sugar, and water until the sugar is completely dissolved. We usually mix everything in a large pot or bowl with a whisk by hand or in a pitcher with a screw-on-top that we can shake without creating a mess.
- Use the sour mix as a base to create delicious cocktails or non-alcoholic drinks.