One of the major things to come out of the craft cocktail revolution has been the use of fresh citrus in cocktails. Historically, cocktail mixers have been so poor with so much sugar and artificial crap that they never even remotely represented the thing they were meant to replace. Utter the words “sour mix” in any quality bar and odds are you’ll get a grimace from the bartender. The truth is, there is absolutely no replacement for freshly squeezed citrus in cocktails. Fresh citrus has a taste and character that you simply cannot replicate. Studies have also shown that commercial juices, including most orange juices, are processed to near tastelessness and then re-flavored with oils, essences, and perfumes manufactured from oranges.
The unfortunate thing about fresh citrus is that it can fluctuate wildly in price, quality, and availability. This year, fresh limes skyrocketed to as high as $1.50-$2.00 per lime. Both tangerines and grapefruits are seasonal and are also known to fluctuate in price, quality, and taste. So if mixers have been considered so “evil”, what do you do when you want to add tangerine to your drink, even though it may be out of season? Enter Fruitations.
Fruitations started its life as a better alternative to commercial syrups for making craft sodas. Fruitations syrups are all made from just three ingredients: water, fruit, and pure cane sugar – a massive departure from many of the commercial syrups on the market which are often sweetened with corn syrup and have an ingredient list a mile long.
Fruitations quickly discovered that many of their customers were not only adding their syrups to soda water, but were also adding them to vodka (to make a Greyhound) or prosecco (to make a Mimosa). Soon after realizing the cocktail applications for their syrups, Fruitations began to catch the eye of some key cocktail influencers, including Warren Bobrow, Todd Richman (who used Fruitations in a drink last year in his Tales of The Cocktail Spirited Dinner), and Willy Shine (who used Fruitations at this year’s Manhattan Cocktail Classic).
Fruitations Pure Bottled Cranberry ($7.95) – Ocean Spray, the most common cranberry juice used in cocktails, is made from a cranberry concentrate which is reconstituted with filtered water, beet sugar, coloring, and ascorbic acid. This is not nearly as horrid as their cranberry syrup, which is a Frankenstein’s monster and not only has sugar but also sucralose and acesulfame potassium. Cranberries are very labor intensive, so making a house cranberry juice or syrup for cocktails is impractical and horribly cost prohibitive (especially when you factor in labor). As with their other syrups, Fruitations uses whole fruit along with pure cane sugar and water. Fruitations Cranberry is nothing short of spectacular, showcasing the bright, tart character of the cranberry and balancing it perfectly with the sugar. We tried it out first with soda water, as that’s what it was first designed for, and the result was one of the best cranberry sodas we’ve had. Fruitations cranberry also mixes extremely well. We added it to a vodka soda for an instant upgrade, and then tried it out head to head with Ocean Spray Cranberry in a Cosmopolitan.
For our Cosmo, we diluted Fruitations (1/4 oz Fruitations and 3/4 oz water) and then compared it with a Cosmo we made using 1oz of Ocean Spray Cranberry. The differences were immediately apparent. The Fruitations Cosmo had a brighter flavor, the cranberry was more tart, and the drink had considerably more depth. Cranberry quickly became our favorite of the three Fruitations flavors, especially with soda water, and it’s one of the better syrups we’ve tasted on the market overall.
Fruitations Pure Bottled Grapefruit ($7.95) – Unlike cranberries, which are not worth messing with, grapefruits aren’t extremely difficult to juice and no syrup could possibly compete with fresh grapefruit juice. But what happens if you want to only use 3/4 of an ounce of grapefruit for a drink? It’s just not worth juicing a whole grapefruit if you aren’t going to use all the juice. Fruitations’ Pure Bottled Grapefruit is pasteurized, which does impact the grapefruit flavor, since pasteurization can kill some of the fresher qualities of the fruit and bring out some bitter elements. Fruitations does a solid job of mitigating this impact and manages to preserve the core essence of the ruby red grapefruit. Using the Fruitations Grapefruit with soda water, we found it tasted best if we really gave it a hearty stir. As with the cranberry, Fruitations Grapefruit does a nice job of balancing the sourness of the grapefruit with the sweetness of the sugar. The grapefruit is solidly ruby red, so it’s the softer end of the tartness scale.
Once we started putting Fruitations Grapefruit in our cocktail shaker, it really began to shine. Shaken with vodka and ice, Fruitations made an easy Greyhound (it was much better shaken than just stirred in the glass), but where Fruitations Grapefruit really shined is when we started throwing tequila at it. We shook Fruitations Grapefruit, fresh lime juice, and tequila, put it over ice, and topped with soda water for a quick and easy Paloma. In the Paloma, Fruitations had a stronger, more natural grapefruit than when we used Squirt or Fresca, and paired with the fresh lime there was absolutely no remnant of any pasteurization impact.
Fruitations Pure Bottled Tangerine ($7.95) – At first whiff, Fruitations Tangerine seemed to have the strongest impact from pasteurization, and that bitter pasteurized citrus edge was present when we mixed it with soda. We were convinced that it was the one real miss in the Fruitations’ bunch – that is, until we started mixing with it. Shaken with tequila and then topped with some soda water over ice, the Tangerine blossomed. All of the slightly bitter edges we saw when we mixed it with soda completely dissipated and the bright flavorful tangerine emerged. Tangerine did extremely well with almost everything we threw at it and completely wowed us when we mixed it with Cachaca, as well as when we mixed it with Jamaican Rum.
When we first tasted through the Fruitations line mixed with soda water, the Tangerine was our least favorite, but once we started to really make cocktails with them, we were blown away by the Tangerine’s ability to mix and complement any and everything we threw its way.
While bottled mixers have traditionally gotten a bad reputation (and probably well deservedly), it’s exciting to see a new generation of syrups which embody a similar ethos that has made the craft cocktail revolution really explode. Fruitations are well crafted, flavorful syrups with good balance of flavor and immense bang for the buck.