Updated: May 20, 2019
Fresh squeezed juices! That's a big mantra amongst mixologists, cocktail bars and bartenders nation-wide. For those people that say "You should only use fresh squeezed juices, Period", they don't understand context or have never worked in multi-unit accounts. There is a time and a place for fresh-squeezed juices and doing it in-house, but it's not always the best option for all accounts. So, I want to lay out all of the pro's and con's of squeezing juices in-house so you can really weigh what makes the most sense.
HOW MUCH IS TOO MUCH
As an aside ... I've seen some accounts that have about eight different variations of lemon / lime / sour mixes (i.e. Margarita Mix, Sour Mix, Mojito Mix, Sour mix out of a gun, lemon juice, lime juice and fresh lemons and limes that they squeeze into a drink.) There is no need to have that many mixes and options when most basic sour cocktails can be made with essentially three ingredients - lemon, lime and simple syrup. The types or variations of the citrus or sour mixes boils down to understanding what the capabilities are of the bartenders and proper training. I'll cover that in a sec.
Hand-squeezed juices, in-house, has the best flavor, no question. You are getting all of the aromatics from the peel of the skin into the juice, to make the juice that much more flavorful. But, is it 10x better than a lightly pasteurized juice? 2x better? No. I do think it's better (but only about 15-20% better.) I broke down the flavor in a graph between a sour mix out of a gun and hand-squeezing fresh juice. Mind you, this is my own personal opinion, but it's 20 years of experience in working with bartenders and tastings hundreds of drinks with customers and weighing those differences.
Sour Mix out of a Gun
The least natural tasting. Operationally, it's the easiest and requires little to no training for bar staff. It's also the cheapest option. But what you gain in convenience and price, you lose in flavor and freshness.
Pre-bottled shelf stable sour mix (above)
A step above the sour mix out of a gun. Juice is still highly pasteurized. If can often be enhanced by just adding a lime or lemon squeeze to it. Inexpensive option. Easy to obtain. (They sell them at local grocery stores, Bevmo, etc.) Tres Agave has a pretty good one as does Finest Call.
Lightly Pasteurized Sour Mix (needs to be refrigerated), above
There are a few lightly pasteurized sour and cocktail mixes which are pretty great. It is essentially lightly pasteurized lime juice or lemon juice mixed with a sweetener like agave nectar or cane sugar. Recommended for high volume accounts, especially those with bartenders that have little training or a high turn over rate. There is also a little leeway in the pouring. (If a bartender over-pours a half ounce of sour mix, it’s not going to kill the drink. The sour mix itself is already balanced between sweet/sour.)
Some brands I like: Sun Orchard, Tommy’s Margarita, Natural Brands and RIPE.
Lightly Pasteurized STRAIGHT Juice (no sweetener added) - My preferred option (requires training)
This is just the juice by itself with no sweetener added. The bartender has total control of the juice and sweetener component. There are some advantages and disadvantages to this.
The bartender has a lot more flexibility in creating many different drinks with just those ingredients and can create a multitude of flavors by just using a different syrup, muddling in fruit, etc. HOWEVER, using straight juice and a syrup requires proper training. Straight lime juice and syrup are strong; they need to be accurately measured for consistency and balance. (Jigger is required.) If a drink is over-poured by a half ounce of lime juice or syrup, it will be way off balance and kill the drink. There is no wiggle room here. If an account can't afford the time and effort for proper training, I would not recommend this option. Too risky.
Juice companies I recommend and have used: Sun Orchard, Natural Brands and Industry Juice.
Fresh Squeezed Juice (in -house)
The best tasting.
Here, an account is most likely using a Sunkist citrus juicer or even something bigger like a Zumex. BUT it’s not a massive leap in flavor from the lightly pasteurized version. If your goal is to have the absolute best and you have the ability to add additional labor just for juicing and can absorb the cost of market fluctuation in the cost of citrus, then go this route. But, also note … the potential consistency factor, amount of organic waste and disposal of it, additional labor, etc. (All significant factors, especially with multi-unit accounts.)
For more reasons NOT to go the "hand-squeezed" route, check out PART THREE: "An argument for NOT using hand-squeezed juice."