From a service standpoint, bottled cocktails make sense. Grab a pre-batched drink from behind the bar and the imbiber is on his/her merry way. The entire transaction can take place in seconds. No measuring, mixing, or muddling. For the customer, that means no 15 minutes drinks. For the bar, that means serving more customers, in addition to the added novelty of a cocktail in a bottle—for both bar and patron.
Following the popularity of pre-batched cocktails at bars and restaurants, bottled drinks are now going mainstream, with a plethora of companies and star bartenders launching their own lines so home drinkers can get in on the action. But how good are these libations?
Eater gathered a variety of Vox employees from Racked, The Verge, SB Nation, Curbed, Polygon and, of course, Eater to taste through the above pictured selection on a recent Friday. We tried all of the drinks over ice except for Mr Lyan's Manhattan and Diamond Rickey, which were meant to be chilled then sipped straight.
Our overall consensus was that made-to-order cocktails trump most of the bottled versions we tried. Although the idea of enjoying a solid cocktail at home—without the effort of actually making the drink and potentially spending too much money on ingredients—was appealing.
We found vodka-based Austin Cocktails, which is low calorie by the way, to be rather light and sweet, most appropriate to be consumed during the summer, perhaps at the beach. User-friendly, an easy sipper, but sweet. The OM line was also sweet and fruity, and though the booze is certified organic, at least one of the bottles (coconut lychee) tasted more artificial, "like tanning lotion," commented one taster.
As for an entire line of drinks that performed best, Fluid Dynamics took the cake. Their brandy and whiskey-based barrel-aged spirit-forward cocktails won out as most sophisticated, with any harsh alcohol notes mellowed out thanks to six months in oak. But note, this brand, as evident in bottle, is for those keen on dark, warming spirits and classic cocktails like a Manhattan.
The Group's Top 5 Picks:
Candlelit Manhattan ($70/500ml)
Innovative UK barman Ryan Chetiyawardana of White Lyan and Dandelyan, both in London, is behind this pricey line of pre-mixed drinks. Think contemporary takes on classics like the Martini, the Old Fashioned, and the Manhattan.
Tasting notes: "A solid Manhattan in a bottle, good texture." "Obsessed with 'candlelight' as a flavor/scent. Tastes like innovation." "Mixed well, the bottle is cool."
The St. Nick ($18/200ml)
California's Craft Distillers push this line of four bottle-aged cocktails, which rest for six months in oak. These drinks, too, channels the classics, using the distiller's own base spirits of whiskey and brandy.
Tasting notes: "Brandy is not my favorite but this is nice, and I love the bottle, the branding." "Love this the most out of the dark alcohol bottled cocktails. It's very fruity and tastes a bit like wine. Yummy!" "Favorite. The drink's color is reminiscent of a vintage red wine. Really well balanced, fruity, and not too sweet."
Tea Twister ($18/750ml)
Heads up, these drinks are low cal, coming in at 100 calories per six ounce serving. They're also sold on Virgin America flights. So there's that. Regardless of calorie count, these four bottles tends to fall on the sweeter side, embracing vodka as a base spirit.
Tasting notes: "Loved this! Perfectly spiked tea. Not too strong or too sweet." "Excellent balance of tea taste, sugar, and alcohol." "Subtle alcohol 'flavor' with Arnold Palmer-esque taste. Light."
Cranberry Blood Orange ($30/750ml)
Los Angeles bar consultant Natalie Bovis launched sugarcane vodka-based Om, which stands for Organic Mixology, way back in 2012. This is one of the earlier bottled cocktail companies and one that, as its name suggests, uses organic ingredients. Om also touts other eco-friendly practices like recycled glass bottles with labels printed at "a carbon neutral wind-powered facility." Additionally, for every drink purchased, Om plants a tree in Haiti.
Tasting notes: "Like a slightly more complex vodka-cranberry. Not too sweet." "Very refined taste, almost like an artisanal juice/syrup. Really delicious, can barely detect alcohol. Like the expensive hipster bottling."
Slow & Low
Rock and Rye ($18/750ml)
The same group responsible for ubiquitous elderflower liqueur St Germain, Cooper Spirits, is behind Slow & Low's Rock and Rye, a take on the Old Fashioned flavored with whiskey, honey, rock candy, and citrus peel.
Tasting notes: "Good enough for a quick Old Fashioned fix." "Can smell the honey and orange more than you can taste it—a little bitter for having honey!" "Fruity and strong."