You may have seen them at liquor stores, near the checkouts, sometimes in the liqueur section, or possibly with the obscure miscellaneous liquor; to be truthful, they don’t really have a home of their own. Such is the lot for the pre-mixed cocktail, which is only just beginning to see its potential.
Thanks partially to film and television, the cocktail has returned to relevance. Not only are the classics getting revived, but with a seemingly infinite variety of liquor, bitters, tinctures, and mixers now available, new creations are being conceived by mixologists the world over. Given modern society’s desire for convenience and portability, the pre-made cocktail’s time has begun.
While some of the more popular or complicated drinks, like Cuervo’s ready-to-drink Margaritas, prepackaged Caesars, and the Black Russian and Long Island Iced Tea mixes, have been around for decades, these new iterations are in a different class. Most of the older products are great for bartenders and house parties but aren't really considered mainstream items.
The classics dominate the category, but craft distillers love variety.
Nonetheless, they did plant the seed for this new wave of craft cocktails. Just as micro-breweries came of age at the turn of this century, artisanal distilleries have had a similar, albeit smaller, evolution. As Prohibition era regulations from the 1920s and 1930s were gradually repealed in North America, distillery numbers multiplied thirtyfold in only a couple of decades. This meant hundreds of new producers making gin, vodka, and unaged rum while waiting the mandatory three years before their whiskey could be sent to market.
In order to expand their product lines, some turned to pre-made cocktails. Many recipes were developed in their tasting rooms, but patrons also wanted to consume them at home. Thankfully, regulation changes allowed these drinks to be pre-packaged for takeaway, or even delivered. With the current pandemic playing havoc with operational hours, room capacities, and tasting events, these products have become a welcome revenue generator.
To be sure, the classics dominate the category, but craft distillers love variety. In Alberta, several new operations are now producing pre-mixed cocktails with more coming later in 2021 and beyond. Product development does take time; sourcing the ingredients and packaging, recipe formulation, production schedules and costs all need to be considered.
Even restaurant and bars are getting involved, as the AGLC amended its regulations last year to allow off sales of liquor (including cocktail kits) to be included with takeout and delivery (check out Pr%f in Calgary and Bar Clementine in Edmonton, among others). In addition, independent agencies such as Cocktail Concierge, can develop products with any liquor partner, thus creating three different distribution channels.
What this hath wrought in the Alberta market is a small but considerable variety of options and thanks to distinct ingredients and recipe modifications, each cocktail has its own unique qualities. Here are some pre-mixed cocktails worth searching out, with some key ingredients highlighted.
NOTE: Products come in a variety of sizes and prices, between $7.50 and $50. Some are only available at the producing distillery but may be delivered Alberta wide. Others can be found at local liquor stores.
Old Fashioned 26.6 %-38.9% ABV
Barchef Toasted Old Fashioned (maple syrup, toasted chamomile, saffron bitters), On The Rocks (Knob Creek Bourbon), Tumbler and Rocks (Fort Distillery’s bourbon blend), Confluence (distilled barrel aged barley wine aged in sherry casks), Bridgeland (their three grain whisky base), J.P. Wiser’s (Wiser’s Special Blend), Cocktail Concierge’s Agave (made with clove infuse mescal) and Smoked Walnut Old Fashioneds (hickory smoked and oak aged). For more Old Fashioneds, see the March issue of Culinaire.
Manhattan 28%-40% ABV
Tumbler and Rocks (bourbon whiskey blend, house bitters), Bridgleand Manhattan (their three grain whisky base, radicchio Amaro), J.P. Wiser’s (Wiser’s Special Blend), Park Distillery Glacier Manhattan (Park Glacier Rye, curaçao)
Tumbler and Rocks (addition of raspberries, 26%), On The Rocks (Effen Vodka, 20%)
Tumbler and Rocks (tequila/agave blend, 20%), On The Rocks (Hornitos Tequila, 20%)
Negroni 22%-28% ABV Confluence (Campari), Park Distillery (Campari and barrel aged), Cocktail Concierge Chai Negroni (Indian Chai infused gin and barrel aged)
Cocktail Concierge Wild Rose Vesper (Lemongrass Gin, Eau De Vigne, Lillet Blanc, Bitter Bianco, Apricot and Wild Rose Liqueurs, 27.5%), Barchef (spruce tip gin, Late Harvest Vidal, lavender bitters, 36%)
Cocktail Concierge - Cacao Boulevardier (whisky blend, amaro, sweet vermouth, raw cacao, orange zest and oak aged, 26.5%), Paper Plane (whisky blend, amaro, Aperol, limoncello, 23.5%) See also January/February issue of Culinaire.
Fort Distillery’s Tumbler and Rocks – Shaft (vodka, cold brew, coffee liqueur, honey), Daiquiri (Alberta distilled rhum). Both 20%.
Skunkworks - Moon Tea (Lebanese Herbal Tea Moonshine), Darkside (Desert Moon Moonshine, Mid-Eastern spices, cola syrup, bitters). Both 40%.
Park Distillery - Alpine Martinez (gin, cherry liqueur, orange bitters, 40.5%), Skoki (Park Maple Rye, Wild Turkey Bourbon, cacao nib tincture, bitters, 34.3%). All rest in American Oak for 6 Months
Whispering Dutchman - Winter Spice Gin Cranberry Cocktail, Grapefruit Gin Cocktail, Classic Caesar, Blueberry Mint Vodka Cocktail
Pr%f – Through their partnership with Confluence, they offer bottled Boulevardier, two different martinis, Negroni, Manhattan, syrups and cocktail kits.