Handmade Cocktail Company – Vintage Bottled Cocktails Reviewed

A selection of Old Bottled Cocktails

Today we’re looking at The Handmade Cocktail Company who make a range of bottled cocktails.
When some people think of “bottled cocktails”, they immediately think of pre-mixes; which are often overly sweet and watery. I’m still to find a decent canned Gin & Tonic.
But The Handmade Cocktail Company is a little different; it was started by Master of Malt*, the spirit retailer, and they take the same care making their bottled cocktail as you would when blending a whisky.

The idea of a bottled cocktail goes back over 100 years and Gordon’s did, for a time, offer an extensive collection of bottled cocktails, such as Martini, Manahttan, Bronx, Piccadilly and 50/50.

The Handmade Cocktail Company currently makes five varieties: Manhattan, Dry Martini, Sazerac, Negroni and the Rob Roy. Each bottle is labelled to indicate its year of manufacture, following the idea presented by the vintage and bottled-aged cocktails that are available at various bars in London.

The cocktails are designed to be stirred with ice and then strained in a cocktail glass, but, in the interest of thoroughness, we also tried them at room temperature and from the freezer.

#1) Manhattan (33.90% ABV)
Made with Straight Rye Whisky, a blend of three vermouths and some bitters.

At room temperature there was a nose of sweet rye, cherry and almond. It tasted like a freshly made cocktail and was rather good but it did have quite a bitter edge at the end, similar to Antica Formula.
From the freezer it was very smooth with some buttery wood and an intense herbal edge followed by a bitter finish. Rather complex.

Served as per the instructions:
The drink improved, it was till very complex and was a little more bitter than most Manhattans (very much a matter of taste) the rye was sweet and quite soft and the cherry and almond notes remained.

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#2) Gin Martini (40.30%)
This is made using “Premium Copper Pot-Still Gin, with just a splash of the very best dry vermouth.”

Sipped at room temperature, there was juniper and citrus on the nose, but when sipped it tasted very much like Gin; it really illustrated how temperature is an important aspect in the mixing of a good Martini.
Things were improved when it was served straight from the freezer: the drink was cool and crisp with a slightly sweet element at the end. It still seemed very dry and I couldn’t really taste any vermouth.

Served as per the instructions:
The cocktail really opened up; there was still citrus and juniper, but the vermouth was more prominent and this really tasted like a Martini. This just goes to show why both temperature and a touch of dilution are important when making a Martini.

The Martini is the only bottled cocktail I’ve ever tried before (one by Gordon’s and I thought that that, too, was pretty good). It is undoubtedly a challenge, as most fans of the drink have their own particular recipes, but the balance between Dry and Wet Martinis seems to have been achieved and I think this will, overall, be a people-pleaser.

#3) Sazerac (38.40% ABV)

“Made using a 50:50 mix of Straight Rye Whiskey and VSOP Cognac, naturally sweetened, with a healthy dose of Peychaud’s bitters and just a splash of Absinthe.”

At room temperature, I was getting whisky, anise and a touch of coconut on the nose and a delicious, complex and smooth taste with hint of wood, whisky and anis.

From the freezer, the drink became crisp with some butteryness from the whisky and warmth and herbal sweetness. Even at this stage, it is one of the best I’ve had.

Served as per the instructions:
The drink is a textbook Sazerac. Superbly smooth, with wood, butter and whisky, along with herbal and sweet anise notes, all wrapped up to give it a wonderful complexity and lasting finish.

#4) Negroni (25.40% ABV)

“Made using premium-strength gin, distilled in England in copper pot-stills, this Negroni also uses premium Sweet Vermouth, and equal measures of Campari and Aperol for a balanced flavour. “

At room temperature, this was quite rich and had a nice mouth feel; there was some bitterness and a long finish, but it was, overall, well-balanced.

From the freezer, the drink improved and seemed to melt on the tongue. It was packed with flavour and was very good indeed.

Served as per the instructions:

Very enjoyable, with just the right balance of sweet vs. bitter and was easy to drink. A good example of a Negroni.

One of the suggested advantages of having pre-mixed cocktails that contain vermouth is that the danger of your drink being ruined by a “fusty or tired vermouth” (i.e. one that has oxidised) is mitigated. Indeed, according to The Handmade Cocktail Company’s website, a 6 month old Bottled Martini has beaten a freshly mixed one in a blind taste test, six votes to one. A test I’d certainly like to try!

In Conclusion

I really enjoyed trying these and I think that the Handmade cocktail Company are doing there bit to get people to rethink their prejudice of pre-mix and bottled cocktails. These products are certainly a good way to be able to enjoy quality cocktails, easily at home. The resounding favourite of me and Mrs B. was the Sazerac, overall it was one of the best I’ve ever had and certainly competes with the freshly mixed.

*One thing I really like about Master of Malt is that they offer small samples of Whisky for sale. So for a few pound you can try an £80 Whisky before you buy a full bottle. They also make some tasty Whisky liqueurs a review of the 10yr Old can be found here.