As the ready-to-drink (“RTD”) cocktail scene has filled in and diversified, enough brands have emerged on the scene to effectively begin categorizing the entries into a few specific camps. In my eyes, they mostly fall into the following categories:
— On one hand, you have the “mixed drinks” segment, which are either lower alcohol classic mixed drinks (such as a gin and tonic, etc.), or bastardized versions of classic cocktails that have been crammed into the constraints of “this must be made easy to drink, and fit in a 12 oz can.” This is how we end up with terrible versions of a mai tai, designed to be consumed straight from a 12 oz can. Some of these drinks are made with actual, distilled spirits, and some are no more than disguised hard seltzers, designed to capitalize on the craze for convenient, packaged cocktails.
— On the more encouraging front, you have a more premiumized segment of RTD cocktails that are simply replicating classic recipes, or evolving them in relatively subtle ways, the obvious downside to manufacturers being that these types of packaged cocktails—legitimate margaritas, old fashioneds, manhattans, etc—are considerably more expensive to make than a fake cocktail seltzer, and thus must command a higher asking price. There’s also a question of which packaging is best for a drink with an ABV of 30-40%—should they be in small, 100 ml single serving cans? Or full-size 375 ml or 750 ml bottles, so they can be shared among a group?
When it comes to the new bottled cocktail line from Scotland’s William Grant & Sons, the company behind such brands as Hendrick’s Gin, Glenfiddich, Balvenie, Sailor Jerry and Reyka, they’ve thankfully chosen to be counted among the latter camp. The Batch & Bottle series describes itself as “premium pre-batched cocktails,” which come in 375 ml bottles, effectively meaning that each corked bottle (a nice feature, for reusability) is meant to serve a handful of cocktails, with an MSRP around $20 per bottle. Obviously, the lineup is meant to feature a sampling of William Grant & Sons brands, though perhaps not in the formats one would expect. In particular, two out of the four bottles feature scotch, but in less-than-traditional formats.
So with that said, let’s get to tasting each of these brands and see how Batch & Bottle tackles the RTD craze.
ABV: 25% (50 proof)
If I’m being honest, the Cosmopolitan is not a drink that has ever captured my attention—I’m not naturally a vodka drinker, so this was always going to be a pretty hard sell for me. The Batch & Bottle version has been combined with “natural rhubarb, tangy blood orange and zingy fresh lime,” though, so that at least should give it some character. The bottle says to “shake with ice or serve at freezing temperatures,” so I refrigerated it and shook with ice before pouring.
On the palate, this one is fairly dry, heavy on the vodka and orange citrus. To my own taste, I’d say that it could use some more residual sweetness to avoid reading as overly boozy and thin, but it’s simply difficult for me to judge this one objectively. Someone who likes a crisp, fairly dry cosmo might find this delightful, and I do like its slightly juicy citrus notes, but I’m not the target consumer for any packaged Cosmopolitan.
ABV: 35% (70 proof)
A pretty simply and intuitive offering here—William Grant & Sons have chosen their best-selling blended malt scotch whisky, Monkey Shoulder, to replicate an Old Fashioned. One gets the sense that this is some branding and mixology tailored to the U.S. market in particular—there’s no bourbon or rye in the William Grant & Sons portfolio, but that doesn’t stop the company from targeting cocktails that typically feature American whiskey, rather than ones that are classically designed around malt whiskey or scotch. This one says it’s made with “bold, bespoke bitters and golden sugar,” and should be chilled and poured over ice, garnished with an orange twist.
On the nose of this one, there’s a good amount of citrus and a pronounced anise/licorice note that really stands out. On the palate, this is sweet and heavy on that anise note, and actually has significant bitterness to it as well. It’s sweet, but also resinous, almost amaro-like, with an alpine herbaceousness. I’m getting honey, florals and lots of licorice. All in all, it’s a very different take on the structure of the old fashioned—one I’m not sure would appeal to many bourbon drinkers expecting something reassuringly familiar, but the bitterness in particular is a bold experiment. I’m impressed, at the very least, by how far from “safe” this is.
ABV: 30% (60 proof)
Once again here, the lack of a traditional American bourbon or rye whiskey results in the Batch & Bottle version of a classic cocktail substituting scotch whisky instead, although there is some historical precedent—after all, a “scotch Manhattan” already exists in the form of the classic Rob Roy cocktail. Unsurprisingly, though, they didn’t call it a Rob Roy when far fewer consumers would recognize the term. The company says the Glenfiddich single malt scotch whisky here “soothes the sharp bitters and envelops the sweet vermouth, creating the perfect Manhattan recipe,” and instructs drinkers to chill the bottle and pour neat, garnished with an orange twist.
On the nose, this one is very fruity and sweet, redolent in jammy dark fruit and sweet malt, with a strong degree of caramelization—it has a nose that almost evokes an English barleywine. On the palate, this is likewise quite sweet, vinous and syrupy—very malty sweet, with dried fruit notes of raisin and prune that I found overwhelming, even with some citrus to brighten it up. The overall effect feels a bit clumsy, like cheap communion wine, and I think it’s an indication more than anything that I don’t really enjoy the use of scotch whisky paired with sweet vermouth—the Manhattan feels to me like it needs the drier profile of rye for the sake of balance. This just feels entirely too syrupy and one-dimensional for my taste.
ABV: 35% (70 proof)
The saving grace of the Batch & Bottle series, to me, is this Hendrick’s Gin Martini, which is no more and no less than exactly what it claims to be, reflecting the quality of Hendrick’s Gin. Instructions are as simply as they come: Chill or freeze, then pour neat. Suggested garnish is a cucumber slice, in the usual Hendrick’s tradition.
The martini is another cocktail I don’t really make for myself at home, as I find the classic martini a bit too straightforward for my taste, but this one delivers pretty much exactly what you’d want to get out of a bottled martini. It’s floral and lightly herbaceous on the nose, with the rose note popping a bit more than the cucumber, but with a fair amount of supporting orange citrus. On the palate, this drinks quite easily for the proof, with enough sweetness to round it out a bit, as lightly vinous notes and orange compete with florals and a refreshing tinge of cucumber. The fact that it drinks so easily at 70 proof, without any further dilution, is pretty impressive. When all is said and done, I’m not sure what more one could want from a bottled martini—I’d probably serve this ice cold, but that’s just a matter of taste.
Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer and resident beer and liquor geek. You can follow him on Twitter for more drink writing.