Review: Master of Malt Bottled Cocktails
Pre-mixed cocktails is hardly a new idea, but nor is it one that gets many cocktail enthusiasts all that excited. The problem is that few pre-mixed cocktails have been aimed at the high-end market, and instead target the ‘party’ crowd with snazzy marketing but little resemblance to the original drink they mimic. I was intrigued therefore to see that Master of Malt, a respected online retailer of spirits was selling a range of bottled ‘vintage cocktails‘. Would this be yet another attempt to cash in on a lucrative market, or had I finally stumbled upon a convenient way of serving drinks to my guests without spending hours in the kitchen making them from scratch?
To make the cocktails it is simply a matter of pouring your chosen measure over ice, giving it a stir and garnishing according to taste. Quick, simple and no special kit required. With perhaps the exception of the Negroni, there is still a little awareness required as to the effect of dilution, and therefore the length of stir necessary. No timings are provided on the bottles and this would certainly be useful considering the likely target market may not be exclusively serious cocktail enthusiasts.
Made using “copper pot still” gin and “a splash of dry vermouth” this is always going to be a difficult cocktail to bottle successfully; with only two ingredients there is little room for error, and coupled with the fact that everyone prefers their martini made slightly differently, a bottled martini has its fair share of challenges. Fair play to the team behind this range though, not only for trying, but also pulling off a very respectable martini. It was a little too dry for me, and although I’m sure the gin used is decent, there was a bit of a burn to the finish. Surprisingly fresh tasting, this was better than many I’ve been served in bars, but not quite to the level of a truly great martini. Overall, a decent attempt but I can’t quite bring myself to want to pour a martini out of a bottle. However, compared with the option of making a martini with vermouth that has been languishing open for several months, this is definitely a better option.
This recipe includes both Campari and Aperol alongside the gin and sweet vermouth, making it softer tasting than a traditional Campari-only Negroni and consequentially quite an approachable drink. A negroni is hardly the most difficult of drinks to make, and I’m not sure that there is any time/effort to be saved by using a bottled version. However, this drink certainly seemed to have achieved an integration of flavours from time spent in the bottle, creating a rounded and complex flavour that, as with any decent Negroni, was much more than the sum of its parts. My only criticism is that the gin is lost a little in the mix, but overall a smooth and rounded cocktail that is hard to fault.
The Cocktail That’s Not Allowed to be Called a Sazerac For Legal Reasons!
Unfortunately selling a pre-made Sazerac is not allowed unless you hold the TM, which these guys don’t. So, it’s not a Sazerac, except it does contain rye, cognac, absinthe, and Peychauds bitters and makes for a very decent representation of a Sazerac! The fact that a Sazerac usually calls for an absinthe-rinsed glass has clearly caused a small problem here, as it has been necessary to include absinthe in the mix. Now I actually quite like a splash of absinthe in the mix, as well as rinsed, but you do lose the intensity of the aroma from a well rinsed glass, and the taste is slightly heavier than I would like. It has been well ‘seasoned’ with the bitters and although a touch too sweet, it is soft, mellow and really quite moreish. This is a good solid cocktail that certainly exceeded expectations and I would gladly serve up to a room full of friends.
The use of three vermouths here (I’m going to resist being geeky and guessing what they are!) to mix with straight rye has helped create a balance and depth of flavour that is really very impressive. The flavours are complex, if slightly dominated by the vermouth vs the rye. It’s a shame but it has also been slightly ‘over-seasoned’ with the bitters for my taste and there is a lingering bitter aftertaste that is just a bit too much. Aside from that, this is again a decent representation of a Manhattan and would make for a respectable offering at a party.
Sherry cask whisky, three vermouths and bitters make up this cocktail, and a very tasty libation it is too. The sweet sherry notes of the whisky comes through nicely and complements the flavours of the vermouth whilst allowing the complexity of the whisky itself also to shine through. None overpower the other and I find myself struggling to find a reason not to like the basic mix. The use of bitters tastes a little more judicious as well, perhaps due to the whisky standing up much better than the rye in the previous ‘flavours’.
The Old Fashioned cocktail continues the classic approach with its recipe that makes use of rye-heavy bourbon, a blend of bitter, sugar and orange peel. The spicy rye notes of the bourbon shine, as do the woody and earthy flavours from what must have been a pretty intense bourbon. The orange has been used with subtlety and I found the addition of a twist on the finished drink helped cut through some of the heavier flavours. It is also not an overly sweet example of an old fashioned, which is quite handy as those (like me) who prefer theirs sweeter can add a dash of syrup, whereas those who prefer the big bold flavours this cocktail offers can leave well alone. The trouble with the old fashioned cocktail is that everyone’s palate is different and, whereas some will conclude that this is one of the best they have tasted (it certainly is of sufficiently high quality), others will feel the urge to tweak a little. This is no bad thing however and offers versatility to a product that I would be quite happy to serve up to guests (much easier than making old fashioned’s individually!) or to act as a quick base for playing around with the flavours of different bitters or syrups myself.
The Hanky Panky is a cocktail close to my heart as its creator, Ada Coleman (the first female head bartender at the American Bar at the Savoy hotel) shares a name with my daughter. It also happens to be a particular favourite of Mrs Thecocktailgeek, and thus the bar is set particularly high if it is to impress. This bottled version of perhaps the earliest cocktail with a naughty name sticks to the original spec of combining gin, sweet vermouth and Fernet Branca rather than including the dash of fresh orange juice often listed in mordern recipes. The unmistakble aroma of Fernet Branca is evident on the nose which is dominated by eucalyptus menthol and Christmas spice whilst a herbal sweet like your Granny used to have lingers underneath. On the palate it is deceptively sweet briefly on the entry before the Fernet Once again asserts itself in the only way it knows how, with a healthy whack of bitterness. This version is relatively bold on the bitter levels but both the gin and vermouth are sufficiently characterful so as to prevent it becoming a wash-out. The depth of flavour is fantastic, with deep orange notes combining with spice and menthol to great effect. Depending on individual preferences, a dash of squeezed orange helps to lengthen and open the flavour profile and saves your orange from which you have cut a twist from going nasty.
It’s a funny old place, Twitter at the best of times but if there is one thing that it does particularly well it is to host a good debate. From politics, to sport and beyond, Twitter is the ultimate in quick-fire arguments. Should you wish to initiate such an exchange, there is no better way than mentioning how much you love a cocktail that is almost universally disliked by those supposedly in the know, and the Vesper is one of them. Aside from the “shaken, not stirred” nonsense, the addition of vodka to a spirit as revered by the cocktail fraternity as gin is quite simply considered a diabolical act of heinous proportions. Actually, I’m inclined to agree for the most part and I can’t say I have ever been tempted to order a Vesper in a bar. However, I’ll try anything twice so here goes; the aroma is an interesting, indeed surprising combination of waxy pine lightened by hints of lemon zest and a touch of the floral. So far so good. The palate adds a bittersweet dimension, the the juniper again shining above a floral and citrus background. The vermouth is pleasingly prominent and the vodka isn’t trying too hard to assert itself; a good thing in my book. A touch of salt perseveres throughout to help bolster the already moderately creamy mouthfeel. True to form, Master of Malt have created another solid example of a classic drink. I still won’t be ordering one in a bar, but if the Vesper is your thing, you’ll enjoy this.
“The Vintage Bottled Cocktails from Master of Malt are about as good an example of ready-to-drink products as you can get. Pre-bottled classic cocktails is award trick to pull off as everyones palate is slightly different but these cocktails are both approachable, convenient and true to the classic style. For entertaining a large number of guests, you couldn’t do much better.”
The Vintage Cocktails are available to buy from Master of Malt.