‘The “cocktail” is a modern invention, and is generally used on fishing and other sporting parties, although some patients insist that it is good in the morning as a tonic.’
Given that Jerry Thomas wrote these words in 1862 (in his seminal book, The Bar-Tender’s Guide), it’s unlikely that he was extolling the virtues of early-morning lockdown drinking – but the pandemic has given us all the opportunity to up our game when it comes to home mixology.
Not all of us, however, have the skills, equipment or ingredients necessary to replicate the style bar experience in our own living rooms, so it’s good to know that the quality of premixed, ready made cocktails has never been higher – from specialist producers, and from some of the top bars we’ve all missed visiting so much over the past year.
You might need to break out the cocktail shaker to get the best out of one or two of these, but most require very little effort indeed: just chill, pour and enjoy.
Best ready made cocktails: Seven to try
The steak restaurant chain is as well-known for the excellence of its drinks as for the quality of its beef – and the theme continues with a superlative range of bottled and canned cocktails. This is a series of tweaked and twisted classics, from a pin-sharp Ultimate Dry Martini to the fiery smoke of the Back Burner spicy margarita.
Pick of the range: Fuller-fat Old Fashioned. Brown butter and tonka bean pair brilliantly with Woodford Reserve Bourbon to create a toasty, oaky delight.
Via a ‘Sipscription Service’, monthly themed boxes of cocktails are created by three of London’s leading bars: Nightjar, Oriole and Swift. The drinks, supplied in 220ml pouches, are original creations, and come with their own music playlist, garnishes and bartender video. This month it’s a Valentine theme; future boxes will explore Cinco de Mayo, Save the Bees and Hallowe’en.
Pick of the range: The Highlander (Oriole). Indulgent but beautifully balanced combination of Glenmorangie, dark chocolate wine, honey bush nectar and lemon.
A business started by Pritesh Mody (cocktail expert on Channel 4’s Sunday Brunch) and a leading supplier to bars, restaurants and hotels – now pivoting its business model to sell straight to the consumer during the pandemic.
The Spirit of Zing range of bottled cocktails (250ml or 500ml) is extensive and quality is consistently high, from the Bordeaux cask-aged Negroni to the Steel-aged Manhattan and a dangerously enjoyable Strawberry and Basil Mojito.
Pick of the range: Persian Lime and Nori Margarita. A cocktail cliché has new life breathed into it thanks to a zippy blend of nori (seaweed) bitters, dried Persian lime and Don Julio Tequila.
Best-known as a supplier of bar equipment and glassware, Urban Bar has branched out during the pandemic to sell spirits – and a three-strong range of premixed cocktails created by mixologist Giancarlo Mancini and sold via Amazon.
Supplied in 50cl bottles with Italian vermouth to the fore, there’s a punchy Espresso Martini, a refreshing Spritz Italiano to combine with prosecco or sparkling water – and, given the Italian provenance of the range, the inevitable Negroni.
Pick of the range: Negroni. Made in Italy using London Dry gin, Vermouth di Torino Rosso and Bianco, and Rinomato Bitter Scuro, this is a classic, pleasingly bitter drink perfect for those Zoom aperitivo moments.
The Wolseley Collection Take Home Cocktails (Fischer’s, Marylebone Village)
Another superb set of two-serve (250ml) cocktails developed for The Wolseley by the bar team – so fresh that three out of the five have to be consumed within three days of delivery. The emphasis is on the classics – Margarita, Daiquiri, Negroni, Manhattan and English Rose – executed with brilliant simplicity.
Pick of the range: Hemingway Daiquiri. It’ll be a while before any of us can jet off to Havana, but in the meantime this zingy, ultra-fresh combination of rum, grapefruit, lime and maraschino liqueur is a Caribbean delight.
Exclusive to Waitrose for three months from February, these are single-serve (125ml) canned cocktails at a more wallet-friendly price (£3.99) than style bar offerings. Crowd-pleasing classics on offer include a Negroni, Espresso Martini, Old Fashioned and Margarita, while the hip packaging has a craft beer feel about it.
Pick of the range: Espresso Martini. Getting the strength right is key to any cocktail. Where 14.9% abv feels a tad underpowered for the MOTH Margarita, it’s bang-on for this wonderful mix of Wood Bros Winter Wheat vodka, cold brew coffee and coffee liqueur.
Opening a new independent retail venture in the middle of a pandemic scores you points for courage, if nothing else. This Loughton store delivers nationwide from its online shop, including bottled cocktails from acclaimed Dalston bar Three Sheets, canned premixes from the East London Liquor Co – and single-serve (95ml) bottled cocktails from the excellent Bottle Proof. The range is extensive and well worth exploring.
Pick of the range: Old Fashioned (Bottle Proof). Not as high-octane as the Hawksmoor example, but still hugely expressive and excellent value for money.