By Kim Fuller Published in the Vail Daily
In a cocktail world where craft is king, premixed bottles and cans are trying to stand out on liquor store shelves.
Kyle Cowen has been the West Vail Liquor Mart spirits buyer for two years. He said sales of premixed cocktails have stayed pretty “flat” in that time — without much increase or decrease — and most people who are shopping for premade drinks already know what they like.
There’s no doubt the premixed options are easy to prepare, which is likely their biggest selling point. When you make your own cocktails, you can “doctor them up” as much as you like, Cowen said.
“In Vail, we have a lot of kids who are looking for the most bang-for-your-buck kind of vibe,” Cowen said. “Where these are only, you know, 10 to 15 percent (alcohol).”
His staff pick for the premixed varieties is the Crafthouse Cocktails brand, created by Charles Joly, an award-wining, Chicago-based bartender. The line includes renditions of a Moscow Mule, a Southside and a Paloma.
“These are the highest rated of any premixed cocktails ever in the history of a competition,” he said. “The Moscow Mule got a platinum award, and they only give five of those out for spirits; a premixed took one home, which is mind-blowing.”
Since receiving those accolades, the all-natural brand has been taken over by the big-name Svedka Vodka, so Cowen is a little skeptical about how “craft” the brand will stay. Regardless, the designer packaging and quality ingredients in the Crafthouse bottled cocktails make for a good option to bring to a dinner party, Cowen said.
Mark Summers, beverage director at The Rose in Edwards and brand ambassador-mixologist for Parce Rum, recently tried a handful of the premixed drinks carried by West Vail Liquor Mart.
“I think the biggest point we came out with is that the pre-bottled ones are very convenient, and if you can’t get to a bar or don’t know how to make a cocktail, they’re great to have,” Summers said.
Summers poured the pre-made drinks at The Rose for a taste test alongside his own craft creations. Here’s a breakdown of the premixed products that were tested.
CRAFTHOUSE MOSCOW MULE
750-milliliter bottle, $19.99.
Summers said he thinks the Crafthouse Moscow Mule product looks high quality, but the taste is definitely different from the classic cocktail.
“The taste was a little odd because there’s no carbonation,” Summers said, “so it was very different from a traditional Moscow mule.”
The drink is usually made with ginger beer and vodka. Summers said the bottled mule had a prominent ginger flavor and was really lime-based — almost like a margarita sour mix.
“Other than the fizz missing, I thought it was a really good product,” Summers said. “The best of them all.”
JOSE CUERVO SPARKLING PALOMA
200-milliliter four-pack, $9.99.
Jose Cuervo’s canned Paloma was Summers’ least favorite of the premade cocktails.
“The paloma was pretty bad,” he said. “It was very, very sugary, with a very weird sweetness on the finish — like a sugar bomb.”
It’s not surprising that there was a large discrepancy in flavors from the canned paloma and what Summers serves at The Rose, which is made with freshly squeezed grapefruit juice and high-end tequila topped off with Prosecco.
Cowen said he thinks the canned paloma tastes “just like Squirt,” so anyone who likes that style of soda may really dig the canned cocktail.
SALVADOR’S CLASSIC MARGARITA
200-milliliter four-pack, $7.99.
Cowen carries a lot of premixed margarita variations at West Vail, as well as options that are meant for use with add-your-own tequila.
“We sell a lot of margaritas,” he said. “People still like to mix their own, though, and we have the (Jose) Cuervo mixes that are pretty popular — but I think it’s because people recognize the name.”
The single-serve variety Cowen carries is Salvador’s, and Summers gave it a go against his freshly squeezed sweet-and-sour base.
“The margarita wasn’t too bad, for what it was,” he said. “It definitely lacked that nice, fresh acidity, but had that fake, sugary lime flavor, which you kind of expect.”
KAHLUA WHITE RUSSIAN AND MUDSLIDE
200-milliliter four-pack, $6.99.
Kahlua has premixed cocktails, which Summers said taste like a “kids’ milkshake with coffee flavors.”
The four-packs made by Kahlua include flavors such as White Russian and Mudslide. For anyone looking for a sweet, creamy and easy dessert, the Kahlua premades will satisfy.
“I’m really glad we did it,” Summers said of the taste test, “because I was expecting them to be a little bit better than what they were. I used to drink things like that when I was younger, and they were always drinkable.”
Perhaps, he said, some of us have just “turned into cocktail snobs.”
Summers added how he was fascinated by the difference in flavor between the premade and craft varieties.
“But at the same time, I could see how once you got used to a flavor, it would be what you would assume was in a margarita, or anything,” he said.