Not a fan of ready-to-drink beverages? F&W drinks expert Oisin Davis is here to persuade you that there are great ones out there - and they’re Irish.
Rum & Cola in a can. Gin & Tonic, pre-mixed in a bottle. Flavoured wine coolers frozen in a pouch. In the trade, these are known as "Ready To Drink" serves - rtds for those who like to abbreviate everything like they're in the military or who work in marketing. There are two common misconceptions about these drinks that people seem to carry and now I finally have an opportunity to address them.
Due to the huge success of the likes of Smirnoff Ice and Bacardi Breezer, most people seem to think that rtds appeared suddenly in the '90s along with grunge music and Pokemon. In fact, there have been pre-bottled Martinis and Manhattans, by the Heublein Company in Connecticut, as far back as the late 19th century. At one point, they were even barrel ageing cocktails and canning them. It turns out that people have wanted easy cocktail solutions for well over a century now - cue the weeping hipster bartender who now has to admit that even their great grandparents were way cooler than they are.
Taste is obviously totally subjective but I think it's fair to say that there are some drinks best consumed only when you're in your student days. Combining a trio of rtds to make the infamous "Fat Frog" monstrosity is one of them. The sugar hangover from that alone is enough to give me the fear. The rise in smaller distilleries and soft drink makers has led to some very interesting collaborations recently such as Bloom Gin and Fever Tree tonic, mixed to create an all natural, beautifully balanced G & T that is perfect every time. Such projects have led bigger operators to up their game and they have in fact responded well.
Irish drinks producers have recently started to get in on the action too. After all, not only are we knocking out spirits that can hold their own against the world's best but we're also far more open these days to how we enjoy them. A couple of trips to my local offie later, and I felt ready to take on the best and worst to offer in this beverage category. In the interest of being sound, I opted to only feature the best for this piece and have reserved my negative reviews perhaps for another day.
Three of the best ready to drinks:
Born out of the Pearse Lyons Distillery in Dublin but produced at their brewery in Dundalk, comes the Míl Spritz. Made with the very Mediterranean flavoured Míl gin and mixed with their own custom made tonic water, this is a very refreshing 250 ml can. Lots of fizz and summertime botanicals with just the right amount of bitter and sweetness.
I got in touch with the distillery's brand ambassador Conor Ryan who told me, "The signature serve for our Míl Gin is with tonic, a wedge of grapefruit and a basil leaf. So, what we wanted to do with the Míl Spritz is give people the signature serve experience every time, straight from the can. To do this we add an extra micro distillation of pink grapefruit to the pre-mixed gin and tonic prior to carbonating and canning. As soon as you open a Míl Spritz can, you get an instant hit of beautiful fresh grapefruit citrus, followed by our signature herbal and juniper nose."
Internationally, it has already been a great success and is already available in Spain, Italy, Holland, Latvia and is launching in the USA in August. Closer to home, you can find it in all good off licences as well as Supervalu and Tesco.
Mór Gin & Tonic
With a fine pedigree of whiskey makers in the family, Eoin Bara of Arderin Distillery was always destined to create some stellar liquids. Its Mór Irish gin is well known for its berry fruitiness and herbal notes. So when it came to producing a ready to drink version with some tonic water added in, it was imperative to keep the core integrity of the spirit. After all, many people will unwittingly kill their 35 ml shot of gin when they mix it with a 200 ml bottle of tonic.
The inspiration for their canned product came to him whilst at a festival, "We had the idea brewing for a few years, cans of beer at festivals were a staple. When I moved to drinking gin, between tonics going flat, and measurements going wrong, it wasn't an ideal way to consume gin. There's a big quinine flavour there and we opted for low sugar in the mix by using the sweetener alternative, stevia. It's a topped off with a hint of citrus to replace the lime you'd use in a perfect serve."
This is another fine can to pick up that hits all the right notes and for the calorie conscious among you, comes in at a very low 93. But it's the next product that I'm really looking forward to as I'm already a major fan of that particular spirit. Pineapple Gin & lemonade, just take my money...
Powers Old Fashioned
The TV show Sex and the City created a global epidemic for quaffing the cosmopolitan cocktail. Not so long after the final episode of that programme aired, along came Mad Men and the world turned its thirsty attentions to another cocktail, the whiskey based, old fashioned. Made very simply with whiskey, sugar and bitters, it is a classic that bartenders have been serving for hundreds of years.
But now, not only can we enjoy it perfectly made outside of the bar, but we can enjoy it with one of Ireland's finest whiskies, Powers Gold Label. Marketing manager, Tara Duggan filled me in: "The old fashioned is a classic cocktail that has stood the test of time. It's the most popular whiskey cocktail in Ireland and is still one of the most popular serves across the globe. Powers is known for its spicy, bold character - this spiciness balances perfectly with the sweetness and herbal bitters. It's being trialled in Ireland and if it goes well here, it will be launched internationally."
The pot still in Powers Gold Label is what gives the whiskey such an exciting kick that perfectly plays with the sugar and bitter notes in this 500 ml bottle. It's a glorious feeling when all one has to do to have such a perfect cocktail is add some ice and a little orange zest. If it can bring such pleasure to an old bartender like me, I'm sure it could do the same for Don Draper.
Author: Oisin Davis
Oisin works on a global level as an Irish drinks evangelist and producer. He is the founder of nationwide drinks festivals that celebrate Irish spirits in the best bars and restaurant in the 32 counties and to top it off he is co-owner of Poacher's Premium Beverages, Ireland's only all-natural mixer company. F&W is delighted that Oisin has joined our contributing team with his column "Great Irish Drinks."