Speaking as someone who enjoys a drink or two, I watched the emergence of ready-to-drink cocktails, or RTDs, in the last few years with excitement. However, I learned that not all RTDs were created equal—a factor often related to their ABV. That’s not to say that every canned or bottled cocktail needs to be barrel-strength, but the larger the serving vessel, and the lesser the alcoholic content, the more likely it became that you were simply cracking open a glorified Jack-and-Coke, whatever its contents.
But just when I’d given up hope, a batch of decidedly spirit forward RTDs has restored my faith in the potable innovation.
Golden Rule Spirits
One such maker is Golden Rule Spirits, which was founded by two cousins in San Francisco and currently makes two RTDs: The Golden Rule Margarita Original and The Golden Rule Old-Fashioned. They’re each made from good stuff—100% agave tequila, triple sec, and lime juice in the case of the former, and a three-year-old high-rye bourbon, bitters, and cane sugar in the instance of the latter—but perhaps most crucially, they are canned at a diminutive 100 mL size that leaves out the sugary filler that fells so many other RTDs. (According to Golden Rule, their expressions contain 75% less sugar than competitor products.)
Golden Rule co-founder James Mauk seems to have similar feelings.
“As I became of age, I often wondered why no one was taking quality cocktails and making them as convenient as buying a beer. Almost everything to that point was sickly sweet and resembled anything but a cocktail,” he says.
While I enjoyed Golden Rule’s Margarita, which is based on a family recipe, I was more taken with its Old Fashioned. It tasted sweeter to me than the Old Fashioneds I’d made at home, but it was not a cloying sweetness—rather, something that put me more in the mind of a good Wisconsin-style Old-Fashioned (I’d also be remiss not to acknowledge the can’s excellent artwork, which depicts a cozy, mid-century recliner beside cursive text spelling out “stay awhile.”)
Batch & Bottle
Another label that came to my attention was Batch & Bottle, which debuted in the United States this past April. It comes from William Grant & Sons and leverages spirits from the company’s considerable portfolio—including Hendrick’s gin and Glenfiddich scotch—to make its RTDs.
Bottled at 375 mL, I found that their versatile size ensured they could still be popped into the freezer when I wanted a no-effort, ice-cold Hendrick’s Martini at the end of the day, yet still held enough juice so I could share them with friends.
According to Jared Currier, who serves as a brand manager for innovation at William Grant & Sons, that sweet-spot size is entirely intentional.
“While other RTD offerings emphasize single-serve portability, Batch & Bottle brings bar-quality cocktails to the elevated at-home occasion—a dinner party, for instance, or date night. Even consumers who know how to make a great cocktail often don’t want to spend their evenings tending bar while their guests are enjoying themselves, so they often turn to a nice bottle of wine, or a local craft beer,” says Currier
One interesting twist to Batch & Bottle’s offerings is that their Old-Fashioned and Manhattan are made with scotch—Monkey Shoulder and Glenfiddich, respectively. While that might annoy the purist, I enjoyed the smoky touch that they contributed to each.
Considering its basic ingredients—and the bonus that they don’t require shelf-stabilization—the Old-Fashioned has been something of a star in the RTD movement (some of my personal favorites come from Slow & Low and Bully Boy). But I was particularly interested in Hercules Mulligan because it decided to upend the easily made cocktail.
In the case of Hercules Mulligan, which was launched in 2019 and comes with an elaborate backstory relating to its Revolutionary War hero namesake, the base is split between aged Caribbean rum and rye whiskey. This two-spirit blend is macerated with organic ginger root and finished with a hit of bitters, making for a drink that’s still recognizably an Old-Fashioned in its flavor profile, but is made richer and more interesting by the interplay of fruity rum and spicy rye. It also possesses a potent ginger kick that makes it an at-home favorite after consuming too much pasta.
I also appreciated that its split spirit-base made it more utilitarian than your typical Old-Fashioned, allowing those who don’t already have both a rye and a rum at home (not to mention organic ginger root) to serve the spirit combo in a pinch.
At press time, Golden Rule is working on launching two new RTDs, and Hercules Mulligan is preparing to launch a second expression dubbed Eyr & Rye, which will blend Irish whiskey with rye and maraschino cherry bitters. Whenever these spiritous new RTDs happen to see the light of day, I will be ready to drink them.