Looking at the increasingly crowded ready-to-drink (RTD) canned cocktail scene as it exists today, it’s not hard to understand why so many brands feel an explicit need to make their product seem novel and exotic. It’s not easy to stand out on the shelf, canning another traditional take on the old fashioned, margarita, daiquiri, Manhattan, or what have you. There’s an impetus to push these drinks in typically gimmicky directions—this isn’t just an old fashioned, it’s a pomegranate cola old fashioned! As the category fills up and shelf space becomes increasingly limited, entrepreneurs do what they can to stand out.
But with that said, I often feel like the novel, experimental canned cocktails are sort of missing the point of what a canned cocktail is probably supposed to achieve in the first place. If you want a really novel, exciting cocktail—something that evokes the avant-garde of American mixology—you’re probably not looking for it in a can to begin with. Someone who really wants adventurous, complex cocktails is getting them at dedicated, high-end cocktail bars, or mixing them at home, where you can do a better job than any company catering to the masses in cans. The point of the canned cocktail is instead meant to be convenience—something you can buy in bulk to keep a quality canned version of staple cocktails at home, or brought on the go.
In my eyes, then, the ideal canned cocktail is probably a rather unadorned, no frills version of a classic style, albeit made with high-quality ingredients to the level that it actually feels close to something you’d mix at home. And that’s pretty close to what Golden Rule Spirits is doing with these attractive little 100 ml cans.
Golden Rule Spirits was founded by two cousins in San Francisco, and their ethos is refreshingly streamlined: Quality cocktails in a can, with real ingredients, and very little marketing fluff or gimmickry. They make only two drinks, a margarita and an old fashioned. The margarita is made from tequila, triple-sec and lime juice. The old fashioned is made from bourbon, bitters, orange and cane sugar. And that’s it, which is, at the end of the day, is all you need if your ingredients are any good. Four packs of either variety cost $20 a pop. It’s basically simplicity itself, a notion only reinforced by the attractive, retro labels—I don’t often bother to comment on packaging aesthetics, but these just complete the image that Golden Rule is trying to evoke.
So with that said, let’s get to tasting some classic canned margaritas and old fashioneds.
ABV: 27% (54 proof)
Golden Rule’s first, flagship cocktail was the Margarita Original, which is made from 100% agave tequila from Jalisco, Mexico—which should really be a standard you should be able to expect from literally any margarita you drink, rather than something that needs to be confirmed—along with “pure lime juice and our proprietary triple-sec.” The company recommends shaking well and pouring over ice, which makes sense to me.
On the nose, there’s no missing that this is a margarita—the tequila is lively and assertive, and it’s actually quite tequila forward overall, with lots of peppery and spicy tones. In comparison with the Old Fashioned, citrus presence is actually milder and gentler on the nose here, with the lime/triple sec taking a backseat to classic tequila aromatics. If anything, the citrus of the nose evokes a bit of the salty, herbaceous undertones of fresh grapefruit juice. On the palate, there’s a nice synthesis between fresh blanco tequila tones, some resinous notes, and well-proportioned orange and lime. All told, this really is legitimately similar to how a margarita I would mix in my own kitchen would taste, and can you really ask for any more than that? It fills its function, which is “a margarita, but easier,” for people who don’t have the time or inclination to mix their own drinks.
My only complaint, in fact, would be that the 100 ml can size really doesn’t measure up to the volume of margarita that most of us drink when we order one of these drinks, or make one at home. Even using a particularly small rocks glass filled with ice, this doesn’t quite fill it up, and I fully anticipate that many consumers would crack two of them rather than one while filling a double old fashioned glass. Not that the manufacturers would likely mind that.
ABV: 39.5% (79 proof)
The ABV of Golden Rule’s Old Fashioned is a testament to its simplicity—assuming it’s made with 80 proof spirit, you can see that the only other additions were likely small amounts of Angostura bitters, orange bitters and house-made simple syrup, which is once again all you really need. They of course won’t be defining the source of their bourbon, but various references online peg it as “3-year-old high rye bourbon,” so make of that what you will. Like the margarita, the can’s appealing colors and retro artwork manage to instantly catch the eye.
On the nose, my first takeaway here is that this old fashioned is quite citrusy, with a strong essence of orange that eventually allows young bourbon notes of cornbread and rye spice to creep through. I’m also getting a surprising hint of cherry, like fresh cherry juice. On the palate, the citrus comes through big again, perhaps a bit overbearing to some real purists, but it does make this old fashioned rather refreshing. It’s hard to pick up a lot of specific bourbon notes in this context, but there’s a pleasant young bourbon profile of corn, vanilla, caramel and a bit of drying oak to be found. Over time, I’m finding more cinnamon and clove spice, possibly from the bitters.
Overall, the Old Fashioned is enjoyable, but over time I find myself thinking that the orange could be tamped down a little bit if the final goal is balance. Still, is this better than many canned old fashioneds I’ve had in the past? Absolutely. It’s not muddled, or confused—it knows exactly what it is.
Ultimately, Golden Rule Spirits promises a legitimate canned cocktail, no more and no less—they’re not trying to reinvent the wheel here. They deliver exactly what they set out to do. You have to commend it.
Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer and resident liquor geek. You can follow him on Twitter for more drink writing.