When it comes to cocktails, there’s no subject I’ve written about more frequently in 2022 than the ready-to-drink market, commonly abbreviated to simply “RTD.” Suffice to say, I’ve tasted my way through a whole lot of bottled and canned cocktails this year, as the concept has seen a renaissance in terms of companies approaching these cocktails as real drinks, comparable to something you’d be served at a bar. This has led to the advent of some very high-quality cocktails from companies such as Post Meridiem, Golden Rule, Barrelsmith and others, but also some definite lowlights such as the way the RTD drink market has butchered classic tiki cocktails. When in doubt, I find that the leaders in this field are almost always focusing on recipes and ingredients, rather than novelty or gimmickry.
Which, to be honest, raised some red flags off the bat when I first got a pitch about Le Coqtail. This is an RTD cocktail company claiming to offer “the world’s first speakeasy-style and ready-to-drink craft cocktails,” without really explaining what any of that means. What does “speakyeasy-style” entail, exactly? And how does one quantify being the “world’s first” at it?
Looking at the packaging of these drinks, I was even more doubtful, as they possess an inescapable vibe of “trying desperately to look different,” again without much rationale for why these choices would be superior to more conventional methods. The smaller servings of Le Coqtail’s two offerings (Old Fashioned, Manhattan) come in what are essentially 200 ml screwtop jam jars, instantly raising a host of questions. Does one drink right out of the jar, or pour these into glasses? Why choose a fragile jam jar over a relatively durable aluminum can? How many servings is this?
Looking at the jars, they both depict the cocktails being poured into not one but two pieces of glassware, which makes sense to me—many full-strength canned cocktails are 100 ml, so the 200 ml of Le Coqtail is significantly larger than most. But at the same time, the jars also suggest you can add ice directly to them and drink that way, which would imply a single serving. And at 37% ABV, that 200 ml “single serving” is in the neighborhood of four standard drinks, if you consume one of these on your own. The message feels a little muddled on these jam jars, which retail for about $13.
The larger Le Coqtail format, meanwhile, is in not a bottle but a 1.75 liter bag, complete with a spout for easy pouring. Another gimmick? Undeniably, but I can actually see the utility of this one. The spout would make sharing at a gathering pretty easy—it could even remain in the fridge—while I imagine the bag itself would serve to keep the cocktail inside fresh for longer than a repeatedly opened bottle would. This one apparently retails for around $48, which is a pretty huge volume discount from the 200 ml jam jars.
So with all that said, how do these Le Coqtail recipes actually taste? Let’s get into it and find out.
ABV: 37% (74 proof)
Le Coqtail notes that the Old Fashioned is made with “premium rye whiskey, demerara sugar and in-house made aromatic bitters.” Unsurprisingly, they don’t disclose what distillery’s whiskey was used, which is pretty typical for the RTD segment. The sturdy 37% ABV strength is good to see, though, as I’ve argued before that pretty much any bottled or canned old fashioned should be pretty close to 40% ABV, given that it should only have minimal dilution via bitters and sugar/simple syrup.
On the nose, this one is redolent in citrus and stone fruit, with a very sweet profile that evokes preserves or fruit syrup one might drizzle over ice cream or pancakes. It’s likewise very assertive and flavorful on the palate, not holding back in any respect. Boozy and slightly syrupy in texture, Le Coqtail is wielding huge flavors of citrus, vanilla, and toffee in particular, in a profile that is quite sweet overall. If you like your old fashioneds to be strong and bombastic, this could be the brand for you. Notably, I don’t get a lot in this profile that screams “rye whiskey”—if I was drinking this blind, I would be more likely to think it was made with bourbon rather than rye.
ABV: 37% (74 proof)
Le Coqtail’s Manhattan seems like an interesting case, particularly for its very high proof point. I almost wonder if the 37% ABV is printed in error on the label, for a couple of reasons. For one, it’s natural for the consumer to assume that as both cocktails are made with rye whiskey, they’d be made with the same whiskey brand. But if the ABV is indeed 37%, that’s essentially impossible, because the larger percentage of vermouth in any Manhattan recipe would inevitably lower the ABV more than this. The only way it makes sense is if the Le Coqtail Manhattan is made with a stronger rye whiskey, such as a 100 proof expression. I’m assuming that must be the case. The company notes it is made with “fresh, house-made aromatic bitters, premium rye whiskey and house-crafted vermouth.”
On the nose, this one leads off as quite distinct and different than the Old Fashioned, with a profile that is quite herbal and savory, and not nearly so sweet as the previous drink. The herbaceousness suggests thyme, while the more expected notes of red fruit and vanilla slowly assert themselves over time. On the palate, meanwhile, this one is also much more dry than the Old Fashioned, but simultaneously not nearly as boozy as you’d expect for 37% ABV. The rye whiskey likewise makes its profile felt much more clearly here, via rye spice, pepper and herbaceousness. I’m also getting a touch of cocoa and some drying oak, in what is overall a more nuanced and interesting cocktail than the decadently sweet Old Fashioned.
All in all, this one is intriguing—complex and herbaceous, but also strangely easy drinking for a notably high proof point. If the Manhattan is your cocktail of choice, and drinking from a jam jar doesn’t seem odd to you, then perhaps you’ll want to check it out.
Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer and resident beer and liquor geek. You can follow him on Twitter for more drink writing.