Tasting: 5 Bottled Cocktails from Mission Craft Cocktails

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Tasting: 5 Bottled Cocktails from Mission Craft Cocktails

When it comes to any given line of prepackaged cocktails, it’s no secret that I am not the easiest consumer to win over. Grasping the root of the ready-to-drink (RTD) segment’s boom is easy enough–a lot of drinkers are either unwilling to make proper cocktails at home, or often mistakenly think it’s beyond their power or ability to do so. A spirits geek and cocktail enthusiast like myself, on the other hand, is always going to spend his time evangelizing for how easy and satisfying it really is to make your own drinks, cocktails far better than what you’re going to find in any can or bottle. But with that said, the occasional packaged cocktail can certainly serve its purpose, particularly when you’re say, taking it to a party or have run out of your own ingredients. Not to mention, I’m much more willing to get on board with a concept when the company’s philosophy revolves around doing as much good for its community as the likes of Mission Craft Cocktails.

This is a California-based company with a two-pronged mission: Source all their ingredients from within 100 miles of the bottling location in the Golden State, and use a generous portion of those proceeds to support local food banks as part of the company’s “Pour it Forward” philosophy. As of last fall, that initiative had so far provided more than 26,000 meals–not bad for a small, upstart bottled cocktail company. We applaud founders Marcin Malyszko and Amit Singh for making fighting hunger an integral part of the company’s titular mission.

As for the cocktails themselves, they all come in 375 ml bottles, which are designed to offer roughly four generous servings per bottle, and retail for about $17 each from the company’s online store. So with that said, let’s get to tasting them. All of these were tasted over ice, as the bottles recommend.

Mission Craft Cocktails Cosmopolitan

ABV: 25% (50 proof)

I can’t say that the Cosmopolitan has ever been a favorite cocktail of mine, and the premixed versions I’ve had over the years have likewise had a tendency to be rather insipid, often watery and thin, without much backbone to them. The worst have often been from companies trying to hitch the product to “better for you” marketing, which means bone dry cocktails that display one dimensional tartness and not much else.

This one from Mission, comparably, is pretty friendly and engaging–it smells strongly of candied fruit, with orange segments and salted grapefruit. On the palate it’s sweet and strong, surprisingly so–one of the only packaged Cosmos I’ve come across that really feels like a “stiff drink.” The fruit punch flavors here are assertive and perhaps a little strong for some, and it can be hard to shake the impression of Hi-C juice, but it’s certainly not lacking in character, with an underlying thread of herbaceousness. All in all, this is more engaging than most of the packaged Cosmos I’ve come across, though it’s definitely on the sweet side.

Mission Craft Cocktails Margarita

ABV: 25% (50 proof)

Pretty much every bottled/canned cocktail manufacturer is making a Margarita among their lineup, which means I’ve tasted no shortage of them at this point. Unfortunately, this one falls victim to the same pitfalls as many of the others.

On the nose, this one surprisingly doesn’t smell like all that much–it’s just a trace of faint tequila and juicy orange. On the palate, though, it explodes with sweetness first and foremost, with intense notes of sweetened lime juice and mandarin oranges. Immediately after tasting, I can feel the sugar coating my lips. It has an offputtingly thick mouthfeel as well, a syrupy impression that isn’t really offset by the moderate tartness. What is missing, like in many packaged margaritas, is the focus on tequila flavors. This just needs a more legitimate agave backbone if it’s really going to stand out. All told, it’s one of the most overtly sugary of these bottles.

Mission Craft Cocktails Old Fashioned

ABV: 40% (80 proof)

Seeing the 80 proof strength of this bottle is always a good sign, when it comes to a packaged old fashioned cocktail–at the very least it tells us that they held more or less true to the traditional recipe of just whiskey, sugar and bitters, and didn’t perform dilution prior to bottling it. A general rule: Do not accept packaged old fashioneds below 35% ABV or so.

On the nose, this one displays some light nuttiness and hints of roasted peanut along with mild orange–it evokes something like younger Beam bourbon in particular. On the palate, the big surprise here is how surprisingly bitter this one is–they have really gone hard on the aromatic bitters, which contributes a lot of spicy nuance but also a lot of bitter sensation, which is almost India pale ale-like. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, though it is an unusual one. What’s all the more odd is that despite the fact that most of the bottles here are quite sweet, this one is only mildly so, balanced out by that sturdy bitterness and spice notes of cinnamon and clove. This will be most appreciated by people who put more Angostura than normal in their own old fashioneds.

Mission Craft Cocktails Mai Tai

ABV: 25% (50 proof)

Allllllright, this is the one that had me worried. The mai tai is the most iconic of tiki cocktails, and rum-based tiki drinks have an especially bad problem of being dumbed down and diluted in RTD cocktail form. I have suffered through a lot of terrible bottled and canned mai tais over the last few years, and found only a couple of them that register as fairly accurate to the iconic 1944 original recipe. As such, this is a high bar to clear.

And in terms of recipe, this one is at least better than some. It doesn’t add pineapple, for one, and everything that should be there is there–most importantly, almond-based orgeat. The most dramatic non-traditional addition, though, is coconut, which many RTD cocktail companies can’t seem to resist adding to any rum drink.

On the nose, this ends up split between sweet almond paste and flecks of coconut. It’s difficult to suss out rum notes here, which is another common issue with RTD mai tais, because they tend to be made with mild rather than assertive rums. The palate, meanwhile, leans mostly into the coconut, which is quite sweet, combined with orange candy and a syrupy texture. The rum is again missing in the flavor profile, and the overall effect evokes a pina colada–even without the pineapple–more than it does a mai tai. So it goes, when it comes to RTD tiki drinks. I can’t claim to be surprised.

Mission Craft Cocktails Manhattan

ABV: 35.5% (71 proof)

Premixed Manhattans tend to be a roll of the dice in my experience–I’ve had some solid entries, and some really terrible ones. Ultimately, the quality here is primarily going to be determined by the relative quality of the whiskey (in this case rye whiskey) and vermouth being sourced. Thankfully, Mission’s offering really sticks the landing on this one.

This has an intriguingly savory nose, hinting at an herbal vermouth (and Luxardo cherry notes) that seems much more complex than the basic stuff being used in many of these RTD Manhattan cocktails. On the palate, it displays some mild rye spice and a pretty characterful vermouth that is evocative of dried herbs de Provence and sour cherry. For once it’s not overly sweet, nor is it too boozy even at 35.5% ABV. In general this one has an elegance that is appealing, mostly thanks to how interesting the vermouth is in this recipe. I think that perhaps the rye whiskey character could be felt a bit more strongly, but it’s a small quibble. All in all, this is the most dynamic and interesting drink among these offerings from Mission Craft Cocktails, and the one I’d be most likely to seek out in the future.

Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer and resident liquor geek. You can follow him on Twitter for more drink writing.

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