It’s become abundantly clear to me, in the last year or so of tasting, that the world of premixed, canned or bottled cocktails—marketers call them the “RTD” or “ready to drink” segment—has improved dramatically as the number of brands on the shelves has exploded. Of course, that’s a potentially misleading statement, because as the sheer number of brands has increased, it’s also given rise to the hucksters trying to market hard seltzer as “cocktails,” or the insipid vodka sodas that ape classic cocktail names and recipes. Rest assured, there’s a whole lot of bad, premixed drinks out there. But at the same time, the number of quality brands offering legitimately executed classic cocktails has also surged. Case in point: Last week I tasted what was easily the best bottled Manhattan I’ve encountered to date. The well-made entries in this genre are simply much better than they used to be.
There’s a handful of factors that may contribute to me admiring a particular maker of canned cocktails, but one of the most important is transparency. Many of these companies shy away from giving a concrete idea of what exactly is in your drink, and fewer still hint at the actual recipe. Atlanta’s Post Meridiem? They may be the gold standard when it comes to transparency, for the fact that they not only detail what’s in every one of their cocktails, but print the exact recipe and ratios on the can. I’ve yet to see another company that is doing this, and it’s not just “nice to see” in some vague sense. It means Post Meridiem is actively inviting cocktail geeks to scrutinize their product, and that should be applauded.
Another thing that sets Post Meridiem apart—the name just refers to the time of the day for cocktailing, in the late afternoon—is the sheer variety of drinks they’re offering, which is also rather unusual for this field. I recently had an opportunity to taste 8 different Post Meridiem cocktails in 100 ml, single-serving cans, featuring a wide variety of spirits, mixers and flavors, and found them to be perhaps the most diverse and eclectic RTD cocktail maker in the game today.
So without further ado, let’s get tasting.
ABV: 37% (74 proof)
The first thing I look at in a canned old fashioned recipe is almost invariably the alcoholic strength—given that an old fashioned is nothing more than whiskey, bitters and a small amount of sugar or simple syrup, there’s no reason why a canned version should be below 70 proof or so unless it’s very heavily sweetened or watered down. This one is reassuringly in the right range, and notes that it’s made with 3 oz of bourbon, 4 dashes of “a blend of three bitters,” demerara simple syrup, and orange zest oil. That’s a pretty sturdy booze base, which is probably why they chose to label it as “double” old fashioned.
On the nose, this one is big on citrus and spice, with the orange oil really coming through strongly in a way that suggests oleo saccharum, which is made from steeped citrus peels. It’s also quite citrusy on the palate, with heavy orange and some decent spice notes of clove and cinnamon, married with light oak and caramel. On the sweeter side overall, it stops short of being too saccharine, although I wouldn’t mind it if the bourbon base were a more assertive part of the flavor profile. This is not exactly a delicate or subtle recipe, but it’s not lacking in assertiveness either. All in all, a solid canned old fashioned.
ABV: 27.5% (55 proof)
Post Meridiem notes that their canned margarita is “the only ready-to-drink margarita that uses 100% real lime juice,” presumably implying that other brands are using lime juice from concentrate or somesuch. Regardless, this is a classic and uncomplicated take on the classic margarita, though we’d raise an eyebrow at the fact that it actually contains more orange curacao than it does lime juice—that’s not exactly the classic ratio there.
On the palate, this one is perhaps a little bit less tart than some of the other competitors on the market, instead having a smooth, round impression that is not particularly acidic but does have plenty of citrus flavor. The tequila is on the mild side, with gentle impressions of pepper and agave, while you get a fair bit of orange citrus and mild sweetness. It’s a fine, uncomplicated margarita, although one that perhaps could use a bit bolder flavors. There’s certainly no issue in terms of its alcoholic strength—this is definitely one of the stronger canned margaritas around—but perhaps a more assertive tequila or a bit more lime juice would make it a tad more punchy.
ABV: 27% (54 proof)
The cosmo is a drink that I’ve never much enjoyed, but I appreciate that Post Meridiem has approached it in a way that is as genuine and expressive as possible. Just vodka, 100% lime juice, 100% cranberry juice, and orange curacao.
The proof is in the liquid, as this is a pleasantly tart and fruity canned cosmo—it really tastes like genuine cranberry and lime, with hints of other red berry notes such as strawberry, coupled with candied citrus. The alcohol is unobtrusive, and it’s overall very easy to drink, as one would expect a good cosmo to be. Overall residual sweetness is on the higher side, but it’s nowhere near as syrupy as some other commercially packaged examples. Like I said, the cosmo is not my drink of choice, but I wouldn’t have any objections to finishing this one. That’s high praise from me, when we’re talking about the cosmopolitan.
ABV: 27% (54 proof)
A good canned daiquiri shouldn’t really be a hard thing to pull off, but you don’t see that many quality entries on the market. A canned Hemingway daiquiri is rarer still, which made me particularly happy to see Post Meridiem take that route. Traditionally, this type of recipe for a Hemingway-style daiquiri would include some grapefruit juice in it, but Post Meridiem has opted to keep it simple with just lime, in addition to the more necessary inclusion of the maraschino cherry liqueur. The rum, meanwhile, is noted as “silver and west indies rum,” which is a tad vague, but one doesn’t exactly expect the most elaborate rum sourcing for a daiquiri anyway.
Tasting this one is a delight—it’s quite textbook, and undeniably a Hemingway style daiquiri even without the grapefruit juice. The rum is expressive and unmistakable, with nice impression of molasses and grassy notes, along with subtle maraschino—maybe not quite as much as I’d use in one I was making myself, but more than enough to stand out. All of the Post Meridiem cocktails instruct the consumer to pour them over ice, but I have a feeling that this one in particular would stand up well to drinking neat from a coupe glass. Refreshing, mildly tart and well executed. A star of the lineup, for sure, and one of the most unique in the sense that most other canned cocktail companies aren’t even trying to produce a maraschino-infused daiquiri.
ABV: 23.5% (47 proof)
I’ve already written in rather excruciating detail about how badly tiki cocktails as a genre have been treated by the RTD drink boom—because they tend to have more ingredients and more uncommon rums, liqueurs and juices, classic tiki cocktails aren’t well suited for most companies to have in their RTD collection. Sadly, that doesn’t stop many companies from producing bad tiki cocktails anyway, judging from the dozens of completely bastardized mai tais you can find. The Post Meridiem one, blessedly, is a classic example of the iconic drink invented by Trader Vic, as the “1944” would imply. It contains only a Caribbean rum blend, 100% lime juice, orange curacao, and the all-important almond orgeat syrup. The latter in particular tends to get left out of many commercial mai tai recipes, despite being the most important ingredient in the flavor profile besides the rum.
This mai tai presents as fairly light and sweet, not as boozy or rummy as many you’ll find at classic tiki bars, and not as spirit forward as one I would mix myself. It is, however, indisputably recognizable as a mai tai, which is a great accomplishment for this genre. Flavors are big on honey roasted almond and sweet almond paste, and interestingly it tastes like there are flashes of mint (a classic mai tai garnish) despite mint not being mentioned in the ingredients. All in all, it’s light, approachable and sweet, and it’s head and shoulders above almost any other commercially packaged mai tai. This one at least gives the drinker an idea of how this cocktail is supposed to taste.
ABV: 26% (52 proof)
Rather than produce a canned martini or Martinez, Post Meridiem instead chose for their signature gin drink to be the southside—effectively in the same wheelhouse as the gimlet, but with the addition of a significant amount of mint. According to the company, this one contains London dry gin, 100% lime juice, simple syrup, and “a hint of garden mint.”
The nose certainly suggests more than a hint, as this one is quite minty and refreshing, with traces of bright lime as well. On the palate, this is fresh and outgoing, with resin and pine, some mild balancing bitterness from the gin, and well-structured lime, mint and mild sweetness. It actually gets more complex on subsequent tastes, with more herbaceousness being suggested—like lemon verbena and slightly savory bay leaf. It’s a drink that feels very simple on first inspection, but perhaps has more going on than you initially realize.
ABV: 25% (50 proof)
One can understand easily enough why Post Meridiem chose their gin drink to be the southside when you see that they already have a “gimlet” in the lineup, albeit one made with vodka rather than gin. I don’t love vodka in general principle, and am typically more interested in gin versions of drinks like this, but the company has tried to set this one apart with the additional use of lemongrass oil to give it some different character.
On the nose, this one is pleasant but sort of one-dimensional, with lots of lime and some delicate florals. On the palate, it’s both fairly tart and pretty sweet, and a little syrupy in texture. It strikes me, for instance, as notably more sweet and tart than a drink like the company’s own margarita. The lemongrass, meanwhile, I’m having a difficult time specifically finding and calling out in this flavor profile. All in all, this just isn’t quite my style—I’m inherently more interested in something like the southside than this one.
ABV: 22.5% (45 proof)
I don’t believe this final Post Meridiem canned cocktail has been officially released yet, perhaps still being in the testing phase, and to be honest I wasn’t expecting to particularly gel with it. I really am not a fan of dessert cocktails, and generally feel as if rampant abuse of sugar is one of the biggest problems in the alcohol industry today, but this drink really took me by surprise. Espresso martinis aren’t something I’ve ever willingly ordered from a restaurant menu in my life, but this one really feels expertly put together—a combination of genuine coffee, vodka and coffee liqueur.
On the nose, this is redolent in toasted sugar, coffee and mocha notes, while the palate features well calculated sweetness that gives life to notes of dark, dark chocolate brownie and espresso. This is a pretty much perfect level of residual sweetness to make a drink that still has some elegance to it, which is not what I was expecting to write about an espresso martini. With a solid, roasty base, it also impressively manages to avoid any unpleasant astringency, while the ethanol is very mild. Easy to drink, not saccharine, and just impressive in general.
Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer and resident liquor geek. You can follow him on Twitter for more drink writing.