The ready-to-drink (RTD) cocktail revolution has continued in full swing in 2022, and we’ve been tasting quite a few of them lately. Enough, in fact, to recognize an oddity when it comes around, and Hercules Mulligan Rum & Rye is enough of a strange, unique beast to qualify. Bucking the trends that have placed most modern premixed cocktails in tiny, 100 ml cans or multi-packs, Hercules Mulligan lands somewhere between “packaged cocktail” and “modified bottle of spirits.” It’s almost a bottled cocktail, but arguably differs in a few key ways. And yet, it’s not simply a spirit either. It’s something else entirely—all that, and a Hamilton reference.
Yes, to those who know the musical, this is the same Hercules Mulligan we’re talking about here. The Irish-American tailor was a spy during the American Revolutionary War, a member of the Sons of Liberty and confederate of Alexander Hamilton and several of the other founding fathers. This product is likewise dedicated to the man, and makes great use of the “tailor” theming throughout its marketing materials, but what is it exactly?
Well, as the name suggests, the bottle is actually a 50/50 blend of rum and rye whiskey, but that’s just where things start. The rum is a blend of three different Caribbean rums from Jamaica and Guyana, while the rye is likewise a blend of three rye whiskeys. The blend is then doctored up with “tailor-made bitters” created for Hercules Mulligan, and “fresh organic ginger” from Brooklyn. The company boasts the product is “hand blended, hand bottled, hand sealed and hand labeled.”
Suffice to say, there are a lot of interesting choices that were made here, for a product that launched in 2019, building word of mouth exclusively via online sales on web retailer Flaviar. The 43% ABV (86 proof) point, for instance, puts this well above most canned cocktails, even canned versions of classic whiskey drinks like the Old Fashioned or Manhattan. This is strong enough, in fact, that you can simply pour it over ice and still have a pretty stiff drink in your hand, but it’s received the additional flavoring (if not dilution) of a premixed cocktail. Likewise, the company suggests all sorts of other styles of presentation, which mostly boil down to “try it with tonic,” or “try it with club soda,” or “try it with hard cider,” etc. But still—you get a sense of versatility with Hercules Mulligan. One doesn’t open a can of premixed Old Fashioned and then mix that stuff with tonic. But here? It sort of makes sense. As does the 750 ml bottle that Hercules Mulligan comes packaged in—it makes it feel natural to bring to a party, and for sharing in general. The MSRP of $38 also feels fairly reasonable for this aspect.
Certainly, Hercules Mulligan Rum & Rye has managed to attract no small amount of press as well, getting profiles in publications like Rolling Stone in recent weeks. They even managed to raise upward of $750,000 in a crowdfunding campaign in 2022, which is being used to expand the brand and facilitate its move to store shelves in New York and potentially beyond. Suffice to say, they’ve set themselves apart in an interesting way from a marketing perspective.
But how does it taste? Well, let’s get to tasting and find out. I chose to sample Hercules Mulligan as the creators suggested—over ice, in a standard old fashioned glass.
On the nose, this evokes a solid, slightly familiar whiskey or rum cocktail with citrus and ginger accents. The nose has a nebulous quality, and I’d be curious how people sampling it completely blind would describe it. There’s sweet and floral vanilla, hints of apple, ginger and honey, along with a hard-to-place citrus element. The spice of rye isn’t present in great quantity, and at times it reads like more of a rum drink than a rye one, but I somehow get a sense that this drink might read very differently to different people, depending on their own sensitivity to certain notes or flavors.
On the palate, Hercules Mulligan certainly has a kick to it—my first sip was entirely too large, as my palate subconsciously saw the liquid over ice and was expecting a fairly diluted old fashioned. Suffice to say, this is a bit more of a sipper than a quaffer, and once accustomed to the experience, it brings some interesting flavors into play. Toffee and apple give way to a significant spice profile from the bitters blend, with a complex spiciness that then segues into some trailing oak and drying tannin. It’s interesting to see the oakiness in particular preserved through the creation of this drink, considering that it can often be lost in a cocktail—here, it provides some adequate drying balance. All in all, I can certainly appreciate that Hercules Mulligan is not syrupy sweet for a complete cocktail—or not nearly as sweet as I feared it might be, anyway.
In the end, I can also appreciate that this is genuinely unique as a product, from its conception to its packaging, though I have to wonder how much the target demographic will actually care about aspects such as the Hamilton-adjacent marketing. On its own merits, though, Hercules Mulligan Rum & Rye works just fine. It’s probably still not the kind of thing I’d personally turn to often, but that’s simply because I enjoy mixing my own cocktails. If this was being shared around at a party, though? I certainly would be happy to partake, and that’s an endorsement I’ll give to few premixed cocktails.
Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer and resident liquor geek. You can follow him on Twitter for more drink writing.