I’ve spent a lot of time in the last year or two covering the rise in popularity of canned or premixed cocktails, broadly described as the “ready to drink” or RTD field. In that time, I’ve tasted a lot of premixed cocktails, many of them bad and some surprisingly true to form. I’m still often left with the impression of “one could easily do a better job mixing this yourself,” but you can’t deny that the convenience of simply cracking a can is a feature that continues to appeal to many drinkers.
When you go beyond “convenience,” though, the selling points for premixed craft cocktails can become a little harder to wrap your head around. “The best possible quality,” for instance, is rarely used as a selling point, because most of these companies are competing with each other to be able to get these cocktails on store shelves at an attractive price point. It can usually be assumed in these cases that the blenders likely aren’t using the best or most expensive ingredients, because they’re operating a business—it’s not like you’re getting amazing whiskey in your old fashioned when you order it at most bars, either. Most canned cocktails aren’t claiming to offer the “ultimate” expression of a classic cocktail recipe.
That’s where Sunday’s Finest Gold Fashioned is so instantly different. This Chicago-based company (created by Violet Hour alum Robert Haynes) has decided to take premixed craft cocktails in a decidedly niche, ultra-luxe and premiumized direction through the use of superior ingredients to create a much more expensive take on the classic old fashioned. Which is to say: They’re selling $150 bottles of premixed old fashioned, which is an idea that is pretty much without precedent.
What makes for such a price tag? Well, starting on the whiskey side, a Gold Fashioned bottle contains 15- and 9-year-old Kentucky straight bourbon (source unknown, naturally), blended with 6-year Indiana rye whiskey, presumably from MGP. That’s a really nice base for a classic old fashioned if you ask me, combining the depth and elegance of well-aged Kentucky bourbon with the spice of MGP rye. It’s also an impressive upgrade over the first release of Gold Fashioned in 2021, which featured 8-year-old Kentucky bourbon and 5-year Indiana rye. For $150, people likely expect more impressive age statements than that, so the reformulation for this newly released 2022 batch is nice to see.
Beyond the whiskey, Sunday’s Finest Gold Fashioned is made from “hand-harvested Afghan saffron, Tahitian vanilla, single-estate Ecuadorian cacao, Seville orange peel, wild-harvested French gentian and Fair-Trade Malawian demerara.” The saffron is apparently meant to be a starring component (in the cocktail bitters), while the demerara provides the sugar element classically found in an old fashioned recipe. The entire Gold Fashioned kit is apparently meant to serve “10 to 15 cocktails,” and as a bonus it comes with a little atomizer/spritzer to top each drink with aromatic orange oil for another burst of citrus freshness.
Prior to tasting, I want to consider for at least a moment: Who is really the intended market here? Who is expected to buy a $150 bottle of old fashioned, made with bourbon from an unknown distillery? People with ample resources, clearly, but does it not seem like the kind of person with $150 to spend on a bottled cocktail also has the resources to make a beautiful, simple cocktail on their own? I think one of the things that strikes me as particularly odd about the concept is that of all cocktails, the Old Fashioned is one of the absolute easiest for anyone to make, and anyone who likes cocktails probably has the whiskey, sugar and bitters on hand already. The premiumized format might actually be more of a natural bedfellow for say, more complex tiki cocktails, which are frequently bastardized in the RTD world, but because the old fashioned is the most recognizable whiskey cocktail, this choice was probably always inevitable. Still, I have a feeling this is a very specific niche.
With all that said, though, let’s get to actually tasking Sunday’s Finest Gold Fashioned, to see if it can live up to that price point.
On the nose, poured over ice, the Gold Fashioned opens with honeyed tones and some quite floral elements, drawing those floral impressions perhaps from the vanilla bean and also from the saffron. There’s also a toasted oakiness, a certain maltiness and big caramel as well. Notable vanilla, citrus and stone fruit round things out. It certainly smells like the kind of high-quality old fashioned one would expect to be served at an upscale cocktail bar, where the cocktail is often premiumized and given a sky-high price tag in an effort to make it as profitable as possible, or to encourage the consumer to explore the more ambitious alternatives on the cocktail menu.
On the palate, the Gold Fashioned is sweet up front, though it does retain some solid heat and spice at 84.4 proof (42.2% ABV). The whiskey is upfront, with big, toasty bread crust and decadent caramel, combined with orange and apricot candy. The saffron and vanilla again contribute heavy honey and florals, with a warm saffron earthiness. Sweetness is dialed in to a good level—the old fashioned is meant to be a sweeter cocktail, after all, but this is by no means saccharine. Certainly, you get the impression of the quality bourbon and rye in the blend, which whiskey geeks will no doubt appreciate. There’s a warm, toasted oakiness that is particularly nice, running as a ribbon throughout the experience.
All in all, the quality involved here is pretty unimpeachable—Sunday’s Finest promised an elegant and expensive-tasting old fashioned, and that’s very much what they delivered. Whether you can conceive of a world where you’re spending $150 on a bottled cocktail is another matter entirely, but I can’t fault Sunday’s Finest for setting a goal and then achieving exactly that.
Non Distiller Bottler: Sunday’s Finest
ABV: 42.2% (84.4 proof)
Availability: Limited, 750 ml bottles, $150 MSRP (10-15 cocktails)
Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer and resident brown liquor geek. You can follow him on Twitter for more drink writing.