Thursday, 17 November 2016

Party season is here: Easy cocktail mixers and bases

Photo by Edson Hong

Party season is nearly upon us. It may be too early for most to start mentioning my favourite 'C' word, but I feel it's acceptable once the winter coat goes on – and that has definitely already happened.

With the parties comes the big decision of what to drink. You might want a few options aside from the usual fizz, beer, and wine, but cocktails for more than a few people can be annoyingly time consuming.

You'll usually find me in the kitchen at parties, either getting roped in to rescuing the punch that has seen a few too many spirits thrown in, or attempting to recreate some obscure cocktail someone had in a bar that one time, with a limited selection of whatever's in the house.

But this year has been the year of the pre-mixed and ready-made cocktail. Marks and Spencer have reported that sales of their cocktails in a can have been up a massive 74%. There's been an emergence of many bottle-to-glass drinks (or can-to-mouth), but there are fewer brands of mixers and bases, where you still need to add your booze and do a bit of shaking here and there.

Ice in, spirit in, Funkin – Cocktail mixers

The nice folks at Funkin sent over a few of their mixers to try. Having never used a cocktail mixer like this before, I was intrigued, but perhaps slightly sceptical.

Mojito – I have paid a decent amount of money for many mojitos in bars, made by supposedly professional bartenders, that don’t taste as good as the Funkin option. The mixer is sharp and tangy, bursting with limes, with just an edge of sweetness, and a decent hit of mint. It’s definitely my favourite of the three (but I do prefer mojitos anyway). Throw in a few slices of lime and some mint leaves with lots of crushed ice, and I think you’d struggle to find a mojito lover that doesn’t enjoy this.

Strawberry Daiquiri – This tastes like real strawberry, which is a good start. This is sweet (as you would expect), but it has a zesty lime note so it’s not sickly. Over summer this is the perfect one to enjoy in the garden on a warm evening, and in the colder months it’s perfect for remembering those warm evenings in the garden while you’re getting the party started in front of the fire. 

Pina Colada – If you like Pina Coladas, and easy cocktails you can drink in the rain (or sun), then this is the one for you. I haven't had a Pina Colada for years, and while it won't be jumping to the top of my order list, this mixer was creamy, sweet, and not too heavy. You can define the individual flavours, and I was more than happy drinking this and pretending I was sat on beach somewhere warm, rather than wearing two jumpers and a scarf in my flat. 

One thing I would say is that I don’t feel like the packaging matches the product. Funkin markets its products as the first and only 100% natural fresh fruit cocktail mixers. They have sourced the best fruit from around the world, there’s nothing nasty added, and there’s a ban on artificial colours, preservatives and additives. All that is great, and the mixers taste great and fresh, but the packaging doesn’t convey the ‘natural image, and is instead a bit busy. I think toning the packaging down, and going for a more minimalist design would do wonders to convey the premium-tasting product inside. 

Packaging aside, I was pleasantly surprised by the Funkin mixers. And if I wanted a night off from being found in the kitchen at parties, wielding a jigger in one hand and cocktail shaker in the other, I would definitely pick up a few cartons of Funkin.

Funkin mixers, 750ml, £2.99, Waitrose or their online shop

While there aren’t too many cocktail mixers on the market, especially ones that taste good, there are a few varieties, varying from cheap and cheerful, to small batch and handcrafted. 

Owl's Brew – Tea for cocktails

If you want to jump on all the hipster trends at once (well two of them) – owls and tea cocktails – then Owl’s Brew is the one for you. It’s the first ever tea crafted for cocktails, is ready-to-pour, and can be served on the rocks or shaken. There are a few tasty sounding flavours – the Classic (English breakfast with a tart twist), White and Vine (white tea with watermelon and pomegranate), and Pink and Black (darjeeling with a hint of hibiscus – that can be paired with most types of booze. The tea is brewed in Vermont in large kettles, where it’s handcrafted in small batches, before being sweetened, packed, and bottled.

Owl’s brew, Earl Grey tea mixer, £5.49, Amazon

Little Devil – Bloody Mary spice

This one may be cheating a bit as you need to add vodka and tomato juice, but if you want to add a bit of spice to your life when you’re on the move, or if you desperately need to rustle up a Bloody Mary after a heavy night, Little Devil is the way to go. 

The spice is handmade in small batches with natural ingredients, and combines all the aspects of a classic Bloody Mary, with a few added extras. These make a very tasty Bloody Mary that certainly helped my hangover – very savoury, not too spicy, but with a decent kick. I want to take some on my next flight for all my mile high Bloody Mary needs.

Little Devil spice, 24 servings, £7.99, Little Devil Spices 

White Whale – Bold mixers

These dinky tonic bottles look like they could cure a cough as much as they could help you get a little tipsy. The White Whale mixers are on the premium end of the market – the company only uses herbs and all-natural juices, and organic where possible. They currently come in six flavours – the Filthy Liar (add gin), Day Dreamer (add rum), Skinny Dipper (add tequila), Your Older Brother (add vodka), Aunties Old Fashion (add bourbon), and the Mob Man (add rye) – so you just need your booze and your garnish and you’re good to go. 

White Whale bold mixers, $10.00, Drink White Whale

The Modern Cocktail – Champagne mixers

If I had a nice bottle of champagne, I wouldn’t want to add anything to it, but if I had an ok bottle of fizz then I’d be a bit more tempted by these ‘champagne mixers’. They come in five flavours: raspberry, mandarin, mango, grapefruit, and blood orange, with three servings per bottle. I do feel that with the simple flavours, it would taste better to just add a small amount of fresh juice or puree, rather than a ‘syrup’, but they would make a nice stocking filler.

The Modern Cocktail champagne mixers, pack of five, £10.00, John Lewis

Finest Call – Cocktail mixer

Finest Call have got a large range of products ranging from Appletinis to Old Fashioneds, and are marketed to make a busy bartender’s job easier. They’re made with juice concentrate so aren’t as fresh as some of the other offerings. I can’t say I’m a fan of the packaging: they remind me of the lurid alcopops I unfortunately drank as a teenager... 

Finest Call, 1-litre bottle £6.39, The Drink Shop

Jose Cuervo – Margarita mix

If you like your margarita by the litre, then Jose’s got you covered. While Jose and I had a bit of a falling out at a party when I was 18, I won’t judge if you need a quick and easy way to make an industrial amount of margarita for a party.

Jose Cuervo margarita mix, 1-litre, £9.95, Amazon  

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