Friday 12 October 2012

Premixes for preteens?

The premixes in their shaker-shaped bottles
Following DBS’s review on this blog of the pre-mixed cocktails from the Authentic Cocktail Company, I was contacted by the chaps behind another range, Coppa, made in the Netherlands by Toorank BV. While DBS has an unnatural obsession with seeking out premixes, I tend to be wary as I have had few happy experiences in this arena. But it certainly can work: the ready-mixed cocktails from Master of Malt’s Handmade Cocktail Company are not only sterling examples of the premix genre, but represent some of the best examples of these cocktails full stop.

But the Handmade Cocktail Co. range uses classics that contain only spirit, bitters, vermouth and sugar, and are consequently pretty alcoholic—the weakest is the Negroni at 25.5%. At this level they appear to be essentially self-preserving. (In fact part of the thinking is to see what happens when mixed cocktails are allowed to age.) It also means they are pretty pricey, retailing for over £30 per 70cl bottle.

The Coppa range includes ten cocktails,* and the samples sent me were the Cosmopolitan, the Mojito and the Strawberry Daiquiri. (Strawberry? Yes, apparently so.) They come in 70cl bottles, coloured silver and shaped like cocktail shakers, which retail for £8.95. All are 10% ABV.

The marketing bumf suggests that they are aimed at people who want real cocktails but without the fuss and expense of buying all the ingredients. “Developed by professional bartenders using only quality spirits,** Coppa Cocktails taste and look as good as those made at the swankiest bars,” it says here. But they also emphasise the affordability of their product, and I think that everything about them suggests they are not aimed at the same market as the Handmade range. “Coppa is a fun product aimed at a mainstream audience who enjoy cocktails but aren’t what you would call drinks enthusiasts,” explains Pritesh Moody from the UK distributors. “The target audience is the same as that buying ready-made cocktails and premix drinks from Bacardi, Smirnoff, etc, hence the easy-going ABV and corresponding price point.” So, as one can probably guess, it’s aimed at he Bacardi Breezer crowd.

OK, that explains the lack of alcohol. But Pritesh is unable to help me with how the potions are preserved. Let’s have a look at what is actually in the bottles. I have an opportunity to open them in company, with Mrs H., my sister Rachel, my brother-in-law Paul and a friend Alan, who is something of a foodie but is no snob. In fact he likes some quite unexpected things. The instructions suggest serving with ice and we didn’t have a great deal, which may make a difference.

The Cosmos with what little ice we could muster
Vodka, triple sec, cranberry and lime juice. It has a confectionary whiff like boiled sweets and tastes similar, though with a slight bitter aftertaste. It seems reasonably well balanced, but there does seem something a bit synthetic about it. I guess the problem is how you preserve the fruit juice—the label says that, after opening it, you need only keep it somewhere dark and cool: there’s no suggestion it will ever actually go off. So whatever preservative is involved is probably what gives it that strange taste. Having said that, Mrs H. declared that she rather liked it, even though she doesn’t like bitter things (and agreed that there was a bitter aftertaste).
Alan: I quite like it: it’s like the kind of thing you get in a dodgy nightclub and quite like, until you realize it’s only 10% and it isn’t going to get you pissed.
Mrs H: Not as jammy as I was afraid it was going to be.
Paul: The bitterness goes away after a while. Not unpleasant, but needs a lot more vodka in it.
Rachel: Lacks kick; it tastes like fruit juice with a cloying element. The sort of thing a teenager might like.

Alan’s right—a brief trawl through online recipes shows that on average a Cosmo should really be a good 25% ABV, so this is an unconventional one.

Rum, mint, lime juice, sugar. This apparently won Best in Class at the IWSC competition in 2010. Take the cap off and there is a fairly convincing mint smell, quite spearminty, with a hint of caramel. It initially seems more convincing than the Cosmo (a couple of us couldn’t actually finish their glasses of that one), but too sweet and still that bitter aftertaste. That mintiness gets a bit overpowering, like drinking mouthwash—it’s not quite what mint in a cocktail should taste like. As someone pointed out, it is minty like mint sauce, which is a bit disconcerting.
Rachel: Too sweet
Paul: Generally a mojito is a vehicle for the rum—you can taste it and get its specific character, but here you can’t taste rum at all.

It’s true that a mojito is quite fiddly to make, what with all the muddling, so you can see a product like this appealing to someone without the time to make it and who does not want to have to keep all the ingredients in (fresh mint won’t last long in the fridge). I also wonder if the market is (young) people who like the idea of cocktail sophistication but don’t have the confidence to try making their own (and probably wouldn’t get served trying to buy spirits). Again the confectionary taste and low ABV don’t really have much in common with a real mojito.

Strawberry Daiquiri
Apparently “adulterating” the traditional rum, lime and sugar of a Daiquiri with strawberry liqueur and fresh strawberries, this one also won a silver medal, at ISWC 2012. It has a thick consistency and vivid red colour, and smells of strawberry ice cream, rather than strawberries. Very sweet, with a concentrated synthetic strawberry taste. They do suggest it be served long with crushed ice, and it does taste like a concentrate—as Paul says, a Slushpuppy concentrate. For me this is the worst of the lot, I’m afraid. It’s an odd choice for a cocktail—hardly a classic. I assume that their decisions were based on trying to use certain artificial fruit flavours, even though the suggestion is that fresh strawberries went into it. Rachel pronounced it too sweet, but Alan revealed that he rather liked this one. (Mind you he is someone who sometimes eats jam for breakfast, straight from the jar with a spoon, and declared on this occasion that his latest discovery was jelly Haribo wrapped in slices of processed cheese.)

With lots of ice and some extra spirit, the first two might be workable, but then if you’re going to buy vodka or rum to spike it anyway, why not just make the cocktail? Of if that really is too much bother, just drink the vodka or rum—if you know where to look you can buy something four times as strong for the same money. Now that’s got to be a bargain, eh, kids?

* Mojito, Cosmopolitan, Long Island Ice Tea, Caipirinha, Sea Breeze, Piña Colada, Strawberry Daiquiri, Margarita, Sex on the Beach and Mai Tai.
** Apparently they use “double gold winning Akademicka Vodka”.


  1. I'm led to believe that there's a place for everything but I'm afraid there's no room in my drinks cabinet for pre-mixed cocktails. Similar to driving a motorcar with an automatic transmission, it rather takes the fun out of it. Now, where on earth did I put my strainer?

  2. As you can probably tell, I'm inclined to agree with you. Perhaps it would have been fairer to compare the Coppa range with some Bacardi Breezers, given that that is the sort of market it is aimed at, but my policy has always just been to judge things against the single criterion of whether I like them or not!