Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Premixed cocktails coming in from the cold?

The KÖLD cocktails come in boxes of two sachets each
There is nothing new about premixed cocktails: as DBS will tell you, manufacturers have been trying to peddle ready-mixed beverages for about as long as cocktails have existed.* For the dedicated lush, it might seem a bit pointless—why not just mix your cocktail when you want it?—but I’m sure there are many people out there who like the idea of cocktails but aren’t interested in keeping in all the ingredients and equipment required to construct them at home.

Of course one of the problems with bottling cocktails is how to preserve them. With their Handmade Cocktail Company range, Master of Malt got round this problem by only producing classic cocktails containing spirits, vermouths, sugar, bitters, etc: the resulting blend is high enough in alcohol to be self-preserving. There is a widening school of thought that there are some benefits to letting this type of cocktail age after mixing; it’s popular to barrel-age such things to get some interaction with the wood, but certainly MoM seem to feel that their cocktails benefit from resting, even without interplay with wood. Moreover, ingredients like vermouth do go off pretty quickly once a bottle is opened, so premixing cocktails is actually a way of using the alcohol in the spirit to preserve that vermouth at its freshest.

But a lot of popular modern cocktails contain things like fruit juice, which needs to be preserved somehow. The Coppa range which I reviewed a couple of years ago just used preservatives and the results were unimpressive. Now I have been sent samples from a new range called KÖLD.** The gimmick here is that the premixes come in sachets that you bung in the freezer. When it’s time to serve you allow the sachet to defrost slightly then squeeze the contents into a glass.

However, the point to note here is that the products are not sold frozen, so the freezing has nothing to do with preservation. In fact the ingredients do include things that may be there to preserve (I’m not really sure what malic acid is in there for) but it is possible that the foil pouch means that you can heat-treat it, rendering the contents sterile until opened. Another odd thing is that, like the Coppa range, the KÖLD range are all remarkably low in alcohol. A conventionally mixed Cosmopolitan will be about 25% alcohol by volume, but the Coppa example was 10% and the KÖLD example just 8%. I’m assuming that the reason for this is the same one given by Coppa’s distributor—the target market are the same people who might otherwise buy a Bacardi Breezer or Smirnoff Ice. (Which is not to go so far as to call them alcopops, drunk by children, but there may be an element that it would irresponsible to market something like this at an ABV of 25%.)

The KÖLD range (left to right): Cosmopolitan, Mojito, Lychee Martini
It may also be the case that at a higher ABV it wouldn’t freeze properly, but since the contents are preserved and you need to thaw them slightly to serve, I don’t know that this would be a bad thing.

Anyway, I try three of them, the Cosmpolitan, the Mojito and the Lychee Martini, from the freezer, thawing them slightly under a tap so I can squeeze the contents into glasses. I’m guessing that the thinking behind this gimmick is that many people probably don’t keep a great deal of ice at home. The Coppa premixes were sold in metal canisters that doubled as shakers, which gets round the need for the customer to have a cocktail shaker at home, but when I tried them out at my sister’s house we did find that her ice supply wasn’t really up to the job.

So what we have here are alcoholic slushies (well, mildly alcoholic). I’m a sucker for lychees so I forgive the fact that the “Lychee Martini” doesn’t have much in common with a Martini (it contains vodka, lychee juice from concentrate, white grape juice from concentrate, sugar, natural lychee flavouring, malic acid and cloudifier). It’s hard to drink when frozen, and with its sweetness it is more like a sorbet than a cocktail (I resort to using a spoon to consume it). There seems to be a slight bitter aftertaste, but it’s hard to know what effect the low temperature has on your tongue.

The Cosmo has a nice balance of flavours with lime to the fore, a bit of curaçao and a grapefruity sharpness. (It actually contains water, vodka, orange liqueur, cranberry juice from concentrate, lime juice from concentrate, “natural cosmopolitan flavouring”, whatever that means, and citric acid.) The Mojito is a bit of a disappointment, relatively low on flavour compared to the others and feeling a bit vague, though possibly the Mojito just isn’t really the cocktail for me.

But I allowed all three cocktails to thaw to the point where the lumps of ice had melted, and I have to say that all three of them improved dramatically, simply because in a liquid state and a higher temperature you could actually taste them more. I have to say that I also experimented with adding a measure of base spirit to each one (vodka for the Cosmo and Martini, rum for the Mojito), which was a big improvement. The Lychee Martini is ultimately too sweet for me but wasn’t dogged by noticeably artificial flavours. The Mojito was my least favourite—there is something about the mint flavour which doesn’t have much in common with fresh mint (“minty lempsip” is how Mrs H. described the taste of this cocktail).***

The Cosmopolitan emerges as the most successful for me, drier and more balanced. I still think you’ll achieve better results just making a cocktail from scratch but I guess that isn’t the point. One thing I would say about all of them is that you are better off serving them with ice (if you have some) and not frozen, as they all taste better this way.

You can buy KÖLD cocktails directly from their website. At £6.99 for a box of two 225ml pouches they are good value compared to a cocktail in a bar, but then they don’t have much alcohol in them. (Coppa cocktails are currently about £9.45 for 700ml, so cheaper but nastier. And you can buy 4 x 275ml Bacardi Breezers for £4.25 from Tesco, so you pays your money…)

* Since you ask, I believe the earliest known reference to a “cocktail” in print dates from around 1795.
** And who doesn’t love a spurious umlaut? It reminds me of heavy metal bands from the Eighties, like Mötorhead and the Blue Öyster Cult.
*** There are no obvious preservatives in the ingredients for this one (water, white rum, lime juice from concentrate, sugar and “natural Mojito flavouring”—no actual mention of mint, you’ll notice), which does make we wonder if it is heat-treated. I find that some of Funkin’s fruit juices and purées, which likewise come in heat-treated foil pouches, have a “cooked” quality to them which is not really like the fresh equivalent.


  1. In Swedish, 'köld' (with the umlaut) means coldness. Perhaps the dots are not of the spurious kind in this case.

    1. You may be right. It made me wonder if the company had been launched in Sweden and was now transferring to the UK, but as far as I can tell the product was launched by Nick Sotiropoulos, described as a "Londoner".