I love the idea of bottled cocktails but the first time I saw one for sale, I thought it was too expensive to bother with. At $50 for 750ml, High West’s 36th Vote Barreled Manhattan is not an impulse buy. I started doing some quick mental math, figuring I’d be better off aging a batch of Manhattans myself.
And then a friend texted me a photo of a little bottled Saratoga cocktail. “Have you had this?” The Fluid Dynamics barrel-aged line of bottled cocktails from California’s Craft Distillers, the producers of Germain-Robin brandy, aren’t actually any less expensive than High West’s versions—they just offer smaller bottles. But that was all it took to take another look at my math. At $18 to $20 for a 200ml bottle, you get just over 6.5 ounces of cocktail, enough for two generous three-ounce pours. I compare this to going to a good cocktail bar here in NYC where I might pay $12 to $14 per cocktail, perhaps more for a barrel-aged cocktail. So that’s nine or ten bucks each for an excellent drink at home versus an average of $25, plus tip for a great drink out. Why not?
A couple weeks later, my friend brought over a bottled Saratoga to share. It was excellent, and it reminded me how delicious some of the Manhattan variations can be—the Saratoga is basically a Manhattan with both whiskey and brandy.
Craft Distillers uses Germain-Robin brandy (probably their $50 Craft-Method brandy), Low Gap clear wheat whiskey, and Quady Winery’s Vya sweet vermouth. Notably absent is the bitters. Craft Distillers’ press materials say, “We did not include bitters because they become overpowering in the barrel.” We’re instructed to add a dash ourselves; I didn’t, and it was fantastic anyway: velvety and viscous, very harmonious and a great blending of the brandy’s sweet vanilla notes with the whiskey’s more assertive spice. It’s kind of funny that they use an un-aged whiskey, and then age the whole mixture. It works well.
Craft Distillers is vague about how long each of the Fluid Dynamics cocktails are aged. The site says “the recipes take months to develop,” but I read that as the creative process, not the aging process. Clearly, it can’t take too long to age or it wouldn’t be worth the trouble. When I’ve aged cocktails myself (I’ve done an apple brandy Old Fashioned and a Negroni), the sweet spot was about 6 weeks for my little one-liter barrel. We also don’t know what size barrels are used here.
The other cocktails in the Fluid Dynamics series are a Brandy Manhattan, The 1850 (a Sazerac variation with brandy and whiskey, plus a bit of the Germain-Robin absinthe), and the St. Nick (brandy with Clear Creek distillery’s Cranberry liqueur). All, including the Saratoga, end up at 32.7% abv. Liter-sized bottles of the cocktails are available, but apparently only for bars.
These bottled cocktails aren’t new, but this is the first time I’ve seen them in New York. David Driscoll at K&L Wines in California introduced them to his customers back in October 2011 and he came to much the same conclusions I did — and the Saratoga was his favorite.
Now, looking back, I’m almost ready to shell out $50 for a High West Barreled Manhattan: that’s eight 3-ounce cocktails at about $6 each, with some left over.