There’s an ever-growing number of liquor subscriptions out there, most of which can be broken down into two categories: cocktails or bottles. Cocktail subscriptions periodically supply you with all (or most) of the ingredients needed to make the a selection of craft cocktails at home. Bottle subscriptions provide you with a full or mini-bottle of a particular type of spirit or mix of spirits. In both instances, you never know exactly what you’re getting. These subscriptions are, after all, for the adventurous drinker who still may not be adventurous enough to run to the neighborhood liquor store or pick up a cocktail book.
Shots Box is not your typical liquor subscription in that it attempts to merge both of these categories with the goal of promoting smaller craft brands available for sale on their website. Cocktail recipe cards come in each box, but the non-alcoholic ingredients – from the simple (like tonic) to the difficult (like vanilla fig syrup) – are your responsibility. If that might seem like a disappointment, the sheer variety of alcohol you’re provided should make up for the lack of bitters and simple syrups. Shots Box supplies no less than ten samples delivered monthly, which is more than any other service that I’m aware of.
When my Shots Box arrived, it came in a no-frills package that hadn’t quite done its job (one bottle had spilled a little on one of the recipe cards). Three of the samples inside were liqueurs, but the seven other samples were a nice mix of gin, vodka, tequila, and whiskey from small but familiar brands like Suerte and Broker’s, as well as craft producers like Young & Yonder Spirits and Sipping Spirits.
I spent a weekend playing around with the cocktail recipes included in the box. Being a bourbon fan, I gravitated first to the Bourbon Vig which looked like a simple enough mix of Young & Yonder’s Stave Robber bourbon, vanilla fig syrup, and bitters. How does one make vanilla fig syrup? I don’t know, and no one from Shots Box bothered to tell me. I found a recipe online that did the trick, and the drink came out as well as probably any cocktail would with a young, 80-ish proof craft whiskey as its base. That is to say, not great. On its own, the bourbon was more enjoyable, if a little too oak-forward for my taste.
Next up was the Lucky Matador. This cocktail featured Suerte Reposado tequila and a collection of fruit juices, blood orange being the hardest to run down on my own. The results here were better than the Bourbon Vig but still pretty unremarkable. I’ve never been a huge fan of simple juice and tequila drinks. The Suerte tequila on its own was a fine treat.
Not feeling exceptionally motivated to move forward I picked one last cocktail, the Fall Old Fashioned. I chose it because the recipe was one of the more interesting in the mix, and perhaps more importantly, I actually had easy access to all of the ingredients. This one was made with Death’s Door Gin, dry vermouth, maple syrup, and orange bitters. The combination of Death’s Door and maple syrup worked surprisingly well, giving a rich sweetness to the gin’s cereal-forward palate, and the orange bitters worked nicely with the gin’s citrus kick.
That last cocktail, while somewhat redeeming of the whole experience, still couldn’t shake my opinion that Shots Box would work better if it dropped the cocktail angle altogether and just concentrated on highlighting a selection of spirits. I understand a cocktail is the preferred way for most to see how a particular spirit (especially a clear spirit) tastes, but the cocktail recipes don’t need to be overly complicated. Shots Box clearly knows this, which is why my box also included a recipe card for a standard martini. It was a fine enough way to highlight Broker’s Gin, which is a great alternative to other London drys in a martini.
My own complaints about Shots Box’s approach aside, the spirits provided were high quality and unique. For $40 a month, less than most subscription services, you get to sample a wide variety of thoughtfully curated spirits. If you’re in the market for some new bottles to build out the home bar, a Shots Box subscription is a nice way to try before you buy. If you want to discover fun and interesting cocktails, look somewhere else.
B+ / $40 a month / shotsbox.com