It feels like we’ve reached peak canned cocktail, which I, for one, am totally fine with. Sure, they’re convenient for the beach or a golf bag, but a can just takes something away from the experience no matter how good the cocktail inside. How then to get a quality, ready-to-drink cocktail for big events or last-minute parties while still not skimping on presentation? Large format options like Oakside Cocktail Co.
Oakside bills itself as the “first luxury cocktail in a bottle,” which I guess all depends on how you define luxury. Large format cocktails were introduced long before the handheld craze and even by some well-known spirits brands like High West. Oakside is, however, the first brand I’ve encountered that promotes the provenance of its modifiers as much as it does its base spirits. While the latter – currently gin, rye, and bourbon – are all produced at Two James Distillery in Michigan, the company relies on an impressive mix of artisan producers in California, Washington, D.C., and Maine for their bitters, vermouths, and Amaris. The current portfolio consists of three classic staples – an Old Fashioned, Manhattan, and Negroni. Our Manhattan sample is still en route (a newly reformulated recipe we’re told), so while we await its arrival, let’s check out the Old Fashioned and Negroni.
Oakside Cocktail Co. Rye Old Fashioned – A base of 100% Michigan grown rye distilled and aged four years at Two James sees the addition of demerara syrup and a bespoke bitters blend from Vena’s Fizz House in Portland, Maine. It’s an appropriately higher octane ready-to-drink cocktail, meaning you’ll get a fair number of drinks out of this bottle. (Oakside suggests 10.) The nose is inviting with a big bouquet of aromatics that lean more toward dark spices than traditional Angostura with notes of cinnamon stick and clove syrup. Expressed orange peel and dark cherry notes in the bitters blend have adequately replaced the need for fruit. On the palate, it’s an easily identifiable Old Fashioned, and quite a good one at that, with a silky balance of warm rye spice and dark brown sugar. A flourish of cinnamon and licorice on the midpalate gives way to a long finish of orange oil and chicory. Except for some of the brighter fruit notes you could only get with fresh citrus and cherry, I’d be hard-pressed to believe this Old Fashioned wasn’t made to order. 82 proof. A- / $50
Oakside Cocktail Co. Negroni – Made from Two James Old Cockney Gin, a small batch custom amaro from Don Ciccio & Figli in Washington, D.C., a sweet vermouth from Rockwell Vermouth Co. in California, and citrus bitters from Vena’s Fizz House. All of those bespoke ingredients make Oakside’s Negroni a significant departure from the sunny original. It’s a cocktail clearly designed for all seasons. Instead of the bright and bitter aroma of classic Campari, this is something sultrier and more wine-forward yet still appropriately herbal and invitingly sweet. The palate is bold with baked rhubarb, dark licorice, and candied citrus notes that are again deeper and more nuanced than the recipe most Negroni fans might expect. The traditional lemony bite has been supplanted almost entirely with mildly tart berries and soft juniper. Not quite the classic, but still impressive for a big batch in a bottle. 8 cocktails per bottle. 52 proof. B+ / $50