The liquor store shelves are littered with pre-mixed Margaritas, Daiquiris and a variety of other cocktails that are already mixed up and packaged in a convenient bottle. Most of these do not even require a second bottle of liquor, it's all inside.
While these Ready-To-Drink cocktails may be tempting because of their convenience the majority of the time they leave a lot to be desired, especially when put head to head against a freshly prepared cocktail. However, there are some exceptions and if you are going to take the easy route here are a few tips for finding a better pre-mixed cocktail.
- Don't be cheap - It's tempting, and that's part of the appeal of these drinks, however if it's a $5 difference, fork it over and thank yourself for caring about quality.
- Check the label for alcohol - Some of the bottles are very deceiving about if they do or do not contain liquor. Some are just the mix and you will need to add the base spirit yourself. Often, if they do contain liquor they'll say it loud and clear - "Tequila's Already Inside!" - but nothing is more disappointing than finding out there's none there when you get home and your liquor cabinet is otherwise bare. If you do have a well-stocked bar and are just looking for an easy mix some of the non-alcoholic bottlings are good to pick up. One brand I can recommend is Stirrings: with these you can go top shelf on your base spirit or experiment with, say rum in a Cosmopolitan or tequila in a Lemon Drop.
- Avoid the Creamy Mixes - Seriously, I can't stress this enough - with the exception that Kahlua Mudslide - these are almost guaranteed disasters in a bottle. I recall this one I saw at a party that was pale pink and the consistency of Pepto Bismol (it had to be some take on the Pink Squirrel or something similar) and it was not good for anyone who took a drink and had anything else that night. There are many good times to say "no" and that is one of them.
- Stick with brands that have a good reputation for straight distilled spirits - By this I mean that if you're going to go the easy way, choose a brand you trust. Reputable spirit producers like 1800 Tequila and Charbay start with a great base, whereas some of the bottlings produced by those not in the spirit business or even some of the chain restaurants are very disappointing.
- As "wine in a box" has a seedy reputation, so does a "bucket o' cocktail" - I have yet to find one of these (typically Margarita mixes) that are anywhere close to the real thing and to show up at a party carrying a bucket says "I'm cheap and do not care what we drink."
- Artificial ingredients? - Here's another shortcut some brands take, they will go with artificial ingredients and colorings to make their product seem more appealing. Most of the time, however these will be over sweetened and only look good, leaving you with a desire for "fresh" taste.