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Friday, March 24, 2023

4 Cocktail Subscription Kits for Every Taste

There’s no shame in sipping Natty Light and slamming shots of Mellow Corn in these dark days, but by now drinkers far and wide are probably craving something a bit more elevated. But since you can’t go out to your favorite bar for a craft cocktail, why not bring it all to you?

Cocktail subscription kits have become a phenomenon of late. I counted at least a dozen options when researching this story, all promising some variation on a theme: We send you the ingredients, then you make the drinks yourself. While many of these kits are pretty basic—how hard is it to make an old fashioned, anyway?—the four represented here are the cream of the crop, each providing an upscale experience that might otherwise challenge the home barkeep.

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SaloonBoxBest for: The (eventual) traveler

SaloonBox’s subscription kit is something you can and should take on a plane, once you can actually go anywhere. This kit has everything you need to make two recipes, each serving two drinkers. The kicker is that no fresh ingredients are included, so there's no need to worry about fruit going bad.

The kit I received included two very different cocktails, including the cherry bomb (bourbon, honey, granulated lemon, and a full ounce of juice from the included jar of cocktail cherries) and the Oaxacan paloma (mezcal, agave syrup, Scrappy’s Firewater Tincture, granulated lime, and a small can of Q Sparkling Grapefruit soda). The use of freeze-dried citrus crystals had me nervous, but I was surprised how effective they were in the cocktails. They added plenty of acidity without coming across as phony. (The secret is a long dry shake before shaking again with ice.) I’m even considering picking up some of the packets for future citrusless emergencies.

SaloonBox’s drinks weren’t the craftiest, but they were definitely the most portable; the ingredients come packaged together in a box that can neatly slip into your carry-on.

A SaloonBox subscription costs $49 to $53 per month, shipping included, depending on the term of your prepayment. That’s roughly $13 per serving, which is pricey but not overwhelming. You’ll get better value from the company’s a la carte kits, which are available as one-off purchases for $83 to $95, each including a full bottle of booze along with all the fixins needed for 12 servings of a single cocktail.

Shaker & SpoonBest for: Le gourmand

Shaker & Spoon’s motto, emblazoned on its boxes, is “Cocktails you never knew you could make!” I thought that was hyperbole, but no: Each month’s box is a monster, filled with enough ingredients to make four servings each of three cocktails, all variations on a theme that incorporate a single spirit. The two boxes I evaluated each included a whopping 11 ingredients. For example, an Asian-themed box included gochugaru salt, gochujang-honey syrup, and a tiny vial of Som Pineapple Szechuan Pepper Cane Vinegar Cordial. Aside from the fresh lemons (three in the box), I don’t think I’ve ever mixed drinks with any of this stuff.

Sure enough, most of the cocktails are extremely unique. Assuming you prepare them correctly, each will likely remind you of an $18 libation served at a fancy speakeasy that prints the ingredients on its menus only in lowercase. In minutes I was infusing vodka, macerating dried apricots, and spritzing oils from tiny droppers before finishing my cocktails with chamomile flowers. I enjoyed some of the drinks more than others, of course, but they were all clearly designed with high-end precision by mixologists who knew exactly what they were doing.

A Shaker & Spoon subscription costs $40 to $50 a month, but there's a catch. It doesn’t include booze. Shaker & Spoon says this is for your benefit—they can ship nationwide, no signature required—but it does change the value calculus. That said, at about $4 per drink, Shaker & Spoon is actually quite cheap. A bottle of Smirnoff to round out a vodka kit will run you about $13, though you may find the shochu required for a different kit a bit harder to source. Ultimately, you’re only looking at another $1 to $2 per finished drink once you add the alcohol. Throw in another dollar tip for yourself for going the extra mile of procuring the booze, and it’s still a great deal.

EastBevCoBest for: The Asiaphile

Like Shaker & Spoon, newcomer EastBevCo doesn’t include booze in its kits—for the simple reason that the upstart operation doesn’t have a liquor license. The twist here is that every monthly kit is designed exclusively around Asian ingredients, so stock up on soju, sake, and Suntory products before you place your first order.

Just like Shaker, each month EastBevCo provides enough ingredients for four servings of three different cocktails, but the drinks are considerably simpler, at least in the kits I’ve tested. The recent sojupolitan is, well, exactly what it sounds like, with the addition of an unusual Korean pear juice, while the melona has you whipping up soju with simple syrup, lime, and honeydew juice—an elevated Midori sour. If you like Asian flavors but are skittish about putting sesame oil and Asian chili peppers in a cocktail, EastBevCo presents a less adventurous option.

An EastBevCo subscription will cost $45 to $50 per month, depending how long you subscribe for. The subscription gets you out the door for $4 a pop, just like Shaker.

Sourced Craft CocktailsBest for: The true barfly

Sourced Craft Cocktails offers a distinctly different spin on the DIY cocktail concept, and while it’s not a subscription per se, the kits are definitely worth a look. Real bartenders (who aren’t working in real bars right now) make each mixer by batching together all the fresh ingredients, syrups, bitters, and the like, then personally deliver two bottles to your door: a bottle of the batched mixer and a full bottle of booze, which is enough for a dozen or so drinks.

I tried two of Sourced’s drinks, including the evening standard (Sazerac Rye, homemade apricot demerara syrup, and Chinese five-spice bitters) and the soul rush (Tullamore D.E.W. Irish Whiskey, fresh squeezed lemon juice, homemade elderflower syrup, and Elemakule tiki bitters). I found them to be solid experiences, though I ultimately dialed the mixer down a bit on both. Garnishes aren’t included in the kit, but you do get a jigger, and oddly, four plastic cups, which is great if you’re having this delivered poolside.

Source Craft Cocktails cost $65 to $97 per drink (roughly $5 to $8 per serving). Shipping, which involves a bartender driving to your house, is free. The current menu includes 12 cocktails, but this is fluid. The biggest catch? Most of the mixers will only last about five nights in the refrigerator, and Sourced is only available in select cities—currently Austin, Dallas, New York, and San Francisco.

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