The first written reference to Scotch whiskey was made nearly 530 years ago in 1494. Ever since then, whiskey makers, drinkers, and mixologists have been writing down different recipes and formulations for both the perfect whiskey and the perfect whiskey cocktail. Today, drink experts are learning and sharing the secrets to a perfect canned whiskey cocktail as well. While the debate is part of the fun, having a solid knowledge base about what makes whiskey good can make your hobby, or even your next evening drink, more enjoyable.
Knowing what notes, flavor profiles, and ingredients to look for in a single shot of whiskey and a classic whiskey cocktail, like an old fashioned, will make the drink more enjoyable and the complex tastes more discernible. Let us guide you through the three most important characteristics in a whiskey that’s destined to be used in a whiskey cocktail and how to make sure you have a whiskey with those must-have characteristics. We’ll also explore why a canned whiskey cocktail can quickly become your favorite drink.
Canned Whiskey Cocktail or a Fresh Mixed Drink: What Every Whiskey Cocktail Needs
Good whiskey is the secret to a well-made whiskey cocktail, and there’s no way around it. You can’t fake good whiskey, and you can’t hide bad whiskey behind other spirits, liqueurs, or flavors. Whether you want a drink at your favorite bar or that same experience at home with your feet propped up, it all starts with real whiskey that’s good enough to drink by itself.
Three Characteristics That Will Make or Break the Whiskey in Your Whiskey Cocktail
Whether you’re new to drinking whiskey or to the art and science of discerning different types, there are a lot of characteristics you can use to describe your favorite one. For example, you might differentiate between whiskey and whisky—the former generally being made in Ireland and the USA, and the latter generally being made in Scotland, Canada, and Japan. You might care about what Scottish region your Scottish whisky came from, or you might want triple-distilled whiskey from Ireland.
But when it comes to choosing the right whiskey for a cocktail, there are three characteristics that matter most:
1. The Type of Grain
Whiskey is distilled from grains, and which grains the manufacturers use will have a dramatic impact on the final flavor. In fact, the three major types of American whiskey are categorized based on the type of grain used:
- Bourbon: Bourbon must be made from at least 51% corn, and it must sit in new (not used) oak barrels.
- Rye: American rye is made from at least 51% rye grain.
- Wheat: Sometimes considered an offshoot of rye, American wheat whiskey needs to be at least 51% wheat.
You may come across blended grains or single malt and single grain bottles. If you want to know more about your favorite brands, look up their mash bill. The mash bill establishes the grain combination if you’re drinking a bourbon or other multigrain spirit. Single-grain options will use just a single type of grain, but multigrain bottles may have a high-rye mash bill or a high-corn mash bill.
2. The Distillation Process
Distilling is the process of heating the fermenting whiskey and letting it condense back into a liquid, which increases the alcohol content and brings out volatile compounds. Depending on the manufacturer and the type of whiskey, brewers might use a pot still or a column still. Scotch whiskey is distilled twice, while Irish whiskey is distilled three times. Whiskeys that have been distilled more times will be smoother, but they often lose some complexity and flavor range.
3. Cask Maturation
Cask maturation is both a legal distinction and a flavor choice. To be considered real whiskey or whisky, brews must sit in casks for a minimum of three years. Strictly speaking, American bourbon should sit in new (unused) charred oak barrels, but other whiskeys can use those same bourbon barrels.
Some brands also use different barrels from other aging processes, such as sherry barrels. While rules and preferences vary, there is one core principle here: whiskey should be aged in barrels, and whiskeys that are too young or were aged at an accelerated pace simply aren’t the same.
All of these rules are to say that, while there are certainly bad whiskeys out there, there is no single “right whiskey” for every single drink or mixed drink. Instead, mixologists spend years discovering the subtleties of different whiskeys to decide which barrel and bottle are the perfect fit for a given brew. If you want to create your ideal whiskey cocktail within your at-home bar, you need to know every flavor profile involved.
In addition, there are a few must-have features that high-quality whiskeys and whiskey cocktails share. If you’re shopping around and looking for an RTD cocktail you can trust right off the shelf, look for one that has these attributes:
- A high-rye mash bill: Rye and corn create different notes, and high-rye options have the perfect notes for an old-fashioned.
- At least three or four years of aging in a barrel: Accelerated-aged whiskeys often taste hollow. They lack the rich smoothness of properly aged whiskeys.
- It’s accompanied by authentic, 100% real ingredients: When it comes to cocktails, the other ingredients around the liquor need to be as good as the liquor itself. Properly made bitters, high-quality demerara syrup, and orange zest from real orange oil (not artificial flavorings) are a must.
Canned Whiskey Cocktail Options Make It Easy
Sourcing the right whiskey for an old fashioned cocktail is just as challenging as finding your favorite for drinking straight. So instead of becoming a professional mixologist, experimenting with countless brands and mash bills, and getting frustrated with the process, we recommend opting for a canned whiskey cocktail.
With a canned cocktail in your fridge, you can enjoy an old fashioned at any time, without having to head out to a busy bar or try to mix one up at home. Instead, you can simply pour your favorite drink into a glass and relax.
It’s recommended to research high-quality brands with the right ingredients and concentrations. Competitions like the San Francisco World Spirits Competition and the SIP International Spirits Competition can filter out all the would-be winners and give you a clear list of the best brands for ready-to-drink cocktails of all types.
Advantages of Buying a Canned Whiskey Cocktail Instead of Mixing One Up at Home
Both whiskey connoisseurs and people who have tried canned liquor before might hesitate before agreeing that a canned whiskey cocktail is indistinguishable from one freshly made by a bartender. But when you find a brand that cares about the quality of its ingredients and gives you an old fashioned with the right concentrations of bourbon whiskey for a 74-proof drink, they’re identical. In fact, there are some advantages that only a canned whiskey cocktail can give you.
A Professional Mixologist Crafted the Recipe
An expert mixologist, or even a whole team of passionate experts, made your drink. That’s a guarantee of quality that you can’t always find at a local bar. In fact, you can check the can for the exact recipe. For a double, it should include three ounces of bourbon whiskey (high-rye mash bill preferably), 1/3 ounce of syrup, four dashes of high-quality bitters, and a hint of orange zest.
You Get the Right Proportions and the Right Strength
Is getting the mixture just right a problem with your current at-home bar cart and shaker? Do you feel like you’re not getting the full-strength experience when you go out? When you buy a canned old fashioned, you know that it contains the right combination of ingredients in the right proportions, leading to a 74-proof double in every can.
Have Fun With Your Old-Fashioned
Maybe going to a bar with hard liquor isn’t your style. Maybe you want to indulge in an old fashioned while watching your favorite show or you want to invite someone in for drinks. RTD cocktails make it easy to drink whenever and wherever you like.
Whether you’re having a get-together with friends, a movie night, or an elaborate social event, a canned cocktail is ready at home with limited prep work required.
Experiment With Your Favorite Drinking Style, Not the Recipe
There are lots of different ways to drink both bourbon and bourbon cocktails. You might want it room temperature, chilled, served over ice, or topped with a maraschino cherry. Not sure what your favorite is yet? With a canned whiskey cocktail, you can easily experiment with different serving styles—without the inconvenience of shaking up multiple drinks or paying a long bar tab.
It’s Ready and Waiting for You
Ultimately, the best thing about a canned whiskey cocktail is that it’s ready for you to drink. High-quality, well-crafted RTD cocktails stay shelf-stable for months, specifically canned to prolong the authentic ingredients without any artificial substitutes. When you want a complex cocktail, it’s already there.
Be a Canned Whiskey Cocktail Expert—Enjoy Your Drink
Knowing the different factors that impact whiskey makes drinking it more fun. You know more about the flavor profiles, the different distinctions, and how to tell a good whiskey from an iffy one at a glance. More than that, knowing which whiskeys can make a bar-quality cocktail helps you find a canned old fashioned you can trust.
At Post Meridiem, we make all of our old fashioneds with high-rye mashbill bourbon that’s been authentically barrel-aged for at least three or four years. It goes straight from the barrel to the can, blended with award-winning bitters, real orange zest oil, and sweet demerara syrup. Order a round online so you have them ready for you at home.