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Taste Test: Crafthouse Cocktails With CH Distillery Spirits

There’s an updated version of Charles Joly’s pre-mixed cocktails—is a bottle worth bringing on a picnic this summer?

Crafthouse cocktails   Photo: Ratko Radojcic

You probably can’t invite superstar bartender Charles Joly to leave the Aviary and come back to your house to mix up some drinks. But you can buy Crafthouse Cocktails, his line of bottled, pre-mixed drinks—they’re at Binny’s, Whole Foods, Mariano’s, and more Chicago stores.

Starting in late April, two of the three current flavors began to feature liquor from local CH Distillery. (Note: Nowhere on the bottle does it say that the two have collaborated. We asked why and were told it was to provide for a “seamless” transition from the old to new stock.)

We picked up a bottle of each for $19.99 at the new Goddess and Grocer in Bucktown, the first place to get the new bottles in stock, for a taste test—and found one that will make our summer picnic and potluck rotation.

Southside

The Southside cocktail may (or may not, its origins are disputed) trace its roots back to Chicago’s South Side, where Prohibition-era gangsters used the mix of mint and lime to mask the off taste of their bootleg gin.

And Crafthouse’s version does, in fact, mask the taste of the gin—so much so that the tasting panel lost any trace of the spirit thanks to a generous helping of mint. One taster said it smelled “like mouthwash,” and the first thing you notice is that it’s overwhelmingly sweet—so sweet that “it tasted like pineapple.” (Really. It did.)

The verdict? It’s a perfectly pleasant, crowd-pleasing option, and far better than most bottled-cocktail fare. But it’s quite sweet, and didn’t stand out to us as superior to something you could shake up yourself.

Moscow Mule

Initially, the prospect of a bottled Moscow Mule seemed a little conventional for a guy known for crazy-inventive cocktails. What could really be so great about ginger beer and vodka?

But Crafthouse’s blend is something special, in part because the ginger beer in question is one of the spiciest and strongest we’d ever tried. “I don’t normally like ginger in foods, but I like this. You get the burn but it’s not overwhelming,” a tester said. It resembled to the cult-favorite (and nearly impossible-to-find in these parts) Blenheim Ginger Ale. Think of a liquid version of candied ginger. Only one taster out of the group called the flavor “too strong.”

This is the bottled cocktail we’d buy again, the one we’d consider packing on summer picnics—unlike the Southside, it’s better than anything we could mix up ourselves.

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