While the decadent atmosphere of an actual cocktail bar may still be some weeks off, it’s easier than ever to create exciting drinks at home. Lockdown has seen a boom in sales for premium spirits – drinks market analysts International Wine and Spirit Research forecast a 13 per cent increase in market share by 2024 – in part due to a surging interest in at-home cocktail-making.
There are now a dazzling array of kits on offer to help aspiring mixologists with their happy hour kitchen experiments, and we spent 16 hours finding and testing the best on the market.
The focus of our research was on kits that allow you to make your own drinks from scratch, rather than pre-made cocktails. Some of our selections come with bits of cocktail-making kit – like shakers, jiggers, stirrers and occasionally glasses – but all contain the base spirits and mixers for the suggested cocktail. You’ll need your freezer well-stocked with ice, and may need to add the odd fresh ingredient, like a lemon.
One thing to look out for when choosing your kit is how many drinks it makes, as this varies considerably and naturally impacts on price. Many cocktail boxes are made using miniatures, allowing customers to take a chance on something new without committing to a large bottle of spirit which might end up languishing in the cupboard.
Other kits do offer full-sized bottles, so a seemingly expensive option might actually end up good value in terms of cost-per-drink. In each case, we’ve specified what you’re getting for your money.
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The mojitos discovery kit
This company offers a dazzling array of kits to make everything from a bramble to a Long Island ice tea, but perhaps their most accessible is the mighty mojito. Containing all the necessary spirits for the classic Cuban version as well as two variations – a mint julep and a Bolivian mojito – this kit will make six drinks (coming in at under £6 each). Each of the three versions is genuinely distinctive, so sampling them all does indeed feel like a bit of a voyage of discovery. Handsomely packaged, we also loved the apothecary-style bottles the booze comes in, and the informative booklet which – as well as recipes – contains cultural and historical insights and serving tips. You’ll need to provide your own mint and limes, but these really add to the fresh taste that’s so central to the drink’s appeal.
Rhubarb and Ginger negroni cocktail experience
Specialising in letterbox-sized luxury cocktail boxes, Cocktail Man kits arrive beautifully-packaged in an Art Deco-style blue box. This one contains Conkers port barrel gin, Campari bitters and its own rhubarb and ginger “sliqueur”: a portmanteau for signature and liqueur, this is a mildly boozy vermouth-based syrup that gives the drink its unique flavour. From these ingredients you’ll be able to conjure four generously-proportioned drinks – each garnished with the dehydrated orange slices provided – plus one extra for a garden party gatecrasher (working out at £7 per drink). The company’s other kits cater to a range of tastes, from a fruity mango and passion fruit mojito to a more classic cosmopolitan – plus there’s a changing roster of seasonal offerings.
Manhattan gift collection
A heady, complex drink very evocative of the city for which it was named, the Manhattan is made with four key ingredients. This kit contains full-sized, premium bottles of the spirits, Woodford reserve whisky and Cocchi vermouth di Torino, plus Angostura Bitters and a delightfully retro-looking jar of Luxardo Maraschino cherries. You can really taste the quality of the ingredients on offer here and –although at the upper end of our price spectrum – this kit offers excellent value for money. Depending on which recipe you use (there’s a follow-along video on The Whisky Exchange website), you’ll get up to 15 cocktails out of this bundle: less than £5 a drink. If whisky isn’t your thing the company offers plenty of alternative kits, from more classic cocktails to bellinis and pina coladas.
Raspberry martini cocktail box
Blending botanical extracts and Alpine herbs, Austrian-made spirit Moose works well in a variety of different cocktails and the company sell kits to make their spin on drinks from mules to espresso martinis (the cheapest starts at £9 and is sold through Amazon). We tried one of its more complex offers: the raspberry martini. Although containing seven different ingredients it’s straightforward to make, merely a matter of using the supplied jigger to measure the right quantities from various dinky bottles into the stainless steel cocktail shaker. The resulting drink is moreish – fruity without being excessively sweet – and an alluring ruby red in colour. The kit will make at least four cocktails, with plenty of Moose left over to experiment with – an enclosed cocktail booklet provides ample ideas. Promoted as “the mountain spirit”, Moose put its money where its mouth is when it comes to sustainability, planting ten trees for every bottle purchased.
Espresso martini kit
Mr Black is a cold brew coffee liqueur made with arabica beans blended with Australian vodka and cuts a lot of the faff out of making espresso martinis, which ordinarily require freshly-brewed coffee. Their kit contains a 700ml bottle of Mr Black, plus one litre of solo coffee concentrate – all you need to make 11 cocktails. With an exceptionally rich and smooth taste, these are slightly less alcoholic than espresso martinis made using the conventional recipe, which generally also feature a double shot of vodka. But what’s lost in booze is more than compensated for in both flavour and caffeine, and the included cocktail shaker will make a useful addition to any home bar.
Lemon margarita set
Although margaritas are usually made with limes, this kit pairs Tequila Enemigo 89 with a lemon mixer made by Two Keys using Spanish lemons, which have a comparable sweetness to the traditional Mexican citrus. It’s a very fresh and drinkable combination, ideal for a summer picnic, and has the simplest serve of all our featured cocktails: just add crushed ice. The kit comes with some nicely-designed monochrome coasters and a bottle opener, plus enough mixer to make around eight margaritas – with plenty of tequila leftover. A multiple award-winning brand, it’s named for the number of iterations it took perfect it and is surprisingly sippable neat, with a rounded mineral taste and vanilla undertones.
Vesper martini cocktail box
South Downs-based business In the Loop makes its own vermouth – a fortified wine flavoured with botanicals – and offers a range of cocktail kits featuring its signature product. Made from vodka, gin and vermouth, the vesper martini is a classic cocktail that offers nowhere to hide: a drink without mixers, the quality of the spirits is everything. The company’s dry and delicate No. 18 Vermouth is paired here with a fragrant Sussex dry gin by Generation Distillers and Madame Jennifer’s bubble plate vodka, made in Hove. All come in beautiful bottles with distinctive labelling, and the kit also contains a copper-plated jigger and a recipe card – we also recommend chilling the glasses in the freezer before serving. The box makes three large cocktails, but bear in mind that martinis are bewilderingly strong. With each containing just under 100ml of neat alcohol, it’s with good reason that the legendary 20th-century wit Dorothy Parker suggesting drinking ‘two at the very most’.
St-Germain spritz kit
A citrusy liqueur made from elderflowers handpicked in France, St-Germain makes a light and refreshing cocktail out of a bottle of sparkling wine. This kit contains full-size bottles of each, plus the soda and lemon required for finishing touches – enough to make ten drinks. Also within the box are a St-Germain branded perspex carafe, plus two spritz glasses and pretty floral cocktail stirrers, which bring a touch of Parisian-style cafe culture to the serve. Heads, Hearts & Tails – a group of event specialists and bar consultants who’ve expanded into at-home drinks – also offer a comparably-priced old fashioned kit, plus bottled cocktails and virtual masterclasses.
The Full Emergency bloody mary kit
Part stylish joke, part cocktail kit – this would make an excellent gift for a friend who’s over-indulged at the home bar. The distinctive red steel tin evokes a vintage first aid kit – Alka-Seltzer and Berocca tablets are thrown in for good measure – and can be personalised with a name or date. Inside you’ll find two classic LSA highball glasses (each worth at least £10) and enough Absolut Vodka and Big Tom spiced tomato juice to fill them with generous servings of bloody mary – just add Tabasco to achieve your desired level of heat. Not-Another-Bill also offers an emergency cocktail kit, filled with your choice of premixed drinks and miniature spirits, plus an espresso martini gift set.
The verdict: Cocktail making kits
Just nudging the top spot are Taste Cocktails discovery kits, which offer plenty of bang for your buck. It’s good fun being able to string out the tasting process, trying a different version of the drink each evening – you could even buy one for a friend and compare notes over Zoom. The boxes are clearly put together by a cocktail-obsessed team, careful about getting the details right. We also enjoyed our first taste of the genuinely original Moose, and experimenting with the leftovers to make adapted versions of classic cocktails like the old fashioned. Worthy of special mention, too, is In The Loop’s crisply intoxicating vesper martini. This is perhaps the closest you’ll get to recreating the peerless version of the drink served at Dukes Hotel in London, Ian Fleming’s favoured haunt while he was writing the James Bond novels, and will doubtless leave you shaken – in a good way.
If you are looking for a slightly less complicated tipple check out our round-up of the best canned wines to pack in your picnic basket
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