Products + Test-drives

Cocktail kits: Are they worth your time and money to play mixologist at home?

By The Editors | December 24, 2015 - 8:59AM 

'Tis the season for imbibing, and a handful of cocktail kit delivery services are eager to pour you a drink. (And with New Year's Eve just around the corner, they're perfect for at-home celebrating.) But in a city where liquor stores are as plentiful as ATMs—offering delivery, at that—is it worth your money? We tested a few of them to find out. 


Price: $37.50 per month for a monthly subscription, plus $12.50 for shipping. Total: $50.49. There are enough ingredients for four generously sized drinks, so it comes out to nearly $13 a drink.

The lowdown: Each cocktail recipe is created by well-known mixologists, and you get two recipes, and all the ingredients needed to make them, in a box. Ingredients include sample-sized bottles of alcohol (these aren't the name brand alcohols, think more small batches) and things like agave and simple syrup, as well as fresh fruit.  You can't choose your cocktails at the moment, so if you have a strong aversion to say, gin, and one of your drinks has gin you're out of luck. (We happen to like alcohol of all kinds, so it was no problem.) You can order one box or go for the monthly subscription and even if you go for the monthly subscription, you can cancel.
The kit ships mid-month and it took exactly a week to get to us in NYC (plus the company sent us a UPS tracking number to follow as soon as it shipped). Our kit came with a complimentary jigger, but you're expected to have items such as a cocktail shaker, jigger and strainer handy. Note: Because of the alcoholic contents, someone over 21 has to sign for the package, so if you don't have a doorman or are not around during the day, you may want to have it delivered to your office.
The experience: We really liked both of our cocktails—a bourbon, cider and apple cocktail called The Tender Nob, and a gin, club soda and cranberry concoction called the Holiday Gin Fizz. Both took quite a bit of muddling, but they only took about five minutes total to make each one. It was a little unclear how much agave to put in the drinks, since the recipe called for ounces and the packets had the amounts in teaspoons. We had to estimate a bit, but the end result was still delicious.
Bottom line: It's a tad pricey for at-home drinks, but it also feels special and fun to have a break from wine and drink a real, trendy bar-worthy cocktail at home. This could make a really fun gift for friends who are into cocktails or new parents who aren't finding much time to actually go out.
Number of stars (out of 5): ****
Price: Orders can be placed by subscription (as frequently or infrequently as you like for $39.99, including shipping) or a la carte (price depends on the cocktail). 
The lowdown: What if, instead of heading out to a bar, you could whip up your favorite bartender’s best cocktail at home? That’s the idea behind Cocktail Courier, a NYC-based cocktail delivery service offering door-to-door delivery of everything you need (fresh ingredients, garnishes, instructions, even bar tools and glassware if necessary) to make fresh cocktails for up to eight people in your own home. 
The experience: We narrowed the list of drinks by category, selecting “seasonal” for something, well, seasonal. Up popped the María Inés, a cocktail concocted by Craig Mrusek, bartender at Tender Bar + Kitchen in Pittsburgh. Inspired by a holiday fruitcake made annually by Mrusek’s Aunt Mary (hence its name), the drink is tequila-based; mixed with fresh pineapple juice, ginger cordial, cinnamon syrup, a dash of angostura bitters and a maraschino cherry.
We placed an order (six cocktails for $48) and scheduled a delivery time 48 hours later on a Saturday afternoon. The box from Cocktail Courier arrived right on time and we opened it to find a 375-milliliter bottle of Don Julio tequila, plus a bunch of plastic, labeled flasks of mixers, and a baggie of cherries, all packed with ice for freshness. The resulting bevvies were, in short, delish. Dangerously delish. (“Like juice!” our contributors' husband said after trying a sip.) 
Bottom line: It's great to try at least once, and on a per-cocktail basis, the price seems fair.  And the drinks are convincingly yummy.
Number of stars (out of 5): ****
Price: For subscriptions—$65 a month (mixers only); $130 to $200 a month (includes liquor and, for premium members, other bottles to round out a home bar). One-time-purchase kits run from around $65 to $185, depending on the cocktails and with or without the alcohol. Shipping is included.
The lowdown: Depending on your order, Crafted Taste sends (via FedEx for ours) a kit that comes with mixers such as agave nectar and simple syrup; special supplies such as cups—as with the mint julep kit; spices and add-ons such as cinnamon and lemon; and, if so requested (and paid for), actual full-sized bottles of liquor. You'll need to have your own shaker and jiggers. 
The experience: For starters, ordering was a breeze. The website is easy to navigate and is chock-full of information, so beginner mixologists won't feel like fish out of water.  The order arrived fairly quickly (about two weeks) in two boxes—the liquor came separately—and everything was carefully packed and labeled. (Our doorman signed for them.) The included instructions were clear and concise and fairly easy to follow for newbies (though the Lusty Lady needed egg whites, which was a slightly cumbersome complication), and also list other drinks you can make with the featured alcohol ingredient—in our case, gin. The directions don't say how many drinks the ingredients can serve, but suffice it to say there's plenty to go around. We opted for the St. Snowfall and the Lusty Lady Cocktail Kit—points for the intriguing moniker!—and weren't disappointed. Drink up!
Bottom line: Spendy compared to its counterparts; we looked up the price of the St. George Terroir gin that came with our full kit and it ranged from $36 to $39. Even accounting for this, and the bitters, which you can get for $19.99 a bottle, the price still seems a little steep. That said, we'd happily pay for a kit once in a while to sample drinks we ordinarily wouldn't opt for, given our very ingrained love for martinis and Pimm's cups (yes, we know it's not summer). And if your budget allows, a monthly subscription may still be worth it to expand your bartending repertoire and fill out an at-home bar. 
Number of stars (out of 5): ***


Price: $49.99 for a monthly subscription, though there's currently a special holiday price of $39.99. Between $50 and $60 for a round of cocktails, depending on the specific drink.

The lowdown: Instapour offers a variety of options, from "cocktails on demand" to a monthly subscription box to an "office happy hour" option. Each monthly subscription box comes with a bottle of booze, "Instapour gourmet cocktail blend," garnishes, and whatever cocktail tools necessary for the drink in question (shakers, jiggers, etc.). 
The experience: While we can't vouch for the on-demand service, our attempt to try out the monthly subscription model was, frankly, a bit of a disaster. To wit: As of last Friday, our editor still hadn't received the box she ordered over three weeks ago. (We'll update with a verdict on the cocktails themselves once she tries them out, but given that she was headed out of town and had ordered with enough time to spare, especially given a notice on the website promising delivery in three business days, it bears noting.) If you're not in a rush this might not be the end of the world. 
A few areas where things went awry: attempting to log into the site, which had mysteriously lost all record of her account after charging her credit card; contacting her so-called "cocktail concierge," who was largely unhelpful and unresponsive; and a shipping update from Instapour that contained no tracking information and said the box might arrive as a "surprise" on her porch, with seemingly no understanding of the real threat of package theft in NYC apartments. Ironically, the whole process is enough to leave anyone in need of a seriously stiff drink. 
Bottom line: If they work out the kinks, give them a try. 
Number of stars (out of 5): On ordering and delivery experience alone, we are disappointed; we'll update with the number of stars once our editor tries out the drinks.
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