We review Charles Joly's Crafthouse cocktails

The Aviary's Charles Joly released bottled Crafthouse cocktails this weekend.

The Aviary's Charles Joly released bottled Crafthouse cocktails this weekend.

On Friday, Aviary bartender Charles Joly launched Crafthouse, a line of bottled cocktails available at Binny’s and other places around town. Joly, who was just named American Bartender of the Year at Tales of the Cocktail, teamed up with Matt Lindner, a partner in Three Headed Productions, which owns the Drawing Room and other bars. Joly told us he wanted to “”take the guesswork” out of making cocktails, and Crafthouse’s first offerings are a Southside, a Moscow Mule and a Paloma, which you pour over ice and—if you want to add an “epicure’s touch”—garnish with fresh mint or a lime wheel.

While we’re all for new products by Chicago bartenders, here’s the problem—the cocktails aren’t very good. And at $19.99 for a 750 ml bottle, that’s a big problem.

Before heading to Ravinia on Saturday night, we stopped by Binny’s to pick up the Southside and Moscow Mule (the Paloma isn’t out yet). We chilled the bottles at home, put them in the cooler and grabbed cups and ice. Easy, but no harder than packing a bottle of vodka and a six pack of ginger beer and making Moscow Mules ourselves.

The Southside, made with gin, sugar, lime and “natural mint flavors,” just tastes like alcohol, and it wouldn’t be clear what kind unless I already knew what I was drinking. There’s no nuance to the drink, and there’s a lingering, unpleasant aftertaste from the mint flavor.

The Moscow Mule, made with vodka, ginger beer, sugar and lime, was more successful. It tasted balanced and there was a little bite from the ginger beer, though it was definitely toned down from the spicy ginger beer-based cocktails you find at bars. While overall the drink was better than the Southside, the Moscow Mule is a cocktail that’s extremely easy to make at home. Especially if you’re taking the advice on the bottle and garnishing the drink—if you’re already slicing lime wheels, how hard is it to open a bottle of ginger beer? It’s also cheaper to make your own, and, we’d argue, better.

We suspected that citrus might be the biggest problem, since both cocktails use lime juice. Freshly squeezed citrus doesn’t last long, and the shelf stabilizing process means that the bottle can last on the shelf for a year. Or maybe it’s the proportion of ingredients, the base spirits or the mint flavoring.

Joly told us last week that he hopes to eventually bottle some original cocktails. When that happens, we’ll try Crafthouse again. But until then, we’ll stick with making these drinks on our own.

RECOMMENDED: Chicago goes to New Orleans for Tales of the Cocktail.

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Laura Baginski, Editor (@TimeOutChicago)