On the Rocks: The 86 Company is Easy On The Eyes and The Tastebuds

Conventional wisdom has it that women are more easily seduced by the packaging of wines and spirits. True or not, does this mean that men don’t pay attention to bottles and labels? The founders of The 86 Company are betting that both they and their female colleagues behind the bar do, as their newly launched line of liquors has been conceived with the bottle firmly in mind. The spirit guides behind the company, gin master Simon Ford and legendary New York bartenders Dushan Varic and Jason Kosmas, say they have designed their packaging with and for bartenders of whatever gender. “We created one of the most user-friendly and functional bottles on the market,” they contend.

Among its many virtues, the liter bottle is designed with a tall neck for easier grabbing and pouring, a notched “middle grip” for smaller hands, a calibrated scale on the side for after-market use in dispensing syrups, infusions and the like, and even an easy-to-remove label. Is it a beauty? Not really, though the labels of the four products — gin, rum, tequila, and vodka — are clever and engaging. Should civilian consumers, unlikely to be concerned with repetitive-motion injuries, care? This is a case of the package announcing the quality of the contents, so “yes” is the answer.

As were all of the spirits, Fords Gin, distilled in London with aromatics from around the world, was conceived for mixing. But sniffed and sipped straight, it’s a little floral, faintly piney, and just plain pretty in a freshly scrubbed way. Used simply in a gin and tonic with aromatic Q tonic water, it comes across as just assertive enough; in more complex drinks it plays well with others.

Crafted in Panama, 86’s Caña Brava is immediately appealing on the nose, offering up a little heat tamed by coconut, polite molasses, and citrus. It’s also not meant as a sipper, yet here it yields appealing honey and orange. It cries out for inclusion in Tiki drinks — or anything associated with Hemmingway. Not rum and Coke, however.

I often consider myself an active vodka detractor. But, though it pains me to say it, the Aylesbury Duck Vodka, made from Canadian winter wheat, may change my mind. The makers say that it’s “spicy and grainy”, and I can’t disagree; there is a certain wheatiness that is immensely attractive. And it does make a killer martini — shaken, not stirred — with Dolin vermouth: 1:5, please.

Tequila Cabeza is the most compelling label in the 86 line, but the spirit is my least favorite. Yes, the specs are impeccable; I want to love it. The aggressive agave on the nose suggests standing up to tough mixers. I will keep trying. Yet three out of four is decidedly not bad.

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