Forget the ice cream man, here come the cocktail men.
In August, friends and bar and restaurant veterans Aaron Stepka and Taylor Gillaspie launched Drink Mechanics, a small-batch craft cocktail company that makes and delivers canned cocktails out of Simsbury. They deliver in the Greater Hartford area, and sometimes beyond (they say to contact them via their company’s website for deliveries elsewhere in Connecticut). They’ll arrive at your house in a converted former ice cream truck painted a sleek black.
Though they’ve yet to come up with a jingle to match the Mister Softee truck earworm, the business has been a success. Their cocktails are made with top-shelf spirits, bitters and fresh-pressed juices and offer a product that, after more than my fair share of samples, I can confirm is on par with top cocktail bars in the state.
It’s a business that could only have come to be in 2020, both owners say. “Over the last few years the [ready-to-drink] category of alcoholic beverages has been one of the fastest growing,” Stepka says. “With the pandemic and people staying home more, that category skyrocketed even more.”
The hard seltzers, canned margaritas and gin and tonics you’ll find at many liquor stores are all examples of RTDs that often have one thing in common, Stepka says, “They’re almost entirely composed of products that are made in a factory somewhere in large quantities with subpar ingredients.”
The friends mused about bringing their bartending expertise to the world of RTD drinks, but “breaking into that market as a little guy like us was virtually impossible until a few months ago,” Stepka says. “With the executive order that was passed by the governor in May that allows restaurants to offer cocktails to-go and for delivery, that afforded us the opportunity to create this product that we can deliver right to our customers.”
They operate out of the celebrated Millwright’s Restaurant in Simsbury, where Stepka’s brother-in-law, Tyler Anderson, is the chef and an owner. They started planning for the business in the spring, and though they both know cocktails, adding carbonation was a whole new world.
Developing recipes that worked was a process fraught with trial and error … “a lot of error,” Gillaspie says.
“I know far more about carbonation than I think I ever wanted to,” Stepka adds.
The majority of drinks are carbonated either with carbon dioxide or nitrogen, which both act as preservatives and lend slightly different flavors. Though most people drink the cocktails quickly, they can last at least two months.
The duo has worked out the kinks. A barrel-aged Manhattan that comes in a small bottle is as good as any barrel-aged cocktail I’ve had in a bar or restaurant, and the aperol spritz is another winning example of a classic. The Green Monstah, made with mezcal pineapple, celery, poblano pepper and lime, is a great mezcal-forward cocktail. The Kickstand is a customer favorite and a fitting fall drink made with sparkling apple cider from Rogers Orchards in Southington, plus bourbon, fresh ginger and lemon.
Though some offerings are more booze-forward than others, none of the cocktails are the sugary concoctions that power most RTDs. They range in ABV from 7 percent and less to 36 percent. Most of the cocktails come in an 8.5-ounce can, which is larger than the 5- to 6 ounces you’ll generally get in a cocktail at a bar or restaurant.
Legally, each order must include food, and they offer cookies based on family recipes and jerky made from brisket at Millwright’s without additives or preservatives.
The company mostly works directly with customers but are able to can signature cocktails for restaurants looking to strengthen their to-go options. They are also available for events.
Ultimately, they hope to build Drink Mechanics and get their own manufacturing space so they can expand to liquor stores.
“We kind of see ourselves like what the microbreweries were 20 years ago, but for cocktails,” Gillaspie says.
Delivery to Greater Hartford
Delivery hours: Fri. 3-9 p.m., Sat. 2-9 p.m., Sun. noon-6 p.m.