The benefits of pre-bottled cocktails
Pre-batched cocktails are quickly being adopted by a number of innovative bars, allowing their bartenders to establish a rapport with their guests, while serving a flawless drink, writes Tom Aske.
The bar industry is in full swing with innovation, investment and an incredible pool of talent. So why then do we see an increasing number of bars opting to reduce theatricality and the rattle of the shaker?
Instead, a variety of bars are favouring days spent filling bottle after bottle of pre-batched cocktails, much like a commercial production line or bottling plant.
As a young bartender learning the trade and mixing cocktails for the first time, I found myself in the grips of a consumer culture just beginning to appreciate the allure of the Old Fashioned and Mojito – a common scenario in the late 90s but a bartender’s nightmare when facing a wall of thirsty guests. Meanwhile, the bar supervisor has called in sick having been out for “a couple” the night before, leaving you a man short and in the weeds. Oh, the memories.
“Ten Old Fashioneds!” came the cries as I slowly ground the sugar and bitters into a paste before dissolving through the addition of Bourbon and ice, a little at a time.Ten minutes later and with £50 in the till (they were also a lot cheaper back then) I felt I had given the guests good service, providing them with what they craved in theatre, albeit with distinctly average banter.
Fast forward some 15 years and the reality dawning on the industry is that a guest wants even more interaction, to talk to the bartenders and feel empowered and educated about their drinking choices. And that’s exactly what Ryan Chetiyawardana hopes to achieve with White Lyan. The potentially industry-changing ethos at the unconventional bar in London’s Hoxton, where perishables such as ice and citrus are outlawed in favour of a definitive, short menu of pre-batched cocktails, removes the majority of visual mixology so bartenders can focus on conversation and interaction with guests. The benefits of this are enormous.
“Batching cocktails allows the bartender the chance to completely control the repeatability of their serve, which is balanced each and every time,” Chetiyawardana says. “It also allows the bartender to finely tune the cocktail. Dashes of potent ingredients, such as absinthe, can be carefully measured in easier quantities. Most importantly though, it increases speed, allowing the bartender more time with their guests.”
Let’s also consider the business benefits of a pre-batched cocktail bar. Firstly, removing any perishables leads to a business with near-to-no waste, whereas a standard cocktail bar could be factoring in around 0.5% to 1% of sales in waste alone.
Depending on the size of the venue this can reach thousands of pounds per year. You then have the reduction in staff costs, as with everything ready-made there would be minimal staff requirements on service. The customer also benefits from consistency, a key feature of any successful bar. The ratio of spirits, acids and salts are perfectly balanced every time and both diluted and chilled to perfection. The guest is guaranteed that their drink will taste exactly as it had on their previous visit, something that is very difficult to provide in a conventional bar environment.
The practice of pre-batching cocktails could provide us with the ultimate bar; almost robotic and precise to the point of being flawless. It brings an increased interaction between bartender and guest, balanced cocktails and ludicrous speed of service.
The trend of batching and simplifying the bartender’s life seems to be spreading far and wide with the introduction of high-quality bottled cocktails emerging across the globe and causing a stir along the way.
Jamie Boudreau of Canon in Seattle currently lists seven bottled cocktails on his menu, all of which change regularly. His thought process behind batching cocktails is down to the barrel ageing that takes place prior to bottling. By bottling and essentially stopping the interaction between wood and alcohol, Boudreau is able to extract the cocktail when he is sure it’s perfect, and avoid over ageing.
“In our case, the cocktail has been aged and, therefore, already mixed, or has been carbonated and, therefore, needs to be bottled for maximum effect,” he explains.
In Athens, cocktail aficionado Yiannis Korovesis has started a bottled cocktail selection at Osterman with bottled Negroni and El Presidente cocktails sitting alongside the more experimental South of Heaven, a competition-winning Skinos Mastiha-based cocktail. Korovesis also sees benefits to Athenian bar culture embracing the bottled cocktail trend. “Bottled cocktails could work perfectly in overcrowded Athenian bars and wonder why they haven’t hit them yet,” he says. “I expect them to be a massive craze in the next six months”.
A new breed of cocktail bar?
While the trend is growing it’s unlikely it will entirely replace the allure of a standard cocktail bar. After all, it would be a shame to see the theatre of the bar becoming a thing of the past; the rattle of the shaker or the flowing flames of a Blue Blazer replaced simply by a home-branded bottle. There is, however, potential for crossover, combining the service-driven benefits of batching with the traditions and theatre of the classic bartender to encompass everything that a guest is looking for.
“While batching helps speed up service and ensure consistency in the most trying of circumstances, it is still important to remember that there does need to be some show in bartending,” warns Boudreau. “Everything that we bottle is done because there is no point to preparing that drink ‘a la minute’.”
Bottling the constituent ingredients of a Manhattan or Martinez at its full strength will require the bartender to stir or shake the drink to completion, all the while putting a smile on the guest’s face.
The production time is halved, the business prospers and the guest has interaction. All the while the bartender remains both mixologist and host – something that you cannot put a price on.
Click to the next page to discover Tom Aske’s top five tips for making pre-batched cocktails.
Top five tips for making pre-batched cocktails:
Tom Aske, co-founder of Fluid Movement, the group behind London’s Worship Street Whistling Shop and the new Surf Side in Polzeath, Cornwall, gives his advice on how to create quality pre-batched cocktails that pour perfectly every time.
- Consider bottling non-perishables only. If citrus fruit is to be bottled, ensure the abv of the total mix is around 25% to be preserved by the alcohol.
- Use acids to replicate fruit. Malic acid is a great replacement for apple or citric acid for citrus fruit.
- High abv bottled cocktails will have an almost indefinite shelf life. Drinks, such as a Manhattan, will last in bottle for years, often softening and improving with time.
- It is beneficial to wax seal the bottles of low alcohol, pre-bottled cocktails to limit the interaction with oxygen and prevent spoiling.
- Use the opportunity to create bespoke labels and brands. It is conceivable that these products can become commercially available retail products.