Are bottled and pre-batched cocktails more than just a trend?

Jeffrey Morgenthaler of Portland’s Clyde Common bar famously barrel-ages Negronis, Manhattans and Tridents, with an emphasis on technique and tight recipes. Barrel-ageing cocktails can alter the drink’s character by pulling flavours into the drink through infusion (picking up flavours from the wood), extraction (the wood reacts with the acidity of the cocktail) and oxidation; marrying ingredients unlike anything you could get in a fresh cocktail.

Of course there is an art, to barrel ageing in particular, with a risk of experimentation costing a barrel load of stock. However, Andy Griffiths at Melbourne’s Cookie bar has addressed this with ‘inverse barrel-ageing’: using sections of old French oak which are charred, added to the spirit mixture, and then aged before being swilled with other spirits. Likewise, at The Columbia Room in DC, Derek Brown adds wood chips to maple syrup which he then uses in pre-batching, creating a woody flavour with a quicker ageing process. In short, ageing produces premium, exciting drinks, but those that are presented as a serve we associate with something much simpler. 

It’s fair to say that pre-bottling and batching cocktails offers a very unique customer experience, which Hoxton’s White Lyan bar (right) has spearheaded with a view to transform cocktail culture. Ryan Chetiyawardana, formerly of London’s Purl Bar and Edinburgh’s Bramble Bar, which have both showcased bottle-aged cocktails, launched the sustainable White Lyan which is unique in that it remains free of any perishables and has minimal waste, with handcrafted bottled cocktails that leave staff with more time to interact with customers.

In fact, Chetiyawardana says the traditional barman has no place there. Rather, he is able to serve customers the same tasting cocktails, every time, leaving more time to talk to them about what they’re drinking. But this type of drink doesn’t solely serve an intimate bar cocktail ‘culture’, as hip late night venues stateside are testament to the quick serve of pre-batched and bottled cocktails in clubs.

Michael Mina, 74 at Fontainebleau Miami Beach, a nightlife venue which serves only barrel-aged and bottled cocktails over ice, says that 25-35 percent of people are drinking specialist bottled cocktails there; deemed ‘Fizzy Lifting Drinks’.

Better cocktails are served swiftly, and the serve itself is something that can be utilised and adopted for different environments. The bottle serve has become notably popular at trendy hotels including London’s Raffles Hotel, the Ace Hotel in Downtown LA and the rooftop Stratus Lounge at Philadelphia’s Hotel Monaco, where the bottles come in larger, sharing sizes. Now infamous, some of these bottled cocktails have, in some cases, become part of a brand, entering the retail market and sold outside of the bar.

The aforementioned Ryan Chetiyawardana has his range of Mr Lyan bottled cocktails at Selfridges, including the Candlelit Manhattan and Bonfire Old Fashioned; a natural evolution of the very popular and consistent bar-branded bottled cocktail.

While our discussion had inspired many to shake off their loyalty to the razzmatazz of mixologists, some may still be unconvinced. One observer at the workshop lunch said: "I just like watching my cocktail being made. It’s part of the experience and it’s fun to watch." This contemporary service approach might not suit every business or indeed consumer, but may be something to trial given that it ultimately promotes efficiency, saves money and increases revenue whilst retaining the premium qualities that make people buy them in the first place.

The bottled cocktail is itself a drink to behold, and one that is in demand; largely for its association with the modern bar and progressive drinking culture, but equally for the richness of its aged flavours. For the right establishment, pre-batching and bottling creates profitability beyond its fashion. Not just a passing trend, it has become a staple of acclaimed menus all over the world.