Straight from the bottle
Explore the variety and possibilities of bottling your cocktails
A pre-bottled cocktail doesn’t just have to mean long-life, mass produced and generic; equally it doesn’t have to mean bottle-aged for seven years in a cellar. Cocktails can be fresh-bottled on site to retain effervescence, hold smokes, speed up service, or simply as an interesting alternative type of glassware. With customers looking for a point of difference, as well as faster drinks in high volume venues, bottling can be a great option.
If you’re looking for an interesting serve, bottling presents many opportunities for memorable presentations. An Alice-in-Wonderland ‘Drink Me’ serve was recently used at Diageo Reserve World Class China using an antique potion bottle and ornate label - an eye-catching drink that would immediately be popular in a bar.
One of the most popular drinks at Purl in London also uses a bottle serve to dramatic effect, adding applewood and pedro ximenez sherry smoke to a bottle of Mr Hyde’s Fixer Upper using a smoking gun. The bottle is then sealed with a cork and dipped in wax to make it air-tight. Customers crack the wax to release the aromatic smoke and savour the drink inside. An easier alternative is simply to bottle a fresh cocktail. I use 250ml bottles to serve a Fairy Tonic in Beijing - a light refreshing twist on a Sloe Gin Fizz that is shaken and strained into the bottle through a funnel whilst adding soda water - simple, but very popular.
Theatrics aside, bottles can be a practical way of speeding up service. Drinks without fresh juice or dairy products can be kept chilled for weeks or even longer to age for a deeper flavour profile, to easily be batch-prepared in advance and served from the fridge in their bottle. Not only that, with an air-tight closure, they can also be served carbonated for an added twist.
There are a number of ways to carbonate your bottled cocktail. Try mixing in soda water (this will dilute the drink), adding pressure with a soda siphon, using the Perlini-style pressurised cocktail shaker (before quickly decanting into the bottle), or even add dry ice or yeast. With dry ice, it is best to add to the drink in a plastic container with holes to release extra pressure. Keep moving the mixture to get the carbon dioxide to dissolve and when all the dry ice has been stirred in, decant into your bottle (please be exceedingly careful about the pressure in the bottles to ensure you don’t make a mess of your bar or customers, and of course observe the usual storage and handling precautions with dry ice).
If using yeast for a ‘bottle fermented’ cocktail, ensure there is enough sugar for the yeast, not too much alcohol (this will kill the yeast), and that the drink is kept at room temperature until fermentation has adequately carbonated the drink; then refrigerate to stop fermentation. Again, watch out for high pressure and experiment with the yeast dose until you get a consistent product before serving to customers. As with brewing, yeast will add many flavours as well as lightly carbonate the drink, so pick flavours that are complementary (gin, ginger and citrus for example). As an example, Jeff Josenhans at the US Grant hotel in San Diego has put together a “Cocktails sur lie” list, including ‘Le Grenade’ (Cognac, pomegranate, bay leaves, black pepper, fermented with Syrah yeast) amongst others.
As well as picking a suitable bottle, you also need to choose your closure. In the case of Purl’s Mr Hyde’s Fixer Upper, a waxed cork adds to the presentation, but is time consuming. Jeffrey Morgenthaler on the other hand, uses a crown capper to seal his “Bottled Broken Bike” at Clyde Common in Oregon - this is an excellent closure for retaining the fizz, as well as a good one for speed of service behind the bar. Swing-top closures are also great for serving closed bottles to customers as they’re easy to open and give a satisfying ‘pop’, while for larger serves (without carbonation), you can seal with a traditional wine cork - or even a Champagne-style stopper with cage.
So whether you’re serving sparkling Americanos in a high volume restaurant, or creating a decadent Chinese apothecary-style serve complete with crysanthemum dry ice fog and incense, there’s a bottle serve just waiting to be created.
Paul Mathew is a British bartender, drinks consultant and associate editor of DRiNK Magazine in Asia. He is based in Beijing, owns a bar in London, and regularly travels in-between looking at bartending styles and trends.