Bar Talk: All Bottled Up

Bartenders reduce prep time and waste by mixing cocktails in advance.

Rieger’s Horsefeather, a bottled cocktail from Drum Room Lounge in Kansas City, Missouri, combines J. Rieger’s Kansas City whiskey with house-made ginger syrup and house-made lime cordial.
Rieger’s Horsefeather, a bottled cocktail from Drum Room Lounge in Kansas City, Missouri, combines J. Rieger’s Kansas City whiskey with house-made ginger syrup and house-made lime cordial.

Dealing with a deluge of wedding guests last summer at the Hilton President Hotel in Kansas City, Missouri, Drum Room Lounge bar supervisor Brock Schulte sought a better way to serve multiple cocktails that feature fresh ingredients. Ryan Valentine, beverage director at Columbus, Ohio–based Cameron Mitchell Restaurants (CMR), has often faced the same dilemma. While bar and restaurant patrons are increasingly opting for made-from-scratch cocktails, he’s found that “they don’t want to wait 10 minutes for a drink.”

An increasing number of mixologists around the country are bottling handcrafted cocktails to the acclaim of their guests. “People love them,” Valentine says. This winter, CMR’s Hudson 29 is offering the Blood Orange Margarita ($10 a 187-ml. bottle), made with Avión Reposado Tequila, blood orange purée and fresh lime juice. “It’s a great visual experience,” Valentine notes. “The use of carbonation changes the texture of the drink and provides the customer with a new experience, so we’re able to present a complex cocktail that doesn’t take a long time to make.”

Indeed, bottled cocktails—which are typically mixed up in large batches, often carbonated and then hand-bottled—help save bar operators time and money. Depending on the ingredients, the shelf life of these drinks can extend up to several weeks. Valentine, who began bottling drinks at CMR’s M restaurant in 2013, says it takes about 30 minutes for his staff to mix up a batch of 20 cocktails—far less time than it would take to make 20 individual drinks. “It’s more efficient in the end,” he says.

Bottled cocktails also ensure consistency and balance, keeping bar margins in check. Schulte notes that with the high staff turnover common at hotels, bottled cocktails like Drum Room’s Rieger’s Horsefeather ($11 a 187-ml. bottle)—a combination of J. Rieger’s Kansas City whiskey, house-made ginger syrup and house-made lime cordial—guarantee that guests can enjoy the same taste experience at every visit. Drum Room typically offers between three and five hand-bottled cocktails and usually sells 50 to 70 each week.

Chicago’s DMK Restaurants offers bottled cocktails at four of its venues—Fish Bar, Ada Street, County Barbeque and Henry’s Swing Club. In addition to being a time saver, the packaged drinks are “great for special events,” says beverage director Michael Rubel. He notes that at a recent off-site event, he was able to bring 100 bottled cocktails that were “fresh and ready to go.” Henry’s Swing Club has the largest bottled cocktail menu of the group, with up to six seasonal varieties available, all priced at $10 a 6-ounce bottle. The popular Vampiro cocktail comprises Lunazul Tequila, grapefruit juice and house-made sangrita.

Mixologists say there are a few drawbacks to bottled cocktails. “You have to build the prep time into the schedule, especially pre-shift,” Valentine explains. He and other bar professionals also caution that cocktails containing citrus and other juices can present challenges when it comes to carbonation and shelf life.

However, bottled cocktails can reap great consumer attention given their unique presentation. At Hudson 29, bottled cocktails are opened in front of the guest and then poured into a glass over ice, while Drum Room serves the drinks in a glass with ice and sometimes a garnish. But at Henry’s Swing Club, guests usually opt for the bottled cocktail sans glass. “Drinking a cocktail from a bottle is a unique experience,” Rubel explains. In fact, the club promotes a special that features four bottled cocktails ($36), served in a Schlitz beer bucket.

The bottled cocktail trend is likely to expand. Schulte has plans to add bottled Manhattans and Old Fashioneds to Drum Room’s drinks menu this winter, showcasing the venue’s more than 100-plus whisk(e)y offerings. CMR’s Valentine—who notes that a second location of Hudson 29 is debuting this spring in New Albany, Ohio—compares the practice to draft cocktails. “It’s a nice component to a drinks program,” he says. “Bottled cocktails are a great experience for the guest and allow an operator to make a unique presentation.”