Before Covid-19 changed the face of on-premise dining, Daniel Appel hadn’t experimented much with pre-batching and pre-bottling cocktails at Playa Provisions in the Los Angeles suburb of Playa Del Ray, California. But when the pandemic brought in-person service at his beachside bar and restaurant to a halt, the assistant general manager got creative to stay afloat, and selling batched, bottled cocktails quickly became a mainstay. A year later, Playa Provisions offers two bottled cocktails and six canned specialty drinks, and the offerings dominate sales.
“Guests love the availability and ease of grabbing a quick drink they can take anywhere,” Appel says. “During our first shutdown last year they became incredibly popular. Last fall we switched to our current canning program and have since been able to sell more individual and complex cocktails. We didn’t offer any batched drinks before Covid-19 but during our second shutdown we replaced our entire bar program with canned drinks, and by the end of that shutdown we were seeing similar sales numbers to before the shutdown. We advertise canned and bottled drinks on our pickup menus and online ordering platforms. We have canned drinks featuring rum, Tequila, vodka, whisk(e)y, and even cold-brew coffee.”
Playa Provisions’ top-selling drink is the Del Ray ($12), made with Cazadores Blanco Tequila and Grey Goose vodka, mixed together and infused in-house with jalapeño, Fresno, and serrano peppers, and then shaken with cucumber extract, lime juice, and agave syrup. The Brighter Days ($12), made with mint- and lime-infused Tito’s vodka, Lo-Fi Gentian amaro, lime juice, and simple syrup, is also popular. Both drinks are individually canned. “Bar programs have always had aspects of pre-batching so that’s nothing new, but if alcohol is going to remain available to be sold as a to-go item, bartenders will be creative with batching,” Appel says. “If ever there was a time to get pre-batched drinks out to the masses, it’s now.”
At The Underdog in New York City, general manager Brooke Baker says each of her 12 specialty cocktails has some element of batching. Some of The Underdog’s popular drinks include the Peanut Butter Old Fashioned, made with peanut butter fat-washed Bulleit rye, Jack Daniel’s Old No. 7 Tennessee whiskey, Giffard Banane du Brésil liqueur, and honey, and the Dark’n Warmy, mixing Gosling’s Black Seal rum, Bitter Truth Golden Falernum liqueur, house-made ginger syrup, lime juice, and hot water (each is $22 for a bottle that serves two drinks). The Old Fashioned is completely batched but the Dark’n Warmy is bottled with the spirits and ginger syrup, and guests are instructed to add the provided lime and hot water when they get home. “We make our bottled cocktails and batches every few days so they retain their freshness,” Baker explains. “Speed and consistency are the greatest benefit. We increased our number of batched cocktails during Covid-19.”
All manner of on-premise venues experimented with batching and bottling cocktails over the last year, even distilleries with on-site bars. Kansas City’s J. Rieger & Co. benefited from substantial financial gains by launching a batched drinks program during the pandemic. The distillery has sold more than $83,000 worth of bottled cocktails so far. Popular offerings include the Old Fashioned ($40 for 8 servings), a classic served on draft that mixes Rieger’s Kansas City whiskey, Angostura Aromatic bitters, and sugar, and the Seasonal Gin & Tonic ($30 for 6 servings), mixing Rieger’s Midwestern Dry gin and house-made spiced hibiscus-orange tonic. “It’s going really well,” says Andrew Olsen, the national beverage director for J. Rieger & Co. in Kansas City, who adds that the distillery didn’t offer any batched cocktails to-go prior to the pandemic but expects them to remain a permanent part of the business going forward. “It’s unique for guests to have a cocktail off the menu in our lounge and then be able to walk away with that same cocktail in a bottle from our gift shop. They’re excited to be able to bring them home.”