Shaking things up: the case for pre-mixed cocktails

By Bloomberg Pursuits, June 4 2019

Order a martini at the Grill in New York City’s midtown Manhattan, and a strange thing happens. Instead of reaching for a bottle of gin, the bartender opens a freezer drawer.

Inside resides a selection of variations on the classic cocktail, pre-mixed and funnelled into rounded bottles that once housed Hibiki Japanese whisky. There’s a Gibson, a sherry-accented Tuxedo, and a deeper-hued Turf Club made with amber vermouth and Old Tom gin, each on the menu for $US20 ($A28.70). All the bartender has to do is pour.

The Grill’s approach is not an aberration. Bartenders are increasingly mixing cocktails ahead of service – or “pre-batching”, in industry parlance. Proponents say the practice results in a better cocktail that reaches the customer faster.

The Tuxedo – dry gin, fino sherry, orange bitters – at the Grill

By mixing in advance, bartenders can control the ratios of ingredients with precision, even accounting for the amount of ice that will later melt into the drink. It also gives them a chance to play with texture; stashing drinks in a freezer produces a slightly syrupy sip.

“It’s easier on the servers and allows us more time to talk to the guests and make sure they're having the best experience possible,” says Naren Young, creative director of downtown Manhattan’s Dante, which pre-batches all of the cocktails on its new Martini Hour menu.

While some customers may miss the pageantry of a bartender mixing, shaking, or blending their drink to order, most just want their beverage as quickly as possible. “We can put out a fantastic product without the show,” Young said. The bar is currently ranked No.9 on the World’s 50 Best Bars list.

At Mister Paradise, which opened in February in Manhattan’s East Village, owner/bartender Will Wyatt’s Café Disco is made with rye whiskey, olive oil, buckwheat, coffee, and absinthe, cooked in a sealed sous-vide bag, and then kept chilled in the freezer.

The result is a complex, earthy riff on an Old Fashioned, accented with subtle notes of coffee and herbs. Yet the presentation – in a rocks glass over a large cube of ice – is rather austere, especially when compared to other drinks on his menu, such as the Party Lobster, a festively pink, spicy Margarita shaken on the spot.

A growing number of bartenders are selling their cocktails outside the bar. Wandering Barman sells brightly labelled, single-serve flasks containing Vodka Pineapple Slings and Hibiscus Daiquiris to New York spots that might otherwise have a more limited drinks program, ranging from dive bars to pizza mainstay Roberta’s, in Brooklyn’s Bushwick.

The pre-batched Upside Down Dirty Gibson on Dante’s new "Martini Hour" menu.

In bars and restaurants, diners can expect to spend between $US10-15 for one of the company’s concoctions. They’re also selling to liquor stores, where demand for ready-to-drink cocktails is growing strongly, and to such hip hotel chains as Freehand and Dream, where the colourful bottles stand out as a playful mini-bar amenity.

It’s not always done properly. At Valerie, a new midtown Manhattan bar that emphasises its gin offerings, I spotted on the menu a $US24 bottled Martinez designed to serve two. When I inquire if I could have the same drink, but for a single person, I’m informed that it would be impossible; the bartender doesn’t know how to make it.

The gold standard for pre-batched drinks in New York right now is held by Brooklyn spots Maison Premiere and Sauvage. Bar director Will Elliott was inspired by a visit to London’s Bar Termini, where servers “would come out from behind the bar and pour mysterious cocktails at your table”, he recalls.

He sought to create a similar vibe at the two restaurants, contending that a bottled Martini, Stinger, or Manhattan is actually an upgrade to a freshly mixed drink. 

The Café Disco at Mister Paradise.

Pre-mixed drinks are more consistent, Elliott argues. Ingredients can be measured with absolute precision, including the amount of water added. Stirring with ice can result in a more diluted cocktail. Another benefit: Pre-mixed drinks can be stored in the freezer, which is particularly kind to martinis.

“There’s a common complaint that martinis aren’t cold enough,” Elliott says. Pouring one directly from the freezer eliminates the complaint and adds a pleasing viscosity to the drink.

While he understands that some people might miss watching their drink being prepared, that’s beside the point if the end result is superior. “You don’t go to restaurants and get a great meal on the fly,” Elliott explains. “Things get done in prep rooms long before people show up for the day.”

To compensate for the lack of theatricality, Elliott’s drinks are beautifully presented. The $US16 Sauvage Martini is served with a generous spread of potential garnishes: fat caperberries, a nasturtium blossom, an elegant ribbon of lemon peel, and a sprig of fresh herb.

If that pour doesn’t feel like a good value, Elliott says, something’s going wrong: “It’s like saying you wouldn’t tip on bottle service [by a sommelier], just because they didn’t make the wine,” he says. “Something still should be coming through - something captivating.”

Bloomberg Pursuits
Bloomberg Pursuits

Bloomberg Pursuits

Bloomberg Pursuits curates the best in cars, food, drinks, travel, watches and more for the modern globally-minded executive, and is republished under licence by Executive Traveller.

Aidan

Aidan

05 Dec 2018

Total posts 107

As long as quality is kept and more consistent, I’m all for it. Nothing like a vibe killer waiting for your drink when there is 10 cocktails made to order before you..

Also they can still do some theatrics with the glass decoration and adding the trimmings.

rob01

rob01

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

10 Nov 2011

Total posts 121

This is a big no for me. I'm not paying 25 bucks for something pre-mixed. There's great nuance in the taste of a great martini or negroni that's been made by someone who knows what they are doing. Plus maybe you like your drink a certain way, or with a certain gin or spirit.

Aidan

Aidan

05 Dec 2018

Total posts 107

That’s some good points.

Dredgy

Dredgy

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

02 Apr 2017

Total posts 115

Done this while working in hotels since I was 15. Generally it results in a higher quality cocktail as the mix is quite precise & is only spirit content (fresh ingredients such as juice are added in later). It's usually done on more complex drinks that have 5 or more ingredients in precise quantities, not on something as simple as Martini. That said if you like a drink a particular way it'd be made from scratch anyway. If you're paying $25 for a drink, you deserve to not have it take 5 or 10 minutes to make when it could be done in 30 seconds to the same quality.

I dropped the practise when I went into business for myself, but recently revived it after a competing restaurant kept trying to steal our espresso martini recipe

Racala

Racala

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

22 May 2018

Total posts 23

Not for me either... there is a cruise line that advertises that they have robots mixing cocktails/drinks.. for me it's watching the bar tender at work..and chatting to them whilst they doing their best..

Martin Eber

Martin Eber

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

05 May 2016

Total posts 8

Nothing wrong with this. Still some of the best cocktails I’ve ever had were at White Lyan (RIP), a bar that pre-batches everything, and used no citrus or ice!

Grannular

Grannular

31 Mar 2014

Total posts 287

I once took a short cocktail course as part of a party. One thing I will never forget is the instructor saying: The face a guy makes while shaking a cocktail, is the same face you make while having sex. I have never been able to look at a guy shaking a cocktail the same way again.

It is fun little stuff like that I will miss if premade becomes more common. The theatrics is half the fun.

Amt

Amt

12 Nov 2018

Total posts 5

Riddle me this Mr NYC, am I still expected to tip your bartenders that pour a drink from a bottle or sachet?


And when I do who gets it, the person who mixed it or who poured it, will the bartender get double the tips for being able to get drinks out twice as fast, can I be sure you didn’t buy it premixed, can I pour it in the glass and skip paying for the ‘service’ portion of the product that you’ve eliminated?


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