We really love to have an evening cocktail in our house. There was once a time when it was a relaxing ritual - flipping through cookbooks or blogs, picking out a drink that matched the mood of the day, mixing it up in stylish barware, and maybe taking a picture. or two before sitting down and sipping it quietly.
Then we had a child. And while it has undeniably made our lives happier in countless ways, its rise to toddler age has definitely put a damper on cocktail hour. Taking her attention away long enough for me to squeeze in and make drinks is a challenge in itself, and if I can, it becomes a race against time.
So early in the pandemic, when the daycare was closed and the general state of the world made drinking at night a necessity, I started bottling cocktails. It's an incredibly easy thing to do, and if you choose the right kind of drink, it will taste just as good in the bottle as it did when you first mixed it. Bottled cocktails are great for a quick drink, but they also make fantastic gifts. So, with the holidays coming, I thought I would do a little tutorial.
The best cocktails to bottle are cocktails without juice. All juices can go bad over time, and their flavors can also change over time as bitter compounds begin to form. But high-alcohol alcohol blends can stay good for weeks - even indefinitely, if there is no syrup or vermouth. It's a good idea to keep them in the refrigerator to slow oxidation and help preserve the more perishable ingredients in the mixture. Flavors can change over time, but you might find that you appreciate the difference - the “bottle aging” of cocktails is a technique for marrying and softening the flavors of a drink. Great cocktails to bottle include the Negroni, Manhattan, Old fashioned, and Martini, as well as their many variations.
When bottling cocktails, you can make them as you would if you were going to drink them immediately by stirring them with ice. But it's a bit impractical, especially if you are creating a larger volume. Since you won't be drinking the cocktail right away and will be storing it in the refrigerator, you can simply add water to get the proper dilution. One way to make sure the amount of water is to your liking is to make a test cocktail and measure it before and after stirring. I find that adding 1/2 ounce of water per 3 ounces of cocktail is perfect.
If you are making a large amount of drinks, multiply each ingredient by the number of cocktails you plan to make. Let's say you want to make a bottle of Negronis. A Negroni is a 3 ounce cocktail, so your batch version will be 3.5 ounces when you add that 1/2 ounce of water to dilute it. If you have a 32-ounce bottle, that's room for 9 cocktails. Mix 9 ounces of gin, 9 ounces of vermouth, 9 ounces of Campari and 4.5 ounces of water together and fill the bottle. And you are done! Nine Negronis will be waiting for you in the fridge. When you want one, pour it directly over the ice and garnish.
The drink I have bottled the most at home is Boston Brahmin. This is a recipe that I invented after trying a Banana Boulevard that a friend posted on Instagram. It's a ridiculously delicious cocktail, like a Negroni that took a Caribbean vacation. My husband asks for it more often than anything. When I have a bottle in the fridge, it's easy to pour one for him, even with a toddler under his feet.
1 ounce old rum
1 ounce sweet vermouth
3/4 oz. Campari
1/4 oz. Banana from Brazil
Combine all the ingredients in a mixing glass with ice and stir until cool. Strain into a highball glass over a large ice cube. No garnish needed, but a touch of orange or a slice of dried orange wouldn't hurt.
A little time put into preparation makes for an enjoyable evening. Drinking cocktails should be a fun and relaxing experience, so take a while to think about ingredients in advance, to avoid any rushing around last minute.
One of the foundations of many cocktails is sugar syrup. This can be prepared in advance. Here’s my tip for easy to prepare simple syrup : Add 200 gm white sugar to 200 ml boiling water. Stir till sugar is dissolved, and liquid is clear. Allow to cool then bottle
If you mix lemon juice 50 : 50 with simple syrup, you should have a solid mid-line sweet-sour balance. But remember, every palate is different. tera find your own point of balance, mix 15ml fresh lemon juice with 15ml simple syrup, and then dilute the mix with up to 90ml water. Congratulations, you’ve just made fresh lemonade ! If this tastes too sweet or too sour, adjust by adding a little more citrus or syrup. Using this method of calibration, you can adjust any cocktail recipe to suit your own palate.
Ice is the solo most over-looked ingredient at any home bar - you’ll be surprised how much you can go through. Cocktails need ice like baking needs ovens. If popping to the boutiques for ice isn’t an option right now, keeping a freezer bag topped up with ice will ensure you don’t run out unexpectedly. For best quality home-made ice, try using a silicone ice tray with a lid, to prevent your ice from absorbing unpleasant odours. And wash your ice tray after each use.
Where possible always go for premium spirits, the freshest herbs, and the best juices you can get your hands on. For instance, the taste difference between cheap juice and pressed juice is more than worth the small extra expense.
Try to use glassware appropriate to your drinks. It’s entirely possible to drink a martini from an old coffee mug, but that misses the point of drinking a martini !
If you can make a Whiskey Sour, you can make a Daiquiri. If you make a mean Negroni, you can riff on a Boulevardier. Once you’ve mastered the Manhattan, have some fun in Brooklyn on your way to Martinez. Cocktails exist in family trees. Once you are comfortable the basics of each category the world is your oyster !
You can pre-mix punches in advance - an old trick from the godfathers of bartending in the 19th century. You can bottle punch and store it in the fridge, ready to use on the day, or later that week. If done properly, quality and consistency are assured. If your punch has a fizzy ingredient, such as clairette, only add this your glass just before serving.
If you follow the Punch Ratio, you can’t go far wrong : 1 part sour ( citrus ) 2 parts sweet ( simple syrup ) 3 parts strong ( spirit ) 4 parts weak ( juices etc ) And don’t shy away from warm spices such as cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg and mace, to make that punch really sing. Don’t have those spices to hand ? No problem, a few dashes of Angostura bitters will do the trick.
We all have a few unloved ingredients lying around that need using up. For instance, that last bit of red wine in the bottle ? Try drizzling it over your Whisky Sour, and voila, you’ve got yourself a delicious New York Sour ! Do you have some nice but neglected spice mix in the kitchen ? Try mixing a teaspoon or two into your simple syrup as it cools to give your next petit cocktail an added dimension. Seasonal fresh herbs make a wonderful aromatic petit cocktail garnish.
So now, you’ve hit your stride and you’re getting creative in your home bar. Great ! Our top tip for petit cocktail creation ? Write down the exact specifications as you are making it. It’s not always easy to perfectly recall the recipe for that killer cocktail the next day !
If all this sounds like a bit of a chore, then keep an eye open for delivery services available from many local cocktail bars. After all, with the finer things in life, it’s nice to sit back, relax and let the professionals do all the work.