Bottle Service, in a Bottle

You want a well-crafted cocktail, but you do not have well-crafted patience. We've all been there. Going to a quaint, dimly lit cocktail bar to watch artisan bartenders meticulously mix you a drink is fine on some occasions, but other times you need booze in your mouth ASAP. Enter: pre-made bottled cocktails. Is this a thing? This is a thing.

A few years ago, a pre-made cocktail usually meant a can of pina colada from the liquor store, sipped behind a dumspter with your college friends. Tinny, shameful, disgusting: they were nothing to write home about. Unless you were asking for bail money.

But within the craft cocktail movement of the last decade, a trend has emerged and that involves bartenders crafting recipes and bottling them for service in their bars, or for distribution to less expertly-staffed watering holes.

Nathan Oliver -- who's tended bar at Church and State, Harvard and Stone, ink. and now the Vagrancy Project -- is developing his own bottled cocktail company with Tasting Kitchen and Pour Vous's Devon Espinosa and Mike Perez. Called BTL SVC, the branded pre-mixed classic cocktails bear simple, stamped labels with an aesthetic that aims to be, in their words, "novel and maybe a bit mysterious." Like something a grandfather "would have kept as a souvenir from his youth." Nathan serves up these little elixirs (in varieties like the Old Fashioned, the Manhattan and the rye-Benedictine Frisco) at the Vagrancy Project pop-up at Allston Yacht Club in Echo Park. He and Devon recently obliged us by answering some basic questions about bottled booze.

A&G: What are some challenges that bartenders working with craft cocktails -- in general -- might face?

Nathan: In my opinion, simple equals better. So one challenge I'd say is editing down your ingredients; people like to use a bunch of crazy stuff and think complicated makes it more "craft," but too many ingredients can leave you with a bad taste in your mouth.

Devon: Being able to work in high volume without sacrificing quality is a big one. Never cut corners!

A&G: How did the bottled cocktail inspiration strike you?

Nathan: I actually thought about the idea when I started seeing bartenders pre-batching cocktails, infusing fresh ingredients with spirits,and using interesting short cuts around town and in big cities. Barmen started to evolve the whole process for speed and to keep everything interesting. The average person doesn't want to go out to the store and buy 12 different expensive ingredients, just to be able to make 3 different classic cocktails when they feel like drinking one every now and then.

A&G: What kind of cocktails lend themselves well to bottling?

Devon: Cocktails not involving fresh produce. The process of pasteurization can really affect the end product. Pulling away from fresh and leaning more into a medicinal kind of taste.

Nathan: I brought Devon on board for that exact question. I needed another mind helping me shape the ingredients and idea of the drinks. We started off playing around with fresh lemon and lime and there's no way to keep it tasting fresh. So finally we thought why even bother trying to fake flavor when there's plenty of cocktails out there that don't need citrus.

A&G: What's your favorite cocktail, personally?

Nathan: The frisco. I discovered this cocktail 4 years ago in a book. I found an old copy of "The Standard Bartenders Guide" from the 1940s by Patrick Gavin Duffy in a thrift store. I always loved how simple and delicious this cocktail is, and it has never let me down. Bourbon and french cordial. All tied together with a little lemon zest.

Devon: Anything brown, bitter and stirred.

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About the Author

Alie Ward and Georgia Hardstark are best friends, TV shows hosts, and cocktail experts.
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