The rise of batched and bottled cocktails (plus five drinks to try)

Famous four: Everleigh Bottling Co.'s classic cocktail quartet.
Famous four: Everleigh Bottling Co.'s classic cocktail quartet. Photo: Jennifer Soo

There has long been a stigma attached to pre-mix drinks.

After all, the ready-to-drink (RTD) segment of the market is largely the preserve of teenagers without the cash to buy decent booze and the palate to know a rough drop.

Yet in recent years, many distillers and cocktail bars have moved into the pre-mix space, adding their own lines of batched cocktails that require no bartender trickery, other than the turn of the bottle top.

Gin distillery Four Pillars recently got in on the act, with a pre-batch Improved Hanky Panky. The cocktail features Navy Strength gin that is barrel-aged with Maidenii vermouth and Fernet-Branca Amaro, a type of bitter liqueur.

The Everleigh Bottling Co., the brand behind the much-loved Everleigh speakeasy bar in Fitzroy, entered the pre-batch market in 2015, and was among the early leaders in the field.

Its Famous Four collection — martini, old-fashioned, manhattan and negroni  — is a hit among at-home wannabe bartenders, in hotel mini-bars and at corporate events.

"In [sister bar] Heartbreaker, we do batched cocktails as it's a big venue and we need to be able to serve cocktails quickly to a lot of people," says Everleigh founder, Michael Madrusan.

It's the same at Wish Bone in Sydney's inner west, which only serves pre-batched cocktails with its fried chicken, while Melbourne's Bomba pre-batches most of their house cocktails, as well as several classics, such as negronis and margaritas.

The shift

Advertisement

So what's behind the move towards bottled cocktails, especially among high-end bars and restaurants?

For Four Pillars co-founder Stuart Gregor it was a natural evolution.

"Like most distilleries, we're looking at different, tastier and easier ways for people to enjoy our drinks, so giving them an otherwise quite complicated cocktail, that they can take home in a bottle, is frankly a bit of a no-brainer," Gregor says.

"The key is making it as good in the bottle as it would be in the bar, made by a world-class bartender."

Madrusan says pre-batching makes sense for busy bars wanting to streamline their processes while maintaining quality, and ensures a consistent drink.

"It means your martini on a Monday tastes exactly the same as it does on a Friday," says Madrusan.

"As long as that quality is there to begin with, of course."

Quality and waste issues

Madrusan insists that bottling certain cocktails can have distinct advantages.

"We store our martini bottled cocktail at minus eight to minus 10 degrees [at Heartbreaker], and there is no way we could get it that cold if a bartender makes it on the spot," he says. 

"A cold Martini is extremely important."

Bomba co-owner Shane Barrett says pre-batched cocktails have many advantages, including minimising wastage from over-pours and human error.

"The most important waste saving for me is the reduction of material waste, such as bottles, and the lowering of the carbon imprint of the actual drink," he says.

"Batching larger quantities of cocktails allows the use of larger-format spirit containers, which would be impractical to use if making each cocktail individually."

Try this at home

Kathleen Davies distributes Australian made and owned craft spirits under her Nip of Courage label, and batches cocktails under The Aussie Tipple Company label.

"I noticed pre-batching had taken off in the US in 2010 and the UK in 2012, and I wanted to bring that here with a range of cocktails that celebrate Australian spirit producers," Davies says.

She sells four bottled cocktails – negroni, rum old fashioned, dry martini and white rye espresso martini – to wholesalers and home drinkers. The recipes were created by bartenders and contain craft spirits from local producers.

"When we started we thought we would mainly be supplying to the wholesale market, but it's largely been for people wanting them in their own home," Davies says.

"Martinis are very popular, in particular, and I think it's because they can be somewhat intimidating for people to try and make."

At the wholesale end, Davies supplies her bottled cocktails largely to five-star hotels, restaurants or craft beer bars without a huge cocktail offering.

"Our cocktails aren't meant to replace the dedicated cocktail bars, where people go to see a bartender make a really great cocktail," she says.

Bye, bye, bartenders?

The bottled cocktail trend does raise the question of what this means for bartenders. If the popularity of batched cocktails continues at this pace, will they be out of a job of sorts?

"Not at all," Barrett says. "Batching cocktails is a tool to be used in certain situations for certain drinks. The human element, which is such a big part of being a good bartender, can never be replaced."

Madrusan agrees and points out that you won't see a bottled cocktail being opened at The Everleigh.

"The Everleigh is a place where people come for the entire experience and that includes a bartender making the cocktails," he says.

"The real challenge for us, as more people jump on the bandwagon, is there will be lower-quality products on the market.

"As soon as someone has one bad bottled cocktail, they may not try another."

Starward New (Old) Fashioned batched cocktail for Good Food drinks story July 2018.

Starward's new bottled whisky cocktail, New (Old) Fashioned. Photo: Supplied

Five bottled cocktails to try

The Famous Four Collection (martini, negroni, manhattan and old fashioned; $68), The Everleigh Bottling Co., everleighbottling.com

The Dry Martini (one litre, $115), Aussie Tipple Company, aussietipple.com

Improved Hanky Panky (200ml, $32), Four Pillars, fourpillarsgin.com.au

Hochstadter's Slow and Low Rock & Rye (750ml $54.95), Cooper Spirits, drinkslowandlow.com

(New) Old Fashioned (500ml, $49), Starward, starward.com.au