Bottled cocktails: The dos and don'ts

25 November, 2020

Pre-made cocktails have always carried a stigma, which I find odd. The romance of watching bartenders make drinks from scratch left pre-batched cocktails feeling cheap to many consumers, but lockdowns have forced this attitude to change.

In my opinion, ready-made drinks are usually better and more consistent than ones made fresh, particularly Martinis, which are all about temperature, dilution and ratios. White Lyan showed the world that pre-made drinks could be great when Ryan Chetiyawardana launched the London bar in 2013, which only used bottled cocktails with no ice or citrus. OK, so it wasn’t open long, but there’s no denying the quality was there.

Some bars were better prepared for lockdown than others. Tayer + Elementary in London, for example, made most of its drinks in batches already and, with the backing of marketing company Cask, it has established a good route to market. Whereas neighbourhood bars, which have a much more limited audience, are less likely to have the resources to execute a successful, stylish and profitable service in what has become a highly competitive market.

I commend every bar which has taken it on, but I don’t doubt there are some awful ones out there because there’s a lot more to it than just filling bottles on a Sunday afternoon. Simple things, like the use of fresh citrus, is a disaster, and there’s no point bottling your bar’s signature cocktail if it normally comes with theatrical garnish because it could look like pond water in a regular Ikea glass.

Spirits brands spend millions a year on design and packaging to attract consumers, so even the best Martini recipes won’t sell if it looks like a six-year-old has labelled the bottle. Basic organisation cannot be overlooked either. Bar websites must be changed to make online shopping easy, and sell-by dates, ingredients and storage instructions should be labelled, otherwise consumers could pour your perfect Martini over crushed ice.

Some bars have also got the pricing horribly wrong. Charging the normal menu price is only acceptable if the same effort of developing a new menu has gone into the bottled drinks. I fear lots of places won’t make money, and I suspect some will cut corners in production when they realise this, which could have a knock-on effect for the bar’s brand. But with good organisation, well thought-out drinks and a premium look there’s a recipe for prolonged success.

I hope the bars that have taken the leap stick at it even post-Covid. Regardless if the appetite for bottled drinks drops away, which I doubt it will, having ready-to-pour cocktails behind the bar on a busy Friday night could significantly increase turnover – and they’re bound to be better prepared than a tired, slightly pissed bartender. The surge in bottled drinks could also open the door to supermarket listings, which has been overdue, but this may require bars to adopt slightly more competitive prices.

Keywords: Nick Strangeway

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