The bottled cocktail trend is going strong in bars and restaurants -- but have you ever considered bottling your own? There’s something delightful about serving up a custom-created cocktail at a picnic or a party. No more travelling with a clanking bag full of bottles, a bag of ice, and cocktail making equipment -- all you need is a bottle opener to serve up these delicious, impressive drinks. Here's what you need to know to bottle your own cocktails.
Why Bottled Cocktails?
Ready-made bottled cocktails are great shortcuts for the cocktail lover who doesn’t always have time or skill to mix up a drink. And these drinks have really evolved since first hitting the scene a few years ago in a one- or two-drink serving size, which were mixed and poured into small bottles, and then carbonated.
Later, enterprising cocktail companies started mixing up their drinks and bottling them in much larger, shareable sizes. They're meant to be chilled and consumed without any need for mussing about.
But while delicious, the process for creating bottled cocktails leaves room for error. To learn more, I caught up with cocktail authority Jeffrey Morgenthaler of Portland’s Clyde Common and speakeasy Pépé Le Moko. Besides being recognized by his peers as the grandfather of the bottled cocktail done right, he also wrote The Bar Book: Elements of Cocktail Technique.
Morgenthaler says he started bottling drinks to make life a little easier on his bartenders, and worked to develop new recipes. “I’d had a bottled cocktail once before, but it contained all these easily-spoilable ingredients,” he says. “I wanted to make something that would last for a long time in a bottle.”
What Not to Bottle
Including the wrong ingredients -- such as those that spoil easily -- can cause problems, according to Morgenthaler. “People try to get around the issue of ingredients spoiling by using artificial ingredients when they make these things commercially,” he says of some of the mass-produced bottled cocktail varieties. “I like to circumvent the issue and make bottled cocktails that don’t contain any fresh ingredients. Things like an Americano or an Aperol Spritz are perfect for this application.”
The most common thing that will muck up a bottled cocktail attempt is citrus. Fresh, bright, tart flavor is the goal with citrus juice, but by the time it sits around for a hot second (or a week), that taste will have long departed, replaced by a much less vibrant one. If you’re bottling a drink to serve that night, it’s probably not as big of a deal, but that kind of defeats the purpose, Morgenthaler says.
“Personally, I think the whole point is to make a large batch of bottled cocktails that you can keep around for a long time, and then grab when you’re ready to take them to go," he says. "I make a big batch and keep them all summer. I just grab a few from the fridge or from storage, and throw them on ice and take them on a picnic."
To Carbonate or Not?
If you're convinced it's time to try your hand at bottling cocktails, you next need to decide whether or not to carbonate them. For Morgenthaler, bubbly is ideal. And while it may be tempting to reach for your Soda Stream, don’t, as Morgenthaler says, “it will explode if anything other than water is used in it.”
His former favorite home carbonator has been discontinued, but he has instructions on his site for how to build your own carbonation rig, if you want to get really into it. Why not just add carbonated soda to a cocktail after stirring or shaking? Well, because part of the appeal of a bottled cocktail is that all ingredients are carbonated, not just the bit of bubbles poured in at the end.
Either way, you’ll have to acquire bottles and bottle caps, and there are several different types. As Morgenthaler wrote on his blog, European bottles need to go with European caps; American bottles with American caps. A bottle capper can easily be found online.
Another thing to remember: Dilution is important! People think of a Negroni as having only three ingredients: Campari, sweet vermouth, and gin. But there’s another one that needs to be considered: water. When spirits are poured into a glass and stirred with ice (not shaken! Please don’t shake your Negroni…), the ice melts into the drink, diluting the three sharp accents into a harmonious result. So, when making bottled cocktails, it’s important to remember to add water.
Making Carbonated Drinks
Below is Morgenthaler's recipe for a bottled, carbonated Amercano, and you can read much more about the process on Morgenthaler's blog. If you'd like your hand at making a batch of simpler-to-make bottled drinks that can leave out the carbonation step, skip to below Morgenthaler's recipe for some from Boke Bowl in Portland.
Bottled Carbonated Americano
By Jeffrey Morgenthaler
- 6 oz sweet vermouth (something drier than Carpano; think Cinzano, Dolin Rouge or Martini and Rossi here)
- 4.5 oz Campari
- 13.5 oz water
- The zest of 1 orange, peeled with a vegetable peeler
- Combine all ingredients. Squeeze orange zests over the mixture to express oils; discard organic material and chill. (Carbon dioxide is much more soluble in cold liquid than warm, so you’ll need to get this mixture cold. I typically make a batch a day ahead of time, and then store it in the fridge.)
- Fill the carbonator and carbonate according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Once it’s done, you’re going to need to fill some bottles rather quickly before the carbonation dissipates.
- Slowly fill each bottle and cap using your handy bottle capper. I have a small funnel attached to a piece of plastic tubing that has been trimmed to fit my bottles’ height exactly. This allows us to fill the bottles from the bottom, and avoid a big, bubbly, heady mess (those bubbles mean carbon dioxide is escaping your solution).
We serve these drinks to our guests in the bottle, with no glass or ice alongside. I think a fun part of the experience is sipping them directly from the bottle, enjoying the maximum amount of fizz as the drink hits your tongue and releases its bubbles. It’s playful, it’s whimsical, sessionable, drinkable, and fun.
Making Uncarbonated Drinks
At Portland’s Boke Bowl, bottled cocktails are a particular passion. Here are a few of their favorites, which you can carbonate using Morgenthaler's method. If you prefer to bottle uncarbonated, mix all non-water ingredients together with ice and then substitute club soda for water.
Cucumber Gin Fizz
- 1 part lime juice
- 1 part simple syrup
- 3 parts cuke-infused gin
- 3 parts water
- 162 oz. Coconut Water (5 1/3 parts)
- 142 oz. Bourbon (4 2/3 parts)
- 40 oz. fresh lime juice (1 1/3 parts)
- 30 ounce simple syrup (1 part)
Bee's Knees 2.0
- 8 parts New Deal Gin 33
- 3 parts smoked honey syrup (1:1 Ratio smoked honey:hot water)
- 3 parts lemon juice
- 10 parts tonic water
Aperol Rhubarb Vodka Spritz
- 4 parts rhubarb vodka
- 4 parts water
- 1 parts aperol
- 1 parts lime juice
- 1/2 part simple syrup
- 1 part New Deal Hot Monkey Vodka
- 2 part New Deal PDX 88
- 2 part Pineapple Juice
- 1 part lemon Juice
- 1 part Agave Syrup
- 1 part Water
Related: Try your hand at making grilled cocktails.
Find more cooking inspiration and how-tos on Allrecipes Dish.