Surprise! Bottled Cocktails Aren’t a Scam and Can Actually Make Your Drink Taste Better

The best thing to happen to liquor since Repeal Day

I love the ritual and the show of a bartender making a cocktail. The ingredients dropped in the tin, the bartender’s shaker face, the straining of the liquid over beautiful ice, the ooh-inspiring glassware.

It’s why the bar, preferably in front of the bartender, is absolutely my favorite place to sit. And since I’m addicted to Instagram, it’s all about cocktail presentation, too. So why do I even bother with the bottled cocktail?

I mean, there doesn’t seem to be much to it, right? Associate food editor Josh Scherer says seeing it touted on menus is “essentially like a restaurant saying ‘pre-made hamburgers.”’ (Edit note: Hey, this is Josh. I can confirm that I said that, but after reading/editing this post I would like to officially recant and change my stance. I’m down with bottled cocktails.)

The bartender brings you the non-descript bottle, pops the cap off the glass soda bottle, then pours the pre-batched cocktail in a glass. Big deal. And it’s just another cocktail trend, right there with barrel-aged cocktails and cocktails on tap.

EP & LP's bottled Putting on the Spritz: Cocchi Americano, Campari, Curacao, Toasted Coconut, CO2,
EP & LP’s bottled Putting on the Spritz: Cocchi Americano, Campari, Curacao, Toasted Coconut, CO2,

Photograph by Caroline on Crack

But bottled cocktails have actually been around since the 19th century when American cocktail pioneer Jerry Thomas wrote about bottling brandy cocktails for fishing trips. And remember wine coolers from the ’70s and ’80s? These things have always been around and now they’re even better thanks to technology and a surplus of quality ingredients.

When Portland bartender Jeffrey Morgenthaler first reintroduced it to the cocktail community five years ago, this method was a fun and novel way to enjoy sparkly cocktails, like a carbonated Americano and Aperol Spritz. Fast-forward to now and not only have they become the go-to solution for bars that want to quickly serve the thirsty masses but they’ve vastly improved bottle service.

Bars like Warwick and Harlowe serve large format bottled craft cocktails tableside while hotels like Downtown’s Ace Hotel can have them delivered to your room. And no, I’m not saying bottled cocktails are a good thing because everyone is doing it. Rather, everyone is doing it because they are a good thing. Bartenders can turn out a consistent drink every time.

How they roll at Hanjip.
How they roll at Hanjip.

Photograph by Caroline on Crack

New restaurant Baldoria, which recently opened in Little Tokyo, even based its entire cocktail program on the bottled drink. “We know that every cocktail will be served the way it was intended to,” says Baldoria owner and drink creator David King. “We want to be able to give our guests their cocktails fast even if it involves nitro muddling, rapid infusions, carbonating, or other innovative forms of crafting cocktails.”

Since Hanjip in Culver City doesn’t have a bar or even anywhere for a bartender to stand, beverage director Ryan Wainwright’s solution was bottled cocktails inspired by Korean beverages. He pre-batches them every week and ensures the quality and taste are the same with each bottle.

You get a great cocktail with every bottle, perfect dilution and carbonation. Unlike an a la minute Spritz whose bubbles will be mellowed out with the other liquid ingredients, the whole cocktail is sparkly throughout.

And yes, Mr. Scherer, cocktails actually do get better in the bottle. Birch bartender Gabriella Mlynarczyk confirms it. “Bottling a cocktail allows you to bottle-age a drink, adding a certain softness to the character of the cocktail.” Currently she has a bottled, rapid barrel-aged Negroni at Birch.

Not to mention that bottled cocktails help save the planet. Since they’re pre-chilled you don’t need to use ice, which not only assures perfect dilution of the cocktail but cuts down on the bar’s use of water.

The bottled cocktail format is now so beloved that spirit makers are selling them. See: High West’s The 36th Vote bottled barreled Manhattan,
Om’s Cranberry Blood Orange, and Crafthouse Cocktails Southside.

And with summer coming, DIYers can tote their favorite premade cocktails to Bowl concerts, cemetery screenings, and picnics. What’s not to like?