More and more bars locally and internationally are cutting wait times and improving their products by mixing drinks before service. But some venues are taking this development even further; they’re bottling their own brand of ready-to-drink (RTD) cocktails.
But what’s the difference between pre-batched and ready to drink? “Pre-batching is very similar to the kitchen practice of preparing mise en place [a French culinary term which means to “put in place” or set up for service],” says World Class UK winner Ryan Chetiyawardana of White Lyan, a bar making a name for itself worldwide by leading the ready-to-drink charge. “It allows for a smoother operation during service, but there’s still some assembly required before the drink is ready. Ready-to-drink cocktails have taken this practice a step further by removing the need for any preparation at the point of serve.”
White Lyan, Chetiyawardana’s bar in London’s East End, is one of a kind. It stocks only RTDs. That means its cocktails have to be made without perishables (ice, fresh fruit, citrus garnishes) because they cause the drinks to deteriorate. It’s a move that might seem limiting, but there are more to these RTDs than the usual market offering: cans of rum and coke; vodka and raspberry lemonade; or gin and tonic.
But for Chetiyawardana pre-bottling cocktails ensures a consistent product. It also has the benefit of giving staff more time to focus on the guest during service. And it forces staff members to be creative: in place of perishables, Chetiyawardana uses other types of acid (malic, citric or lactic) to balance his drinks.
“It allows a different style of service, but also a different set of flavours,” he says. “There are some textures and flavours that can’t be added on the spot. Plus, it’s fun and playful.”
Michael Madrusan from Melbourne’s CBD dive-bar Heartbreaker echoes this sentiment. The only cocktails sold there are the pre-bottled Negroni, Manhattan, Old Fashioned and Martini. And while he doesn’t want people to drink them straight from the bottle (they need ice and garnish), the drinks definitely have their place.
“Heartbreaker shows you can have a bar that is really high volume, loud and noisy that can still bang out really great drinks in a very short amount of time. Bottled cocktails create what we call a ‘fast bar’; you can get a beer and you can get a Manhattan at the same time. It’s very convenient.”
Global World Class winner Tim Philips from Sydney’s Dead Ringer believes that RTD bottled cocktails are a natural extension of pre-batching, but he doesn’t think the trend could ever replace skilled bartenders.
“The skill set of the bartender still needs to come into play, whether that’s creating bottled cocktails which still require a bartender to stir the drink over some quality ice, or giving the drink a flourish with a garnish that adds to the aroma or the mouthfeel or the overall flavour of the drink.”