BATCHING COCKTAILS

by Naren Young

When Dale DeGroff was behind the bar at New York’s legendary Rainbow Room, his signature Cosmopolitan cocktail became so popular that he would make a batch of it each day by combining the Absolut Citron, Cointreau and cranberry juice – each one carefully measured to ensure consistency – and then shake it up with the fresh lime juice, added to order. He told me recently he also had batch recipes for his Singapore Sling and Long Island Iced Tea, both also popular drinks at the time. 

In the last few years, I too have become a huge proponent of making batched cocktails to the point now where almost every cocktail on our menu at Empellon is batched to some degree. In some cases – such as our Agave Old Fashioned (which contains two types of mezcal, two types of bitters and spiced agave nectar) – the entire cocktail is batched, making it a ‘one-pour’ drink. We pour the exact measure over ice into a mixing glass, stir it briefly and then strain it on fresh ice. Voila!

I’ve been rather vocal on occasions about the benefits of batching cocktails at various seminars I’ve given around the world. Some of the reactions have been quite negative at times with people voicing two main concerns: one, that the guest doesn’t know exactly what they’re getting because the ingredients are not coming out of the same bottle they’re originally packaged in, suggesting perhaps that something unscrupulous might be going on. Of course the brands also dislike this because their labels aren’t being displayed.

The other concern is that some of the romance, I’m told, is taken out of bartending by reaching for five different bottles (labels facing out of course) and pouring a dash here, a dram there. To both of these concerns I say this: I DON’T CARE. This is a business after all and when making drinks, our concern should always be getting that drink into someone’s hands as quickly as possible, without ever sacrificing quality. Batching is the answer, even though in many cities, the practice is actually illegal. But guess what I also say to that: I don’t care. In trying to create the very best beverage programs, I’ve had to flout the law on many occasions and I’ll continue to do so. We’d all be running pretty mediocre bars if we didn’t.

Here’s how I work my batching; some basic principles if you will. If a drink has three or more alcoholic ingredients, I’ll put this in a batch bottle (I like to use empty bottles from the 86 Spirits Company (such as Cana Brava rum, Fords gin, Aylesbury Duck vodka and Cabeza tequila) and then add any fresh ingredients on the pick up. Any syrups, tinctures or bitters I also add to the batch because the entire point is to reduce the number of bottles you need to reach for to make any drink. Less movement = more drinks = more money.

Each bottle gets a speed pourer unless it contains vermouth and other fortified wines so as to keep the ingredients from oxidizing. As an example, in one of our batched drinks at Empellon, the Pineapple & Cilantro Margarita, the batch has tequila, Combier triple sec, our own coriander-infused pineapple agave nectar and a Serrano chili tincture in the bottle. Then to make the drink we add fresh lime and pineapple juices (also batched together) and some fresh cilantro and there you have a two pour drink as opposed to what would be a six pour drink if it wasn’t batched.

Batching actually makes the drinks come out more consistently too because there is less room for error from each bartender by not having to measure as many ingredients. And consistency should be the very cornerstone of any bar operation, whatever your concept or clientele. As another example, my Chocolate Negroni cocktail has five ingredients (gin, Campari, Punt e Mes, white crème de cacao and chocolate bitters) instead of the standard three in a classic Negroni. Why wouldn’t I batch the entire cocktail, thus making it a one pour drink? Too easy.

I’ve also seen many bars use what they call ‘cheater bottles,’ which isn’t necessarily batching per se, but it can definitely speed up service while saving on room. Basically, the full bottle of a certain product is poured into a smaller, generic bottle and then labeled so it doesn’t take up as much as space in a small bar while allowing easy access to those bottles in a high volume environment. Again, the practice is frowned upon by some guests and the lawmakers, but speed is the name of the game here people. Do you want your bar to make as much money as it can or not?

At other times, I’ll sometimes batch various juices if there’s two or more required for one drink or even batch the entire cocktail, juice and all. But be very careful about wastage here. At Saxon + Parole, our biggest selling drink was the Celery Gimlet, which had nine ingredients in the recipe (gin, green chartreuse, maraschino, lime juice, lime syrup, celery juice, celery bitters, verjus and citrus salt).

We would mix this all together in our ‘mega batch,’ but only on the busiest nights of Thursday to Saturday. We’d mix this in a large container and store it in those hideous juice containers known as a ‘Store & Pour.’ We’d pour 4 oz. into a shaker with ice, shake it quickly, strain on fresh ice and you have a fast, consistent and delicious cocktail made in less than ten seconds. What’s not to love? It saved our ass on many a crazy night.

Despite its detractors, I’m still unsure as to why more bars don’t batch their cocktails (especially many high volume bars). Is it a pride thing? Are they afraid their guests will think less of them and the experience? Maybe a little of each. Either way, I’ll never run a bar again where I don’t use this practice. At the end of the day, it’s smart business and it works. If it worked for Dale DeGroff, then it can work for us all. 


@forkandshaker

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