Credit: Kate Berry Bottle & Rhabar-barra; Truffle Pig Bar
From Damien Guichard
As the corona virus crisis is dragging its feet on, a lot of bars have come up with creative solutions to continue generating revenue and more importantly keeping in touch with their beloved guests. Whether it’s window sales or deliveries, bottled cocktails have become the primary life line for a lot of businesses and you could ask yourself: are those a temporary solution or are take away beverages on the verge of expansion?
Even after bars around the world are allowed to reopen their doors and their guests in, we know that it will take much longer until they can operate at full capacity or even worse, we can wonder how long it will take for guests to feel safe and comfortable coming back to their beloved locals. Indeed, here in Germany restaurants were able to reopen since 15/05 but with extreme limitations: time limit, obligatory reservations, masks... It goes without saying that it will take a long time until guests feel 100% comfortable ( and welcome) spending their evening in a restaurant or bar and therefore might still choose a take away option over staying in for a while longer.
At Truffle Pig we recently started to sell drinks from our small black window and I wanted to share a few tips that I found useful. I am not the most educated and scientific kind of bartender so this guide is not the bible… well now that I mention it, this makes it exactly like the bible.
I. Clarification, proper filtration:
Credit: Damien Guichard
Clarifying a drink allows much more than just an aesthetically pleasing result: it allows a longer shelf life, which is key factor when selling bottled or to-go drinks.
If you don’t happen to own a laboratory or a centrifuge there are a few things you can do from any bars around the world: agar clarification and proper filtration.
Let’s start with agar: a little photo guide follows this extremely boring manual so bear with me there.
It is cheap and requires no expensive equipment: scales, measuring jugs, cheese cloth, a stove or induction plate and a freezer.
All you need to do is:
Juice whatever you want to clarify
Weigh ⅓ water for 1 measure of whatever you want to clarify. I recommend weighing rather than measuring. Example: for 750g of lemon juice, you will measure out 250g of water.
Weigh out 2g of agar agar for every 250g of water. Boil the whole for 1 minute and stir vividly until the agar is fully diluted. Allow it to cool a little so it doesn’t burn your juice.
Pour your juice into the agar agar water mix, (not the other way around) and stir vividly until the mixture is completely homogenous.
Stick that in the freezer: it needs to be flat and stable and don’t go around poking the poor thing: if you break the surface too early, you are going to ruin the result. Go take a bath or call your mum.
Examine your mixture carefully: once the surface is solid and wobbly, tilt it a little bit to the side - if it has a pudding consistency and won’t slide off then it’s ready.
Run your agar agar juice pudding mix through a cheese cloth (find my favourite kind below) and tadaaaaam: you have successfully clarified juice. Congratulations.
Try and resist the urge to squeeze it: if you squeeze too hard, you might end up with agar in your final product which will look like a bunch of jellyfish got lost in your cordial and nobody wants that.
Note: as much as agar clarifying retains most of the colour, it will also retains some of the natural oils, especially with citrus juice. I always infuse my juice with zests over night before hand to extract more oils. If you decide to do so too, make sure to leave out as much of the pith as possible.
You can find the full lowdown on Dave Arnold’s website (find link below) or buy his book Liquid Intelligence. It’s really easy and will give the best results. I applied his method religiously and it has changed the way I have been prepping my cordials ever since. Just buy the book and thank me later.
Apart from a good glass of red wine, a proper set of cheese cloths is the kind of companion you want to surround yourself in the kitchen. (find link in annex for my favourite cheese cloth). I have been using a technique that I adapted from making milk punches. I applied it with celery, apple and rhubarb juice this year. After you strained fruit juice through a cheese cloth, transfer the cheese cloth with the remain over an empty jug and run your juice through that waste again: it will act as a natural filter and the juice will come out clearer through a second round of clarification.
- Milk Filtration
If you are a bartender, you have probably made a dozen clarified milk punches and over excitedly talked to a confused guest about the process. Pro tip: t is always more exciting to you as them. Anyway now is the moment to get back into it as the milk punch is probably the best way to use fresh citrus juice in a cocktail and still have an amazing shelf life. Check out an amazing and fun comprehensive tutorial in the link - courtesy of Two Schmucks.
II. Acid content
Too lazy to make a clarified citrus cordial? No worries, you have alternatives to fresh lime and lemon juice, which come in handy when it comes to bottling drinks.
Verjus comes from “vert jus” in french which means green juice. It is unripe pasteurised grape juice and serves a natural source of acidity in your cocktails. It can’t be used as a replacement for lemon or lime juice as it doesn’t contain the essential oils that you find in citrus. Besides the PH of verjus is generally around 3-4 when lemon or lime juice’s leans more towards 2. This more neutral flavour and acidity level allows a subtle balance of flavour which fits perfectly the demands of bottled drinks.
- Acid Powders
Acid powders are a perfect example of things you can use to bring acidity and balance to a cocktail while improving its shelf life. Indeed, citric and tartaric acids will help conserve fresh ingredients such as herbs or very fragile organic ingredients. I like to add a mixture of citric and tartaric acids to my clarified cordials in order to balance them and improve the shelf life. They can also prove useful in case you had a heavy hand with sugar and want to avoid diluting your precious mix with water. Be careful not to add too much into your preparations as they do have a rather artificial flavour when used too generously.
Another way to bring acidity in a cocktail while prolonging its shelf life is using shrubs. Juice - Vinegar - Sugar. Bim bam bosh. It is one of the most ancient methods of conservation and works wonders in cocktails when done right. Here we are looking at a bottled cocktail so I recommend using a little less vinegar and completing the sweet-sour balance with citric and tartaric acids. My to-go ration looks like this: 1 measure of juice, ⅔ sugar and 7% of the vinegar of your choice, 1% of each citric and tartaric acids.
- Fake Lime Water
A lot of bars in Germany (Stairs, Kinly) have opted for what is referred to as “fake lime”. It is essentially a mix of mineral water with various powders: tartaric, malic, citric, glucose, dextrose - the whole infused with lime zest. As much as I find this method rather controversial in an every day bar mise en place routine, I do believe it can be a viable option when it comes to bottling cocktails as it brings acidity and flavour while removing most of what makes lemon and lime juice a potential liability in terms of shelf life.
III. Pre Dilution
Simple trick that one might tend to forget: you are selling a bottled drink to an unexperienced drinker. Do not expect them to know the ins and outs of cocktail mixing and dilution. The last thing you want is their lack of experience to affect how they would enjoy your delicious drink. So predilute the drink and tell them to enjoy it ice cold. Generally 20% is what you are aiming for but hey again, I’m not a scientist.
Let’s face it, the corona crisis is going to push us to keep an even closer look at the GP of our drinks and incite us to find ways to cut costs without cutting corners. Now before you start substituting your Plantation 3 Stars or Veritas with Captain Morgan in your Banana Daiquiri, try and start recycling before immediately throwing things away. For example: we recently made a rhubarb cocktail juicing fresh rhubarb and making a shrub out of it. We had the idea to use the pulp left behind from the juicing process and infuse in dry vermouth to make a super nice and fresh reverse Mmanhattan. Another example was using the apple skin before juicing them and infusing them with sherry manzanilla in order to make a very refreshing and tart cobbler.
V. Talk to your brands!
Brands have been extremely generous to German bars and bartenders during those times: now is the time to cash in on the free products potentially included in you pouring deals. In Germany, Beam Suntory has also put together and batching kit made of tens of bottles, funnels, jugs etc. A lot of your partners own slushy machines, which can be an important asset, if your country allows take away / window sales.
VI. Bottling your drinks
Bottling, labelling and delivering add to the cost of your drink so it is important to make sure that your product will shine and that every euro is well spent: pick a pretty bottle, come up with quirky and fun names, pay attention to the look and colour of your drink: a beautifully red cocktail will sell more than murky swamp water.
It might be hard to stay positive during these weird times but one thing that we are forced to do is look within ourselves to rethink our creative process. At a time where the bartending community was slowly moving back to the very fondations of our industry such as outstanding service, where we are told that our cocktails don’t matter and that it is all about the atmosphere and the way we treat our guests, we end up having to do a 180 turn and turn our creations into retail products.
Which is why we should think about bottled and take away drinks from a marketing and retail angle. How can I simplify without sacrificing flavour? How do I promote my drinks? How do I make sure I can scale in case demand increases or store in case I have a few quiet weeks?
If you have any more tips, questions or points to add, feel free to reach out to us and share your experience!