It’s a trend we’ve seen emerging for many years, that of bartenders mixing their own versions of the Manhattan, Rob Roy, and other Classic cocktails, then bottling them and simply leaving them alone to mature (sometimes for many years) before stirring and serving.
We’ve sampled absolutely superb examples at (in our opinion) a couple of the best bars in the world; 69 Colebrook Row and Purl, and are seeing the trend spread out into more and more cocktail bars throughout the UK.
Whilst Bottle-aged cocktails are appearing in tremendously forward thinking bars these days, they are also a revival of techniques used by infamous pre-prohibition bartenders such as Thomas Handy in the early 1900s. Handy, famous for the invention of the Sazerac Cocktail is recorded to have pre-bottled his potent mixture of liquor to serve to patrons in the renowned Merchants Exchange Coffee House, New Orleans.
The concept of the Vintage Cocktails range is simple enough – all the ingredients for several classic cocktails are expertly blended together, then bottled at full strength (complete with a cute little set of Roman Numerals in the top right-hand corner of the label indicating the year in which the cocktail was born).
To make up the drink, all you have to do is pour a measure over ice, stir, strain and Garnish. As we say, the concept is simple, but how do they actually taste?
We arranged a tasting session to compare the bottled cocktails (after several months’ maturation) with freshly-made versions using the same recipes and ingredients (the tasting was conducted blind at first, then open afterwards), and were absolutely stunned that in every instance, the bottled cocktail was preferred by the assembled dignitaries – including a couple of superb cocktail bartenders, a few drinks writers, and at least one person who was simply there for the free booze #ahem#.
The Manhattan and Rob Roy had gained a superb depth of flavour and a quality described by several of the tasters as ‘smoother, and more cohesive’ which just wasn’t present in the freshly-made version. The same was true of the Negroni and the Sazerac.
Opinion was split on whether or not the Martini was discernably better (the vote was much closer in this instance as well – although the bottled version still won) until it was pointed out that the point of bottling a Martini might not necessarily be to improve the flavour, but rather to preserve the incredibly fragile vermouth in the high-proof gin. How many of us have got a bottle (or bottles) of vermouth languishing at the back of the drinks cabinet right now (be honest)? We know that it’s not going to be as good as it was when we first opened it, but it’s lost the competition for Fridge Space with a bottle of Ketchup, so there it sits at the back of the cabinet slowly losing all its freshness and vibrancy. Adding the vermouth to the gin immediately locks it away from all that nasty oxygen, by vastly reducing the amount of it that proportionally gets to contact the air in the headspace of the bottle.
So – if you’re looking for a classic cocktail without the fuss and bother associated with mixing, stirring, muddling and shaking (or indeed if you’re a real aficionado looking for something to lay down and mature) you could do a lot worse than check out the offerings below – especially at the prices charged for a bottle (the equivalent of £2.14 for a double measure of Manhattan sounding good to anyone?).
– The Chaps at Master of Malt –