Perhaps it was just a matter of time—or the right occasion—before we rolled up our sleeves to make bottled cocktails. We'll admit, it sounds easy enough: pre-mix a large batch of your favorite drink, carbonate it, fill a bunch of bottles, cap them, and you have a portable cocktail that can be served and shared without the hassle of measured ingredients, ice, or bar tools. We've seen both Morgenthaler and Boudreau succeed at this in the bars they run, but is it really that simple at home?
To be completely fair, there's nothing new here. These techniques and recipes are tried and true. But before you take a crack at it you should consider a few things, starting with your cocktail recipe. It's a little trickier than just putting any old drink in a bottle. You need to avoid fresh juices or anything that could spoil over time. What may sound like a funny prank can get messy and dangerous. The last thing you want is a drink that turns bad and starts building up pressure until it explodes. We have a few suggestions to get you started.
The second consideration is equipment. Since bottled cocktails also usually means carbonated cocktails, you will have to do some serious investigating on how you are going to pull it off. We have always used a soda siphon to get a sparkle into most drinks, but that may not be the best option for getting bubbles into a bottle. In addition to carbonation, you will obviously need bottles. Small 187ml champagne bottles are perfect, but they need to be capped. Fortunately, a crown capping tool is inexpensive and can be found along with both the bottles and the caps at your local home brewing shop.
Are you ready to try it? Ok, let's get started:
Choosing a Recipe
As we mentioned, you can't pick something that has fresh ingredients. It's literally a recipe for disaster. So, what does work? For our examples, we took a cue from Jeffery Morgenthaler and went with drinks he refers to as light, European café cocktails. Recipes like the Americano are perfect because they are basically spirits and charged water, not to mention the fact that drinks like this work well in 6 ounce quantities. Now, you may be tempted to carbonate and bottle a Negroni and we can't stop you, but consider the fact that a regular Negroni is either served on the rocks or has been shaken over ice to cause some dilution. You'll need to take that extra water volume into account since these are meant to be sipped cold, straight from the bottle. That said, the Negroni and Manhattan are stiff drinks that don't work as well at this volume, and if we're honest, nobody really wants a carbonated Manhattan.
Think about recipes that call for a blast of seltzer or are elongated with champagne. Of course, we don't need actual sparkling wine because we will be carbonating the whole drink so any dry white wine will do. Whatever you pick, you need to scale the recipe appropriately. There's no point in going through all of this trouble for just one tiny bottle, so your recipe should be multiplied to accommodate as many bottles as you plan to fill. Consider your carbonating technique at this point in order to determine your total volume. We made batches to fill four bottles at a time for a total of about 750ml. Here are some good suggestions:
8 oz Aperol
8 oz dry white wine
9 oz water
peel of 1 orange, zested into mixture
Combine ingredients in a jar or bowl. Using a vegetable peeler, cut large peels from an orange and twist them into the mixture. Drop the peels in, cover and refrigerate overnight.
Don't skip the garnish. It get's filtered before bottling, but you'll be amazed at how much flavor the orange zest contributes to this recipe. Also, carbonation works best when the ingredients are very cold. You will need to refrigerate your batch for several hours or overnight either before or after carbonating to get the temperature low enough to hold a lot of bubbles. This is extremely important since transferring to a bottle will cause some of the carbonation to be lost. It also gives time for the ingredients to meld. We like chilling before carbonating so the peels have more time to mingle with everything else.
Broken Bike by Jeffrey Morgenthaler, Clyde Common, Portland, OR
6 oz Cynar
8 oz dry white wine
11 oz water
peel of 1 lemon, zested into mixture
Combine ingredients in a jar or bowl. Using a vegetable peeler, cut large peels from a lemon and twist them into the mixture. Drop the peels in, cover and refrigerate overnight.
The Broken Bike is a riff on the Bicicletta. It subs Cynar for Campari, but both are delicious. All of these are great for bottling, but they do have a bitter component which is right up our alley. Feel free to experiment with other modifiers if you want something sweet instead. The carbonation process creates a mild carbonic acid that gives some balance which is convenient while we are trying to avoid citrus juice.
When we first made carbonated cocktails a year ago, we picked up an ISI Twist 'n Sparkle. Sadly, this device has been recalled due to exploding hazard. While we fear for our personal safety, we haven't returned ours quite yet. It's a calculated risk that we have circumvented with a kitchen dish towel. Obviously, we can't formally endorse a recalled product, but alternatives are somewhat limited, so let's go through the options:
Using a siphon to carbonate a cocktail requires an unorthodox process that makes us very nervous. We don't like to carbonate anything but water in our siphon, but plenty of folks fill their siphons with cola syrup and water, ginger beer or other sticky ingredients. However, we don't want to dispense the beverage, we want to bottle it. Shooting it into a glass may be fine if you plan to drink it right way, but all of that squirting action is going to ruin the carbonation for bottling. The way around that is to discharge just the gas so you can pour the liquid carefully into bottles after it's open. Theoretically, you fill your siphon with the chilled and strained cocktail, seal it, charge it with a CO2 cartridge and wait for the foam to dissipate. Timing is hard to gauge since you cannot see the foam unless you are using a vintage glass Sparklets siphon. Finally, invert the siphon and carefully discharge the gas holding the thing upside-down! The idea here is that with your siphon inverted, the head space of compressed carbon dioxide rises to the bottom of the bottle held upwards. This is where the intake hose is situated, so releasing the trigger should now produce gas only. It's risky because degassing will cause bubbles and foam to rise inside the bottle and if that reaches the entry point of the hose, it will exit the nozzle (which is now upside-down and pointing up into your room). We have read that it works fine, but seriously, try this at your own risk and consider holding a cup over the nozzle and keeping the whole thing over the sink.
We really like this option, although we understand carbonating anything besides water will void the warranty. That sucks because the Soda Stream seems like the perfect option for pulling this off even if it's not necessarily the cheapest method. These things are popular so you may already have one. If you don't care about the warranty, simply strain your chilled cocktail into a Soda Stream bottle, blast it with CO2 and let the foam dissipate. You might not want to fill the bottle all the way to the top in order to give the foam some space to rise and fall. Depending on your recipe, foam may or may not be a problem. In any case, carefully release the pressure and you are ready to bottle. The Soda Stream has the added benefit of flexibility. You can over carbonate to accommodate some loss in the bottling process.
DIY Carbonating Rig
If you are a beer home brewer with a kegging system this is your best option. In fact, you probably had this figured out from the beginning. If you are not a home brewer, this is still your best option and it's probably where we will end up once we finally return our ISI Twist 'N Sparkle. It's certainly the cheapest method long-term but it does require some investment in equipment at the beginning. The basic setup is a large CO2 canister, a regulator, a plastic 2-liter soda bottle and a collection of connection hardware and hoses to make it all work. You have to invest in the regulator in order to control the pressure delivered to the soda bottle and the CO2 canister is refillable. The key to this option is something called a Carbonator Cap. It's a plastic cap that fits on 2-liter bottles and has a built-in valve with a quick-release fitting on top. Put your cocktail in the bottle, screw on the Carbonator Cap, hook it up to your carbonating rig and use the regulator to pressurize to 25-35 psi.
Most carbonating methods work better if you shake the contents under pressure. Cold liquids absorb CO2 better, and shaking allows even more gas to dissolve.
Once you have your batch carbonated, carefully pour the contents into the bottles leaving just a little head space in the bottle. A funnel with a hose attached can help deliver the liquid without a lot of spacing, but it's not hard to make a careful pour by hand. It can help to do a few tests with plain water before you carbonate in order to become familiar with how full your bottles need to be. Nothing is more frustrating than filling 3 bottles only to fall short on the last one. Figure out where the level should be in order to make them all full and equal. That way, you don't waste time (and bubbles) with the real thing. You want to cap them immediately, not wait until you have them all lined up side-by-side. Get a new crown cap and a capper tool and clamp down on the bottle firmly until you have a good seal.
A bottled cocktail will last a long time and is perfect for parties, picnics or just about any time you want to serve a drink with no effort. Give it a shot and let us know what you think!