Cocktails by the batch
Author: Larissa Dubecki
Photography: Courtesy of Bar Americano
It might seem an odd move for a guy so wedded to the ideal of cocktail integrity that he started his own hand-carved ice company, but Michael Madrusan of Melbourne booze temple The Everleigh and neo-dive bar Heartbreaker is a convert to the cause of bottled cocktails.
Never fear, mixology fans: he's not reaching for the Malibu and Coke can. Ordering a cocktail has become as simple as the bartender cracking a bottle and pouring the contents over ice. Easy. We've reported on it before, but in the last couple of years batching, as it's called, has been catching on worldwide, from London's White Lyan and Craft Cocktail Co to New York's Booker and Dax at Momofuku Ssäm Bar. Sydney's Dead Ringer bar and The Apo in Brisbane are also no stranger to the pre-batch. And in Melbourne the bar movement's spiritual leaders are taking up the cause.
In Madrusan's case it was move initially driven by necessity. Batching cocktails made a whole lot of practical sense when providing the booze for a pop-up last year. It made sense to continue with Heartbreaker - "although when we first opened we had plenty of people giving us shit about it" - which, despite being patently not a cocktail bar, now shifts a thousand bottles a week.
So did the bar game just get a whole lot easier?
Well, from the customer's point of view, yes. No more waiting 15 minutes while an intricate display of measuring and muddling takes place behind the bar.
From the bartender's perspective? Well, if they're done properly, not so much.
At Fitzroy's Bar Liberty, cocktail prep begins four hours before the doors swing open. Co-owner Banjo Harris Plane says batching frees them up to make more complex recipes. Case in point: Pepe's Plums 2.0, a Negroni-esque combination of spiced house-made cherry vermouth, plums, gin, orange bitters and salt.
"Quite a bit of work goes in ahead of time," says Harris Plane. "It's about precision and being able to deliver a better quality product."
Madrusan prefers sticking to the classics. Heartbreaker has four: a Manhattan, a Martini, a Negroni and an Old Fashioned. He has a few rules. Each bottle, for example, must represent a single serve. "And don't put anything in the bottle you wouldn't put over the bar. The quality and dilution have to be perfect."
Matt Bax started serving a bottled Americano when his tiny Bar Americano opened in 2011 - a move due more to the complicated recipe, which involves a secondary infusion of several bitters and vermouths - and added a Negroni about two years ago. "Bar Americano, being so small, is not plagued with any issues of consistency or needing to rush. I think in bigger bars, bottling can help with consistency, but you have to put your best bartenders on during the prep to guarantee any advantages. Bottling takes skill, patience and concentration. It should be simple but it's often not."
Bottling has an added value: it opens up a secondary take-home market.
"Through bottling our guests can still enjoy the drink back home," says Bax. "We serve from the bottle at Bar Americano not for consistency or speed, but to demonstrate the authenticity of our bottled cocktails. It's the very same hooch you can take home."
The Everleigh, 1, 150-156 Gertrude St, Melbourne, Vic, (03) 9416 2229, theeverleigh.com
Heartbreaker, 234A Russell St, Melbourne, Vic, (03) 9041 0856, heartbreakerbar.com.au
Bar Liberty, 234 Johnston St, Fitzroy, Vic, barliberty.com
Looking to batch your own cocktails before a big party? Here's our guide.