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Batching a Plan: SF’s Speedy Craft Cocktails

Today's post is written by Lou Bustamante. Lou is a contributor to publications including the SF Chronicle, SF Weekly and Wine & Spirits.

A partially batched cocktail at Rickhouse

If the popularization of craft cocktails has a negative side effect it’s that  it has set our expectations for a good cocktail pretty high. We want a great cocktail EVERYWHERE we go; not just the high end bars. The baseline even for a decent cocktail is not what it used to be. Just go into any airport or hotel bar and watch them make you a $20 cocktail with sweet and sour mix and we'll hear the wrath of your anger on Facebook (although admit it: you love doing it).

For the most part we drink a lot better than we used to, in a lot more places, but we still want better drinks everywhere, and we want them fast.

Punch Drunk

The response to that demand has been to batch up cocktails, and initially punch was a natural segue, with daily punch specials showing up at bars around San Francisco like Alembic. Now punch is getting even faster. Trick Dog serves a trio of large format bottled cocktails including a Kingston Punch and Buttermilk Punch as a way to get drinks into the hands of groups even faster.

At Novela, Alex Smith and Kate Bolton serve up punch from kegs, with a rotating selection available by the pitcher, glass, or flight. This system smartly scales to get drinks into the hands of large parties or individuals, but Smith also finds that they improve over time with the flavors of ingredients like oleo saccharum marrying together.

Scott Beattie batches everything but the citrus

Batching Portions of the Drink

While punch is a great solution for speed, not every bar can have bowls or kegs of punch, but building in speed by eliminating a few steps is possible with partial premixing. At many of the bars he has consulted and works at (like Goose & Gander, BUILD Pizzeria in Berkeley, and Hi-Lo BBQ), Scott Beattie has set up systems where everything but juices gets premixed in larger batches, then bottled and accessed from the well. For Beattie there are many advantages: it allows for a kind of precision with bitters and modifiers that simply aren’t possible on a smaller scale, provides incredibly consistent drinks no matter which bartender makes them, and allows the bar to serve a large number of cocktails easily.

His method is to devise recipes in metric units to simplify scaling up, then list the formula for how much juice to add clearly marked on the bottle.

Working in a similar fashion, Dan Chavez Stahl and Lucien Sankey of Rickhouse pre-batch most of the drinks on the one-sheet speed menu, which helps them focus more attention with customersf and on the massive backbar selection of spirits.

Trick Dog deviates from the latter in that they only prebatch the spirits in their menu drinks—no sweeteners or bitters go in the bottle.  For Morgan Schick, who helps run the bar, the main reasons for not including bitters or sweeteners in the batches goes beyond the ability to further customize each drink. Schick believes the bitters settle and become less aromatic in batches, but also thinks that doing too much ahead takes away from the show. The dashing and measuring out of several bottles instead of just one for Trick Dog is the right amount of compromise: it shaves time off your customer’s wait for a drink, but still gives them a show and a sense of effort and that alone can make a drink taste better.