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An Expert’s Guide to the To-Go Cocktail

March 26, 2021

Story: Punch Staff

photo: Dylan + Jeni

An Expert’s Guide to the To-Go Cocktail

March 26, 2021

Story: Punch Staff

photo: Dylan + Jeni

Innovating bar owner Mike Capoferri shares his insights on building a tastier, technique-driven to-go cocktail program.

When COVID-19 hit, Mike Capoferri, a bartender who co-owns a Southern-inflected bar in East Los Angeles, was in some ways primed to pivot his drink menu to an entirely takeaway model. Pre-pandemic, his program’s mission was to combine the wizardry of high-tech applications with a neighborhood bar menu to keep service seamless and drinks affordable. “We wanted to use all of the tech and science that you might see at a cocktail bar where people were paying $20 to $25 a cocktail,” says Capoferri. “But we wanted it to be comfortable for someone who’s not in the cocktail world to be able to come in and read a menu that’s not intimidating.” The result was a drink list that championed a balance of beautifully executed drinks—a mix of clarified, highly carbonated and shelf-stable, and all impressive to the clued-in set—minus the jargon that might alienate or confuse the average customer.

Capoferri's To-Go Cocktail Program Tips

  1. Innovate and change your menu often: Try experimenting with different serve formats and new ingredients and expanding the range of drink offerings.
  2. Promote every new cocktail as if it’s your best ever: Get loud on social, and be consistent in posting.
  3. Help the guest experience your hospitality at home: Consider details that will amplify the guest experience—labeling, garnish, packaging, and delivery.

As the industry was forced to react to COVID restrictions, he realized his program was ahead of the learning curve. “Because so much of our product was done in advance, we could execute to-go drinks at a higher level from the get-go,” says Capoferri. The bar’s novelties became building blocks. Today, the selection includes bottled and vacuum bag–sealed cocktails, as well as ready-to-drink (RTD) canned cocktails, which have become a cornerstone of his new business model. “We really had to nail the experience for people to feel comfortable spending $12 to $13 on a cocktail that they weren’t sitting at our bar enjoying,” he says, expressing his concern for the delta between drinking at a bar versus taking a drink to go. “We really leaned into bringing the experience of the bar to your house.”

For example, his Savannah Sour, a cocktail built on cacao-infused Bulleit bourbon, is made using a methylcellulose syrup that is a shelf-stable stand-in for egg white. It’s also packaged in a can, which is sealed in-house, making it not only the ideal format for to-go drinks but a bestselling presentation that’s in step with the current RTD vogue.

 

Recipe

Sour Syrup

This deceivingly simple syrup acts as both a sweetener and an egg white replacement.

Recipe

Savannah Sour

A fluffy, amped-up Whiskey Sour, sealed into a can.

Recipe

Cacao-Infused Bourbon

A quick infusion to lend whiskey a subtle nutty, bitter chocolate flavor.

A Better To-Go Cocktail: The Savannah Sour Step by Step
Capoferri starts by making the methylcellulose-based sour syrup, a combination of Methocel F50, sugar and water.
Sour Syrup

First, you’ll make the methylcellulose-based sour syrup, which acts as the Savannah Sour’s sweetening agent and also a shelf-stable egg white replacement. In a disc-blade Vitamix pitcher, start the cold water spinning on the lowest setting. In a separate cup, add the hot water and then stir in the methylcellulose to disperse it evenly. Stir it until there are no clumps. Slowly pour the hot dispersion into the cold water vortex. Allow to remain spinning on low for 4 minutes. Once that’s finished, place the blender pitcher in the freezer for 10 minutes, or until foam dissipates, to continue helping the methylcellulose dissolve and create a crystal-clear syrup. Gently whisk in sugar, and bottle.

Then, he uses an iSi canister to rapidly infuse the spirit with cacao nibs, lending the whiskey a subtle nutty, bitter chocolate flavor.
Cacao-Infused Bourbon

Meanwhile, you’ll make the cacao-infused Bulleit Bourbon with a technique called rapid infusion. To an iSi canister you’ll add cacao nibs and bourbon. Close the canister (be sure to check that the O-ring is in place in the lid), and shake. Change the nitrous oxide to a fresh charger, and shake again. Holding the canister upright, de-gas it slowly into an angled cup. Once the gas has been released, open the canister, fine-strain and rebottle.

Combine all ingredients into an 8oz can, add dilution and shake vigorously before serving for a perfect frothy head.
Savannah Sour

To make the Savannah Sour, you can build either in a can or in a cocktail shaker. Combine sour syrup, rainwater Madeira, infused Bulleit bourbon, aromatic bitters and almond bitters. If making the canned version, add dilution, insert it into the seamer to seal, and put in the freezer for 20 minutes. Once chilled, shake the can, open and pour into a cocktail glass. If making in a cocktail shaker, either pulse ingredients with immersion blender or dry-shake. Then add ice and shake until chilled. Strain into chilled cocktail glass.

Tagged: to-go cocktails