Perhaps it’s simply a logical evolution in the trends towards batched and bottled cocktails, but flasks are having a moment.
At the newly-opened Shuka in New York, for example, a silver “fish flask” transports a Vesper-like cocktail to the table, inspired by a similar flask glimpsed at Bellboy in Tel Aviv; at The Punch Room in Charlotte, N.C., “flask service” means that a pre-mixed punch arrives via a large, shiny silver flask, to pour tableside.
Playful as they might be, there are practical reasons why the longtime tailgate standby is popping up cocktail bars. These are drinks that can be assembled ahead of time and pre-measured, served directly in the flask itself or poured over ice. Give it a quick swish up and down, and the flask is transformed into a cocktail shaker, mixing the drink. And, like whimsical tiki mugs, a decorative flask hides a drink that maybe isn’t much to look at otherwise.
That said, not all cocktails are flask-friendly. According to New Orleans bartender Chris Hannah, who regularly totes flasked cocktails to Mardi Gras, the Krewe du Vieux and other parades, spirit-forward, stirred-style drinks survive best in a flask. Hannah often relies on a standard, pre-chilled recipe template—one-and-a-half ounces of whiskey, a three-quarter ounce of a moderately bitter amaro and a quarter-ounce of a sweeter liqueur, such as orange liqueur or herbaceous Strega, finished with two dashes of NOLA’s own Peychaud’s bitters—and he often doubles or triples the serve.
His two flask go-tos, however, are slight variations on this boilerplate recipe: His Night Tripper, named for the nickname of New Orleans music legend Dr. John, combines bourbon, Averna and Strega, while the Rebbenack (Dr. John’s surname) swaps in rye for bourbon and Creole Shrubb for amaro. Once in the flask, both drinks are pre-chilled.
Of course, not every drink requires that last step. Some bartenders are fans of scaffas, an old drink style designed to be served at room temperature. That’s Kansas City bartender Ryan Maybee’s strategy for overnight camping trips: “You can’t take ice,” he explains. “So it winds up being a room temperature cocktail. That’s an interesting challenge.” Per Maybee, that often leads to a drink that’s essentially a spirit softened with a bit of vermouth or liqueur. His The Pendergast, for example, builds on a bourbon base with additions of sweet vermouth and Bénédictine, plus Angostura bitters.
Though it seems counterintuitive, it’s possible to build a bubbly, refreshing cocktail—at least partly—in a flask, too, depending on where you’re headed. For concerts or tailgating events, Los Angeles bartender Alex Day thinks of his flasked cocktails as the base of a drink intended to be mixed later with items that can be purchased or brought on site—like sparkling wine or soda water for a spritz, or beer for a shandy or radler—along with larger cups and ice.
“Just drop it into the mix and it’s delicious,” he says. “And it won’t get people too messed up.”