The Genius of the Freeze-Ahead Cocktail

The practice of pre-batching and freezing entire drinks is popping up at bars from London to New York. Chloe Frechette on why you should be bottling and freezing your next Martini.

There are countless applications for freezing in the world of cocktails. Perhaps unsurprising at a bar that staffs two full-time “ice chefs,” The Aviary in Chicago has tried just about every one of them, from freezing entire cocktails to injecting hollow spheres of ice with an Old-Fashioned. Beyond the realm of molecular mixology, however, the practice of freezing pre-batched cocktails has practical uses for both professional and home bartenders.

Frozen spirits offer a rounder texture and reduce the “burn” of alcohol explains Jamie Boudreau of Seattle’s Canon. “For things like Fernet, it mutes the flavors,” he says, “making it a little easier to get down, especially for the uninitiated.”

This is no doubt the reasoning behind the sub-zero temperature of the Dukes’ Martini—perhaps the most famous proponent of this technique and one of the few drinks whose temperature is an integral component of its formula. Consisting of a staggering six and a half ounces of booze and just a splash of vermouth, freezing the bottle of vodka ahead makes the mixture “sit like milk,” according to Giuseppe Gonzalez, who has a downsized version of the drink on his menu at Suffolk Arms. Altering the texture through freezing is the key to making the mixture palatable.

Beyond freezing a single cocktail component, the practice of pre-batching and freezing entire drinks is popping up at bars from London to New York for the simple fact that it provides a thick, velvety texture while offering a solution to the issue of volume demands.

At Amor y Amargo, where all ten menu items are batched or prepared, Sother Teague explains that not only does this technique ensure consistency (“you’re getting soup from the same pot”) it enables a higher level of precision in a single drink. A minuscule amount of one ingredient, such as Japanese chili and lime bitters, diffused into a 750ml bottle, as in the slightly spicy Martini riff, the River Tam, creates an effect impossible to recreate in a single pour: “There’s a lot of micro-space inside of cocktails that you could never achieve while making a single drink,” explains Teague, “I wouldn’t be able to drop that little of it into a cocktail, but it makes a difference.” 

How to Batch

What to Batch
Any cocktail without perishable ingredients can be batched, from built drinks to stirred.

How to Dilute
Both Elliott and Teague add varying quantities of water to their batched drinks for dilution. Per Dave Arnold in Liquid Intelligence, built drinks, like the Old-Fashioned, require less dilution than stirred.

Elliott dilutes his Martini and Stinger with 1 1/4 ounces of filtered water per serving, but his Negroni with just 3/4 ounce. Arnold suggests that the latter drink—which is lower in alcohol—is more tolerant of varying levels of dilution. In addition, he writes, the spiritous Manhattan can take between 1 1/4 ounces and 1 1/2 ounces of dilution.

When to Freeze
Elliott recommends freezing botanical-based cocktails with gin or herbal liqueurs. Their cooling flavor profiles, he says, play well against the sub-zero temps.

At Sauvage, in Brooklyn, bar director Will Elliott adopts a similar mindset by bottling and freezing a roster of classics in their entirety, deliberately stripping the theatrics and showmanship from the process. “It sort of takes the surface level intrigue out of watching a bartender work” explains Elliott, “and reassigns it…to just tasting what’s in the glass.” The experience of ordering one of these menu items and having it arrive directly from a bottle pulled straight from the freezer, turns three well-known and widely enjoyed stirred drinks—the Martini, Negroni and Stinger—on their side, altering texture and mouthfeel for something that’s at once familiar and new.

Efficient and unexpected, pouring pre-frozen cocktails from a bottle is a technique that can readily be applied to entertaining on a smaller scale, too. Spirit-forward cocktails work best for this practice, which also offers room for creativity with infusions. At Bar Termini in London, for example, Tony Conigliaro ages one of his house cocktails, the Rosato Negroni, in-bottle with rose petals. “It gives a more integrated taste and longer finish than what you would get with a Negroni mixed fresh,” he says.

The bottom line for both home bartenders and professionals is, in Elliott’s words, “more time to spend with guests, less self-importance of the bartender.”

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Chloe Frechette has a masters degree in History of Design from the Royal College of Art where she earned distinction for her research on the material culture of cocktail consumption.