Lately, we’ve been hearing a lot about bottled cocktails, barrel aged cocktails, and cocktails that generally involve none of the flair us booze hounds are used to seeing. From our side of the bar, there are obvious pros (you’ll never have to wait for a cocktail again!) but some dubious cons (what am I actually paying for?).
So, what’s all this bottling, barrel-aging and batching about? And where can you get some of the best cocktails in Sydney that involve very little shaking, stirring or, um, anything other than sipping? Here’s what you should know…
#1 Not all pre-mixed cocktails taste awful.
When it comes to drinks, there’s a massive stigma around anything that’s premixed, largely because everyone’s first encounter with a bottled cocktail is a budget margarita mix that you could easily mistake for industrial disinfectant. When made with good-quality ingredients, mixed in the right proportions, bottled cocktails can be even tastier than freshly mixed ones, due to the ingredients having had time to blend together over time.
#2 No, it’s not cheating.
Unless you’re, like, really, really into all of that bottle-twirling stuff, when you go to a bar, you’re largely there to wrap your lips around a good drink, no? By serving bottled and barrel-aged cocktails, which are made in batches, bartenders can make sure that every drink tastes as delicious as the last, cutting down on error and letting them get recipes exactly right. Which ultimately means you’re less likely to get the dodgy trial run drink made by the trainee mixologist. Winner.
#3 You don’t have to wait around.
Bottled and barrel-aged cocktails let bars serve you a delicious drink faster. All of the work—the preparation of the ingredients, the blending and the tasting—goes into the cocktail before the day that it’s served on, making for slicker bar service that involves less queuing. And anything that means less time waiting around is good in our books.
#4 Got wood? (Yes, what the barrel is made of matters. A lot.)
Much like aging wine or whiskey, barrel aged cocktails take on particular characteristics of the barrel that they are aged in, making for deliciously rich and complex drinks that’ll have you drooling for days. Again, time is a key factor here—a cocktail that’s been aged in a barrel for three days will taste very different to one that’s been aged for three months. Whether it tastes better or worse is in the eye (or mouth?) of the beholder, but as with many whiskies, the older, the smoother the flavour will be.
Where can you find bottle and barrel aged cocktails in Sydney?
Eau De Vie
If these cocktail legends are bottlin’ their brew, you know it’s gotta be good. Eau De Vie bottle four creations, from a tropical coconut and banana rum old fashioned to a smoked bacon and maple Manhattan. Get them at the bar or take home from Vintage Cellars (because you really want to have that bacon Manhattan more than once, let’s be honest).
Eau De Vie Apothecary
This outpost from the Eau De Vie team takes cocktail geekery to the next level, with a three-drink-degustation that offers plenty of spectacle and no other drinks to serve as distraction. There’s plenty of choice at Eau De Vie Apothecary though, with four themes that throw in some creativity with your drinking experience. The bottled creations are available here too in case you're still thirsty after your degustation!
Whisky is the name of the game at Grain, and even their barrel aged cocktail can’t help but use it. Different whiskies are used, but the latest brewing is a Talisker Syke with equal parts of Aperol and Antica Formula. A little apricot brandy and bitters are added to taste, and it’s all served over rocks with an orange peel.
Blink and you might miss Stitch Bar, but descend those stairs and you’ll find the Mexi’can. This blend of highland tequila, Cherry Herring and Dubonnet is aged in American oak for eight weeks, and has a popping edge in the form of a popcorn salt rimmed glass.
Just above Gowings Bar & Grill sits the moody Gilt Lounge, which manages to pull off both sleek and comfy at the same time. Fancy a barrel aged negroni? Or an old fashioned that has been luxuriating in French oak for eight weeks? Head here for a Gilty pleasure late in the week!
O Bar and Dining
Using medium charred New American Oak barrels, O Bar and Dining offer an experimental selection that will wow you as much as the 47th floor view. The Negroni split is a star on the menu, with good company from the rum Manhattan and Bobby Burns.
Looking for more to cocktails to shake up your evening? Here are some of the best cocktail bars in Sydney’s CBD.
Image credit: Grain Bar