Eater contributor Catherine De Orio is a blogger, writer, entrepreneur, and TV and radio personality. In her weekly Tasting Trends piece, she scours the city for what's trending on the dining scene and where you can taste the trend. Follow her culinary adventures on Twitter @CatCalls. This week's trend: Bottled Cocktails.
Grass Fed [Photo: Jason Little]
You approach the bar, order a craft cocktail and within seconds you are sipping. No mix, no muddle, no mess and no waiting. The bottled cocktail trend has been growing around the country and is hitting full speed in Chicago as more locales begin to offer them as part of their beverage program. Eater spoke with Caitlin Hennessy, manager at Grass Fed, which has offered bottled cocktails since it opened its doors last July.
A bottled cocktail is pre-mixed in a large batch, often times carbonated, placed in a bottle, sealed and chilled. But why bottle the drink? We drink with our eyes first, so presentation plays a large factor in the choice to bottle cocktails. "Presentation is usually focused on glassware and cool ice cubes, but bottling it gives the drink a nostalgic, whimsical nature," says Hennessy, "It's like soda pop you had as a kid, but an adult version."
From a taste standpoint, since the bottles are batched and chilled, there is no need for ice, therefore ensuring the proper amount of dilution from start to finish. Also, the entire drink is carbonated, versus just separate components, giving it a more cohesive effervescence. These drinks are fun, interactive and taste good, but bottling also serves a practical role as it allows the bar to produce high quality drinks on a large scale. "It's labor intensive to make up front, but for service it makes things really easy," explains Hennessy.
You can bottle most any spirit. The key to a good bottled cocktail, however, is creating something that is "perfectly balanced between alcohol and the citrus or sugar element being added." First all of the ingredients are prepped, whether juicing, infusing spirits or making simple syrups. Then they're measured into a mini keg and carbonated. The contents of the keg are allowed to chill thoroughly as "it enhances the carbonation" before bottling and capping single servings.
At Grass Fed, all of the syrups and infused spirits are made in-house and all juice is freshly squeezed. The drinks change seasonally and "we try to go with classic staples and then give them a new fun twist, " says Hennessy. The margarita-inspired smoldering rose, a heady blend of jalapeno-infused tequila, blood orange juice and lime is currently on menu, but come the warmer months, you can expect to see lighter gin-based drinks with floral notes.
Head to these places to bust a cap and taste the trend:
Grass Fed | 1721 North Damen Avenue | 773.342.6000
This Bucktown eatery offers a range of bottled cocktails each season. A favorite that makes frequent menu appearances is the gingery Bucktown mule. On offer right now are the cuba libre, a blend of cardamom-infused rum and housemade cola as well as cider house sangria made with cinnamon-infused brandy and housemade apple cider.
Bar Toma | 110 East Pearson Street | 312.266.3110
This Italian snack bar and pizzeria just steps from Michigan Avenue is currently oak barrel aging its own Negroni. Set to be ready in a couple weeks, the Bar Toma Negroni will be bottled under its own label. To serve, it will be opened and poured tableside into ice-filled glasses with a slice of orange.
Mercat a la Planxa | 638 South Michigan Avenue | 312.765.0524
This South Loop modern tapas restaurant has just launched its own lineup of bottled, carbonated cocktails. Utilizing fruit and herb infused-vodka as well as housemade syrups they have created two new hand-processed, carbonated bottled cocktails. Embotellado espelette is a spicy sweet-sour blend of grilled jicama and mango-infused vodka, jicama, mango, and chili syrup with an espelette gastrique. While kiwi and thyme-infused vodka sweetened with a syrup of kiwi, thyme, coriander, sugar and white wine make up the embotellado kiwi.
Sumi Robata Bar | 702 North Wells Street | 312.988.7864
To complement the smoky flavors of the robata menu items, Beverage Director Matthew Lipsky has created four signature cocktails that utilize light and fresh ingredients from yuzu and grapefruit to cold-brewed green tea. The roshi is a bright and refreshing blend of shochu, green tea, lemon, lemongrass and coconut. The dragon's milk uses vodka as its base spirit and then mixes in a blend of cucumber, mint, nigori sake, white pepper, and lime.
Jake Melnick's Corner Tap | 41 East Superior Street | 312.266.0400
There are two bottled cocktails on offer at this River North pub: the groom and bride. The groom blends red wine with Niesson Silver Rhum, whole vanilla beans, honey and brown sugar while the bride incorporates Seedling Farms heirloom pears. The bride is only available in a limited batch, so get it while you can!
Catherine De Orio dishes on all things cuisine, cocktail and cosmopolitan for editorial and broadcast outlets locally and nationally. You can follow her on Twitter @CatCalls