Freezer cocktails

I think there’s a prejudice against freezer cocktails, maybe because they sort of feel like cheating. But I’ve had some fantastic ones.

Thomas Waugh’s Martini at The Grill is one example:

1 1/2 ounces Plymouth Gin
1 1/2 ounces Tanqueray Gin
1/4 ounce Noilly Prat Dry Vermouth
1/4 ounce Dolin Blanc Vermouth
1/4 ounce spring water

You simply combine the ingredients and store it in the freezer. To serve, you just pour it in a coupe and add the garnish of your choice.

It’s maybe a bit light on dilution, but it tastes damn good.

Another example is Chris Hannah’s Jewel Sazerac, which is in heavy rotation at my house:

15 oz Rittenhouse 100-proof
3 oz H&H Rainwater Madeira
3 oz Matifoc rancio sec
2.25 to 2.5 oz Herbsaint (50º)
2 oz demerara syrup (2:1)
1 oz Peychaud’s bitters

Pour into a coupe and garnish with a lemon twist.

It’s just delicious. The two oxidized wines do not really stand out, themselves, but rather amplify the grain and the spices in the Herbsaint while contributing dilution. I describe the drink as a Sazerac, turned up to eleven.

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Hmmm… what makes you feel that it’s cheating? and in a professional setting, or also in the home?

also, happy new year!

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Happy New Year to you, too!

I don’t personally feel freezer cocktails are cheating, but I’ve detected some mixture of vague skepticism or disdain from a few people, and I think it may come down to some mixture of:

  1. if the service of the cocktail (at a bar) amounts to little more than pulling a vessel from a freezer, unstopping it, and pouring some out it in a glass, then something must be lost

  2. the practice of keeping liquor in the freezer is controversial for some

On the plus side, batched drinks, including freezer cocktails, can have a consistency advantage over single serving drinks that are measured out one at a time: there’s a lower margin of error in the larger quantity measurements, dilution is dialed in, and you can enforce a specific formula. There might even be an edge from a little bottle maturation of the mingled ingredients. Finally, the resulting frozen drink is far colder than you’ll get from stirring or shaking.

Of course, freezing only works for particular kinds of recipes that won’t separate out.

I would definitely be a tad… insulted… if I were paying $20 for a pre-chilled batched cocktail, but if it were at a reasonable discount at an event, a place where I was not primarily there for the drinks, why not? A LOT of catering situations would be immensely improved by this practice. But then, if there were no other choice, I would even prefer a good full-price batched cocktail than the horribly made attempts by most catering bartenders I’ve experienced.

If I do freeze anything at home, I do tend to keep it simple and limit it to alcohol and water only. I tried a small quantity of lemon juice in one once and noticed a… difference… by the last pour.

Spirits in the freezer are controversial? How so?

There you go.

Well, the batched Martini (above) at The Grill is priced at $25, which is (alas) becoming a normal cocktail price in Manhattan. In this particular case, the drink is not small, it is quite stiff, it is served in a nice glass, it comes with nice salty snacks, and you get to enjoy—in a highly civilized manner—one of the few great New York interiors that the public has access to. So what are you paying for?

Yes, please. It would also make the line move faster.

Associations with shooters, debased culture, dulling of flavor, interference with proper dilution when mixed… of course, there’s the Duke’s Martini that revels in it.

Sure. But let’s call it what it is. Flash. I am a dedicated home bartender, not a professional. While I feel that 95% of making cocktails is incredibly simple, I fully understand that making money making cocktails is not.

I find nothing really special about the Waugh martini. It’s just big, quick, strong, consistent and most importantly, ice cold. Did he spend months comparing and uncovering the perfect combination of gins and vermouths? Pfff… not necessary. The only thing necessary is to make sure everyone knows that there are two of each. Two? Two? That must be some fancy shit. By freezing a pre-batch, they get it in the glass fast enough to be cold enough so that anyone’s ability to taste any potential subtleties are fully dulled and they are, in the end, just drinking the menu and everything but the liquid. They do have some other interesting drinks there, but they’ve managed to fully automate their most popular, letting any bartender now churn out 100 an hour with no reduction in quality. If the flash and the consistency at the expense of individual service is still worth a premium price to their clientele, then sincerely, bravo to them. Profit!

And I do definitely respect snacks with drinks.

Chilling without dilution? It’s a completely valid technique. Vodka and aquavit neat, extremely strong martinis, meh… why not? I often bring pre-batched bottles to parties, sometimes pre-diluted and frozen (6 to a bottle), sometimes without dilution (8 to a bottle) if I can bring my minibar and be sure i’ll have enough ice to chill them on-site. The frozen drinks taste absolutely fine and I’m not spending all my time mixing drinks for people instead of enjoying the party. Now I know that I just need to bring them in a crystal decanter and have fancy glasses. Hah! Profit!

To my recollection, the menu doesn’t list the ingredients: it’s just a Martini. I find the drink plenty “special” in the context of that room, but you may well be correct that it’s all in the context. I guess context is pretty important!

I’m not usually on board with much of that, but that’s just me.

Yeah, the fawning over the two gins and vermouths was largely in reviews. And exactly, I don’t think that, in general, the customers really care. It’s all about the larger experience. Most people there don’t necessarily know or appreciate cocktails specifically, they just want a martini, big, strong, fast and just like the last one. Why on earth wouldn’t you bottle and freeze that?

Do they have a service bar? And is the martini back there chilled in the same crystal decanters? hmmm…

But back to the discussion of freezing drinks as a technique, chilling without dilution, easy access… what else could it be good for?

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I understand the appeal of having a drink prepared to order when sitting at the bar when I can watch the preparation. That said, I personally like freezer martinis and enjoy Waugh’s recipe as well as the ones by Julie Reiner and the Sauvage. I always have a bottle ready in my home freezer. The best part is they are VERY COLD (absolutely critical for any cocktail) and ready at a moment’s notice when coming home from work and want to have a quality drink quickly. I find other drinks don’t translate quite as well to the freezer, and only those that are alcohol only work for the freezer— i.e., no citrus or dairy. Also, be sure that the the overall proof is high— too much low proof (say high percentage of vermouth) will give you a slushy mix when frozen. Put any bitters in when getting ready to serve. Water not more than 20% of the total volume— I prefer 10-15%.

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Have you found that the bitters don’t survive in the freezer? All brands/flavors, or just some of them?

No particular brand or flavor, and it is not an issue of whether they “survive” in the freezer-- I read somewhere that flavor of bitters can expand in a batch over time, so I don’t do it-- plus, gives some flexibility in the flavor profile of the drink coming out of the bottle!

The flavors of bitters “expanding”? How so?

By taking on a higher proportion of the overall flavor profile of the drink than they should….

By the bitters becoming more flavorful? Hmmm… How would that happen? I’m just trying to logically work this out.

I could see it potentially happening in it’s own bottle through evaporation, but a measured amount already in a drink? You wouldn’t ever have more flavor extract and unless they somehow change or degrade over time, creating more flavorful (and likely unpleasant) compounds, their taste should be pretty constant.

Perhaps at that extremely low temperature, the rest of the indgredients could become less apparent? But that would be the same for the first pour to the last.

Perhaps there is an issue with some cocktails not actually being a homogenous solution and the ingredients separate out in the freezer after time. Unlikely with most cocktails, but if the bottle is not shaken each time, it could be a developing issue depending on whether the bottle is stored horizontally or vertically.

I believe it is that the flavor of the bitters becomes more pronounced in the batched bottle as time passes. Anyway, I went back to where I had read this:

“ Bitters were stirred in at the last minute—‘bitters expand in a batch over time, so I keep them out,’ says Bodenheimer…”

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Ah, hmmm. He… might… be talking about evaporation as the cocktail he’s showcasing in the article is not actually stored in a freezer, but in a much warmer wine refrigerator. Though, with the rate of consumption in a professional setting, I can’t imagine that that would really be an issue.

Or maybe something else… I asked him what he meant. We’ll see what he says.

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I would challenge this assertion insofar as cold inhibits flavor, and I value deliciousness foremost. I certainly do not value absolute coldness foremost—too cold can be unpleasant to my throat—and there are plenty of spirits, and even a few mixed drinks, that I consume at room temperature (not to mention various hot drinks, which have their own flavor issues, particularly with acids).

I’m working my way through my second batch of Jewel Sazerac, and I’m finding that I prefer it once it has warmed up a little, rather than instantly after pouring.

The Jewel Sazerac contains quite a bit of Peychaud’s, and I’m certainly not working through my batches at the rate of a bar, so these bitters get many days to mingle with the other ingredients. Weeks, even.

Is the drink changing significantly over time? Interesting question. Am pondering a way to test that.

Has anyone established what the maximum water percentage is before separation and partial freezing becomes a problem?

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Oof, for a freezer set to 0°F/-18°C, not as much leeway as one would think.

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