For a career already steeped in lore and mystique, there is nothing quite so akin to alchemy than creating your own craft cocktail ingredients… There’s a certain wizardry to cocktail making. With the resurgence of old techniques and recipes for bitters and syrups, there has never been a better time to experiment, to learn, and to create interesting new recipes and ingredients. That said, not everyone has time to do so.
Below, we take a quick look the financial reasons to buy all your own craft cocktail ingredients, and offer a monetary argument in favor of the adventure of making your own in house concoctions.
A big box liquor store’s cocktail prep aisle is a pretty standardized experience. Bottles of simple syrup, bitters in vintage dropper bottles, and margarita mix so bright it could give you radiation poisoning line the aisle in simple, neat rows as far as the eye can see.
The lure of the ready made cocktail mix or store bought bitters and syrup is strong. It cuts down on labor. It’s factory-produced so the flavor will be the same every single time. Processed goods like those keep for years if they’re stored properly. There’s a lot to be gained in terms of time from buying individual cocktail ingredients rather than taking the diligence to make them yourselves.
Depending on the type of bar, it also may not make a difference in taste to the customer. If your clientele isn’t the discerning craft cocktail connoisseur, the difference between using a mix and using fresh made ingredients may not be apparent, which means the labor gone into creating the homemade mix will have basically been wasted.
While the road of ready-made ingredients might seem appealing to some of you, let me tell you why that shouldn’t be the attitude you carry toward fresh in-house cocktail ingredients.
The immediate obvious benefit of in-house ingredients is quality control. When I first started making cocktails, I always used store-bought syrup. It was easy, it was cheap. I thought that syrup was syrup, it just added sweetness. And then I reviewed The Dead Rabbit Drinks Manual and made my own. It was fresh, it wasn’t preserved and processed, and it just instantly made everything better.
But that’s just for one person right? Surely for a busy bar it’s easier to just buy in bulk and move on with your day? Not quite. DIY cocktail ingredients (syrups, bitters, batch drink mixes, etc) can actually be made quickly, easily, and for pennies on the dollar. What’s more, for the creative bartender they are endlessly customizable and keep your menu fresh.
If you are looking at the pure financial costs, as an example, simple syrup can cost anywhere from five to fifteen dollars for a 32oz bottle. For the same price, you can produce gallons of the stuff by combining sugar and water over low heat, and it’ll store for up to a month. Imbibe actually has a cheat sheet for over fifty different kinds of easy to make syrup, and a clever bartender will always find new recipes to alter and enhance their repertoire of drinks.
The same philosophy goes for bitters as well. While some bars may find it a small challenge to lay their hands on fresh gentian root or cassia bark, most grocery stores carry a wide array of ingredients that can be put to use in making unique and flavorful bitters. These require a little more time than syrups, often taking several weeks to properly infuse, but require almost no effort to create. Simply shake daily to insure proper blend of flavors and enjoy. What’s more bitters keep pretty much forever because of their high alcohol content, so you’ll only need to make them as often as you use them.
Beyond low cost and ease of creation, making your own cocktail ingredients by hand offers the benefit of creating bartenders who are better able to identify and use individual flavors in pursuit of a greater whole. Experimentation with the five types of flavors (sweet, salty, bitter, sour, umami) leads to a greater understanding of how they work and how to make the best use of them than just pouring from a premixed jar. In the end, this helps your bartenders craft a style and flavor specific to your bar, one that will separate your bar from the madding crowd.
When you craft your own cocktail ingredients, from bitters to syrups to batch mixes, you have an opportunity not to just showcase your bars sense of style and flavor, but that you care enough to craft a perfect experience, every cocktail, right down to the minutiae. Yes, it takes work to craft them on a week to week, month to month basis, but the end result adds another layer of personality to your bar that customers will notice and appreciate.
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