Bartender in a Bottle: How to Make Cocktails to Go

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 Photograph by Christopher Testani

My grandfather was a deliberate man who liked to be prepared for emergencies. To him that meant a drawerful of batteries, an up-to-date AAA membership, and a full bottle of premixed Manhattans, ready to be broken out for unexpected guests or whenever the mood struck.

I've only recently realized how wise that is. Bottling cocktails at home takes the chaos and guesswork out of mixing drinks, which is key in those first hectic moments when guests arrive. And done right, a premixed martini is every bit as good as one made to order. Now I take little bottles of Manhattans, negronis, and old-fashioneds everywhere I go, from camping trips to tailgates. And they make great gifts.


The secret ingredient in these home-bottled recipes is water. When bartenders stir drinks over ice, they chill the drink, of course, but they also dilute it as the ice melts. That little bit of water opens up the spirits and prevents your palate from getting numbed by alcohol. Once they're mixed, you can store the cocktails in your freezer indefinitely. They'll be pre-chilled and ready to serve at a moment's notice, so you'll be prepared for anything.

Improved Bourbon Cocktail

  • 14 oz bourbon
  • 3 oz maraschino liqueur
  • 1 oz simple syrup
  • 6 oz water
  • 14 dashes Peychaud's bitters

Store in freezer. Serve on the rocks or in a cocktail glass with a lemon twist. Makes six 4-oz drinks.

St. John's Martini

  • 15 oz gin
  • 5 oz dry vermouth
  • 5 oz water

Store in freezer. Serve in a chilled cocktail glass with a lemon twist or an olive. Makes six 4-oz drinks.

Manhattan

  • 12 oz rye whiskey
  • 6 oz sweet vermouth
  • 6 oz water
  • 12 dashes Angostura bitters

Store in freezer. Serve in a cocktail glass or on the rocks with a cherry. Makes six 4-oz drinks.

The Three Best Store-Bought Cocktails

Bully Boy Distillers Old Fashioned

Blended with whiskey, sugar, and bitters, this is a well-balanced version of the classic. [$30]

Fluid Dynamics The Saratoga

Made with wheat whiskey, brandy, and vermouth, this barrel-aged version of the Manhattan has a pleasant kick. [$20]

New York Distilling Mister Katz's

New York Distilling uses rye whiskey and a dash of citrus and spice to create a tasty reboot of the classic rock and rye. [$29]