Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Ever since the cocktail was invented it has been a finicky drink, requiring elaborate preparations often compounded in front of the drinker—making it both a drink and a show—and leading in part to its enduring appeal.

However, there are times when mixing a fresh cocktail is impractical. (It is hard, for instance, to take multiple bottles of spirits, juices and a shaker on a fishing trip.) Hence, the bottled cocktail was born. In 1869, Jerry Thomas published the first cocktail book and in its pages can be found a recipe for “Bottle Cocktail,” which contains brandy, water, bitters, syrup and orange liqueur, and which Thomas describes as a “beverage for connoisseurs.” However, Thomas was not the first to come up with this concept: in 1845 an industrious Swedish spirits merchant started selling a bottled version of the then popular Arrack Punch (now known as Swedish Punsch), which has been commercially produced ever since.

There are many advantages to mixing cocktails in volume: a bottle of cocktail can make a nice hostess gift in lieu of a bottle of wine (and for the Shabbat observant, it can obviate the problem of straining a cocktail from ice on Shabbat). However, bottling cocktails also poses challenges—citrus juices lose their vibrancy after a few days, making homemade bottled cocktails go off quickly. The challenges in making a quality shelf-stable bottled cocktail can be daunting.

Regardless of the challenges, with the overall increase in the cocktail’s popularity, commercially produced bottled cocktails (or “ready-to-drink” [RTD] cocktails, to use the trade term) are a growing market segment. According to a December 2017 report by the Mintel Group, “45 percent of U.S adults drink RTD (ready-to-drink) alcoholic beverages.” The same report also predicted a 24 percent growth for spirit-based RTDs during the period from 2017 to 2022. Most RTDs are mass produced and chemically flavored (think of the old DuPont slogan of “better living through chemistry”). However, since 2103 there have been a growing number of companies popping up which produce small production, high quality bottled cocktails, sometimes called craft RTDs. Dekō, the most popular entrant to this field, is also kosher.

Dekō is the brainchild of Dan Rabinowitz, a Silver Spring-based attorney and cocktail enthusiast who noticed that when he would share cocktail recipes with friends, “it would never come out right, or they would have to gather all the ingredients for one [cocktail] and then the next night would decide they want something different and would have to gather all of those ingredients.” In response, Rabinowitz started “quasi-commercially making bottled cocktails, mostly for my friends.” Eventually, this led to the birth of Dekō Cocktails. The name is in homage to “the Art Deco and speakeasy era but with a more modern take,” said Rabinowitz.

Dekō is produced in New York at the Matchbook Distilling Company under Star-K supervision and distributed directly to consumers via its website, dekococktials.com. It is also sold at New York and New Jersey area liquor shops.

Dekō is releasing an initial run of three different cocktails: a Rosemary Vodka Gimlet and a Bees Knees and Gold Rush, which I have sampled.

Dekō, Bees Knees, 17 percent alcohol: Based on the 1920s cocktail invented by Frank Meier (the Jewish head bartender at the Ritz Hotel in Paris), this pale-gold colored cocktail has lots of appeal. The traditional recipe for a Bees Knees had three ingredients: gin, honey and lemon juice, but the Dekō version adds lavender to the mix. Look for a cocktail with flavors and aromas of lavender, honey, coriander seed and juniper, with a light citrusy note toward the back of the palate. This cocktail is well balanced, with restrained sweetness, but could perhaps be improved by a touch more acidity.

Dekō, Gold Rush, 20 percent alcohol: This is based on a more modern cocktail invented in the early 2000s by Sasha Petraske, the proprietor of New York’s late invitation-only bar Milk and Honey. The traditional Gold Rush is composed of bourbon, honey and lemon juice, and this version seems to stick pretty closely to that flavor profile. Sweet toffee and bourbon flavors play against honey, notes of spice, citrus and just a whiff of dill in the background. Overall, a well-balanced cocktail.

Both cocktails are best served both chilled and over ice.

For more than 15 years, Gamliel Kronemer has been writing about kosher wine, spirits, cocktails and food in a number of Jewish newspapers and magazines. He lives with his wife Jessica in Silver Spring, MD.