Last week, Washington State eased up on its often archaic stronghold over the sale of alcohol. During the state’s temporary ban on in-person dining and even-more-recent stay at home order, this new regulation allows all restaurants that hold a spirits, beer and wine license to temporarily be able to sell closed, factory-sealed bottles of liquor for takeout or delivery, as long as they are accompanied by food.
Piggybacking off this update, a number of Seattle-area restaurants and bars have started selling cocktail kits for at-home mixing to complement this potential sale.
One of the first bars to the cocktail kit frontlines was Belltown’s Navy Strength, the tiki-inspired joint from Chris and Anu Elford. The cocktail power couple also owns beer bar No Anchor and natural wine and seafood eatery Vinnie’s Raw Bar, plus Anu owns classic cocktail lounge Rob Roy, all located in Belltown.
The state “is enabling you to sell your liquor inventory, which is important to a lot of these businesses because the inventory sitting on your shelves is money not in your back account,” Chris Elford says, noting he first saw the cocktail kit concept in an article covering a bar in China a few months back. “It’s nice, all of us are curators and it allows us to still offer our guests some element of our curation.”
Elford says the lion’s share of customers buying Navy Strength’s kits just want the ingredients to mix their own alcohol with, while there are some who want to buy extra booze for their home bars and get an added bonus of food with the alcohol purchase. “We’re just winging it on what [food] to include with the booze to get it to them and be compliant with the state,” he adds. “We’re trying to give our people a little fun. This weekend, the snack we’re doing is spam sliders.”
Though the states of New York and California, plus Washington, DC, are allowing consumers to order single-serving cocktails for takeout, Washington hasn’t been as lenient on the sale of sealed containers of mixed drinks and Elford says he doesn’t mind. The current regulation keeps it simple not only for consumers but for the bar’s overhead.
“We’re doing [cocktail] batches, two days a week, for three hours a day and for pickup only,” he says. “We have a small window for operation and the rest of the time we plan and prep. We’re allowing people to preorder. It’s simple, we’re not offering our entire menu but our kits make 10 drinks and we’re making it work.”
The kits currently available are the Saturn (passion fruit orgreat, lemon juice, falernum; mix only for $36, with 750-milliliter of gin for $60, with 1-liter of gin for $65), the Zombie (grenadine, cinnamon, falernum, lime; mix only for $36, with 750-milliliter of rum for $70, with 1-liter of rum for $75) and the Navy Grog (allspice, lime, demerara, grapfruit; mix only for $36).
BRINGING THE BAR HOME
Elford says this has made his team realize the kits bring the “bar experience” to everyone. “For people to experience what we do, they have to come into our bar, but not everyone can do that anyway,” he adds, mentioning social anxiety or a tight budget as matters preventing customers to enter his establishment. “Americans never stop drinking, even in times when we have no money, we still find a way. I feel like this will reach a demographic that we don’t normally reach.”
A handful of Seattle-area bars and restaurants are offering cocktail kits, both for takeout and delivery. Bar manager and cocktail curator Abigail Gullo has built an entire menu for takeout at Downtown’s Ben Paris. Consisting of 10 pre-made cocktails, sippers like a Negroni, Abigail’s Manhattan and the Adonis (two different sherries with orange bitters) fill out the list.
“We carry interesting and unusual products here, so people really like the idea of getting unique bottles for their home bar,” Gullo says. “I have seen the creative ways people are dealing with being stuck at home, and making good cocktails certainly seem to help. We are all trying to stay healthy and eat better, why not drink better?”
Ben Paris’ menu ranges from $20-95 depending on the kit and also gives the option to buy some go-to mixers like tonic or ginger beer for just $4 each.
Downtown, Willmott’s Ghost is making cocktails like a spritz (Aperol, Campari or Casoni with two bottles of sparkling wine for $65) and gin or vodka martinis for $50, with 50% off the wine list and take-and-bake pizza pies. Phinney Ridge gin bar Joli is selling packages that include ingredients and instructions with the option to upgrade to a higher-shelf base spirit and add on tools like cocktail shakers, mixing glasses, stirrers and peelers at discounted rates. Packages range from $35 to $125 and serve 10 to 25 drinks each.
West Seattle smokehouse and cocktail bar Lady Jaye is cooking up a 15-serving Old Fashioned kit for $60 and even fine dining institution Canlis is opting for “Bottle Service” for six different cocktail kits that serve 12 ($132-204), with its James Beard Award-winning wine list up for grabs with the ability to text a somm.
At Rob Roy, Elford says the cocktail kits will launch this weekend with more of an educational, experiential spin.
“We’re trying to make those a little more cerebral [there], I want to offer it as a way for people to develop their home cocktail making,” he says, including that Rob Roy will be selling bartending tools and big ice cubes. “If you were to get each one of the cocktail kits from Rob Roy, by the end of this you’d have a lot of knowledge to make these drinks, a few tools, a few bottles and the experience.”