The Freezer Bar: Basics and Beyond
Whether you've purchased one of our new bottles or are a seasoned veteran, here's everything you need to know about building your own Freezer Bar at home.
Why Freezer Bar?
We developed our Freezer Bar Bottle to celebrate one of our favorite cocktail party tricks: mixing cocktails ahead of time and storing them in the freezer, which ensures we’ll always have perfectly chilled, ready-to-serve drinks on hand. When cocktail hour comes around, you simply grab a bottle, pour it into a glass, and garnish. This technique also allows you to serve exactly how much cocktail we want; instead of mixing a full-size Martini, for example, we can pour a mini Martini whenever the mood strikes.
How to Freezer Bar
Because of high-proof alcohol’s low freezing point, you can batch drinks in 750ml glass bottles, dilute them with water, then chill them until you’re ready to drink. This method works only with spirituous cocktails—that is, drinks that don’t involve citrus and that are high enough in proof to resist freezing. Drinks that typically fall into this category are Old Fashioneds, Manhattans, Martinis, and Negronis, including the endless variations and riffs within each category. So long as the overall proof of the mixture is 30 percent alcohol or above, it won’t freeze in a standard home freezer (most residential units hold temp around 0° Fahrenheit); the freezing point would be -1.75° Fahrenheit.
With any freezer cocktail, you have to account for the water that would be added when stirring the drink over ice. But if you just freeze the cocktail without adding a bit of water, the result will be a very stiff, unbalanced drink. In the case of a stirred drink served up, such as a Manhattan, that amount would fall between 1½ and 2 ounces for a single cocktail. However, adding a full 2 ounces of water to the freezer drink would lower the overall ABV to the point where the cocktail would partially freeze. Instead, we generally start by adding 10 to 15 percent water for cocktails that contain vermouth, like Manhattans and Martinis (depending on the proof of the ingredients), in this case pulling back considerably and adding between ½ and ¼ ounce of water per individual drink.
For cocktails served on the rocks—such as a Negroni, an Old-Fashioned, or variations on both—because of the higher proof, you can get away with a bit more water; for Old-Fashioned styles, we recommend around 20 percent added water, or about ½ ounce per individual cocktail, scaling up as you batch multiple cocktails.
If you choose not to dilute your freezer bar cocktails ahead of time, you can always add water to taste when you’re ready to serve.
And then there are the bitters to consider. In large batches, bitters magnify in intensity (we don’t understand why; it’s sorcery). Our basic rule of thumb is to cut the bitters amount in half in any batch over five cocktails, taste, and add more as needed.
Freezer Bar Tiny Tweaks
Because we’ve been freezing cocktails both in our bars and in our homes for several years, we’ve come up with several ways to enhance Freezer Bar drinks. Here are a few of our favorite “tiny tweaks”:
- One of the things we love about freezer cocktails is their adaptability. A Martini can sometimes be a bit too alcoholic or just not what you’re in the mood for. That presents a great opportunity to think of the batched Martini as a base spirit of sorts. You can top a Freezer Bar Martini with seltzer for a clean, herbal highball, or even add some fresh lemon juice and a small amount of simple syrup and shake it up for a very complex sour. You’ll need to adjust the sweet and sour depending on what’s in the batched Martini, but it’s a great way to experiment and gain a better understanding of balance in cocktails.
- Any freezer bar batch should have enough proof to extract delicious flavors; instead of just infusing one component, why not infuse the entire cocktail? We typically use a pressure-infusion method (which we cover in both Cocktail Codex and Death & Co Welcome Home), but if you prefer not to use the technique, in most cases you can combine the infused ingredient with the batch in a sealed container and allow to rest at room temperature for 24 hours or until the flavor is noticeable. We especially like to use seasonal ingredients in our infusions. In early summer, when strawberries are at their peak, our freezers are full of strawberry-infused Negronis (use the discarded berries to make the best damn sorbet you’ve ever had!). And in winter, strips of Meyer lemon zest go into our Martinis and Bamboos.
- We’ve yet to meet a batched freezer cocktail that isn’t benefited by a tiny splash of eau de vie. This is a favorite “tiny tweak” for lots of freezer cocktails: adding a small amount of unaged fruit brandy (pear most commonly, but there are plenty of others to explore!) into a batched Martini, Manhattan, Sazerac, or Negroni. Not all combinations go well together, but that’s the fun of exploring, too—playing with the ratios to find a flavor profile that’d be difficult to match in a single serving drink.
- We’re not always the best at planning ahead, but when we have the itch for a stirred cocktail, we always make more than one serving and place the second half in a bottle and pop it in the freezer. This “Freezer Bar dividend” can be pulled out for a second round, saved for later, or used to casually top off our drink if we’re sipping slowly. Likewise if we’re making a round of stirred cocktails à la minute and we’ll likely want another round: Make four cocktails instead of two, strain and serve the first round, then pour the extra cocktail into the bottle and freeze.
Freezer Bar FAQs
Since we first introduced the idea in our latest book, Death & Co Welcome Home, we've been hit with questions about how best to build a Freezer Bar at home. We enlisted the help of our Director of Food and Beverage Tyson Buhler and COO Alex Day (two of our most ardent Freezer Bar practitioners) to help answer your questions about freezing cocktails at home. If you have questions we don’t cover here, we’d love to hear them! Email us at email@example.com.
Who came up with the Freezer Bar concept at Death & Co? Is it something that’s widely used at the bars, or is it primarily for cocktailing at home?
The first drink we served straight from the freezer at our bars was a variation of an old Hollywood classic called the Flame of Love. That was somewhere around 2016, and since then every menu we’ve done has employed some version of this technique. Whether it’s a Martini variation, or a batch of spirits and modifiers to be topped with seltzer for a highball, we’ve found this technique is just as valuable behind the bar as it is at home.
For the math-challenged among us: Is there a standard trick for scaling up single cocktail recipes to make a Freezer Bar batch?
The easiest way to scale up single-serving cocktail recipes for a 750ml bottle is to multiply the ingredient amounts by 6. Bitters tend to intensify in larger batches, so start by adding 3 times as much as a single cocktail, then taste the finished drink and add more as needed. And don’t forget about the water!
Can you only freeze stirred drinks? What if you’re making drinks with citrus?
In short, yes. Spirit-forward cocktails, which are almost always stirred, have a high-enough proof not to freeze at 0°F, which is the temperature of most home freezers. This includes Martinis, Old Fashioneds, Manhattans, Negronis, and all the variations within these categories, as well as other spirituous cocktails. The overall proof of any drink you put in the bottle should be 30% ABV or higher. Unfortunately, fresh juice and other nonalcoholic ingredients will lower the proof to a point where the cocktail can freeze, or at least turn slushy.
Are there any spirits or components to avoid besides citrus?
Be mindful of alcohol content and added water. If you’re batching a cocktail with lots of vermouth or fortified wine—like a 50/50 Martini—lower the amount of added water or remove it entirely. Similarly, if you’re relying on a fortified wine (or other low-ABV ingredients) for the bulk of your recipe, a freezer may be too cold; consider chilling it in the refrigerator instead, then pouring it over ice to serve.
Should you use distilled water instead of filtered? What’s the difference with regard to flavor?
In any cocktail, the purity of water is fundamentally important, be it from ice or added water in the case of a Freezer Bar cocktail. Depending on your water source, we recommend you at the lease use highly filtered water. For more subtle cocktails (such as a Martini) where there’s so little to hide behind, distilled water will be the most neutrally flavored addition, but for most applications it’s not necessary.
Since water expands in the freezer, are there any safety or practical tips there (besides leaving a bit of room in a bottle)?
You’ll want to leave a small amount of headspace at the top of your bottle (a couple ounces should do) but otherwise there’s no real safety hazard other than the tragedy that is a leaking Martini if you don’t have a good seal. That’s why we landed on phenolic screw tops for our Freezer Bar Bottles. If you aren’t using one of ours, find a bottle with a swing top or one with a tight-fitting cork. Synthetic corks are ideal for longevity and cleanliness, and work better than metallic screw tops caps, which can warp with use.
Help! My cocktail froze. What should I do?
Don’t panic! Your frozen (or more likely, partially frozen) cocktail will be just fine. Just leave the bottle out on the counter until it thaws, then give it a few turns to reincorporate the ingredients.