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Bottled Cocktails: A Pro Bartender Move You Can Make at Home

I’ll admit it—when I’m at a fancypants bar, I’m as likely to choose a cocktail based on its name as I am on the ingredients list.

While I always gravitate toward the tart, sour, herbal, and smoky, I can always be convinced to try something else if the bartender has given it a clever moniker (that’s how I ended up drinking a “Vote for Pedro” at the Rainbow Room.)

So when we sat down to dinner at Cochineal restaurant in Marfa, Texas, the drink titled “Marfa Ranch Water” was the one that caught my eye and drew me in.

Marfa Ranch Water cocktail at Cochineal in Marfa, TX
Photo: Casey Barber

A good name and a refreshing list of ingredients—tequila, lime, and the Mexican mineral water Topo Chico—made it a no-brainer, but what I didn’t realize is that it would be presented so cleverly as well.

Choosing to serve the Marfa Ranch Water cocktail in the same Topo Chico bottles that you see all over Texas was a killer move.

It’s a winking nod to the locality of the drink, an acknowledgement that bartenders love the stuff so much, and a really cool presentation that makes you think of kicking back in a hammock in a backyard.

And it’s something that you’ll see bars around the country doing more regularly these days.

examples of homemade bottled cocktails
Photo: Casey Barber

Back here in New York, the Whiskey and Cola at Porchlight, a cavernous but low-key hangout on Manhattan’s far west side, doesn’t come in a highball glass. The whiskey-and-fernet cocktail is instead served in a mini Coke-style bottle that’s uncapped at the table.

So how do you translate this bar trend to your own house parties?

You can actually bottle your own cocktail creations à la Porchlight if you’re up for the adventure—an eye-catching idea for a big-deal event, like signature cocktails at a wedding.

Marfa Ranch Water, aka bottled margarita cocktails
Photo: Casey Barber

This requires a few small investments, namely a set of 12-ounce swing-top bottles and any labels you’d like to add. If you’re a home brewer, you can use the bottle capper, caps, and 12-ounce bottles you already have on hand.

Just be aware that because you’re not actually fermenting these cocktails with yeast or using a carbonator, the bubbles will dissipate within a week.

Or if you’re making fresh cocktails and serving on the spot, you can do what Cochineal does and use soda bottles as serving vessels.

Marfa Ranch Water, aka bottled margarita cocktails
Photo: Casey Barber

With so many well-designed bottles on the market, what’s ON the label is often as memorable as what’s inside. Plus, you won’t have to invest in a bottle capper or your own fleet of bottles; call it intelligent recycling!

Because I’ve never met a margarita I couldn’t resist, I’m offering up my own version of Marfa Ranch Water that you can drink anywhere, not just in far west Texas.

The following recipe also works as a basic template for making virtually any cocktail variation you can devise, like so.

Ratio for Making Bottled Cocktails

  • Remove 4 fluid ounces (1/2 cup) liquid from a 12-ounce bottle of soda or seltzer.
  • Replace with 2 ounces (1/4 cup) liquor(s) of choice and 2 ounces (1/4 cup) juice or other flavored beverage.
  • Pour back into the bottle and serve.
bottled margarita cocktails
Marfa Ranch Water, aka bottled margarita cocktails

Bottled Margarita Cocktails (Marfa Ranch Water)

Yield: 2 drinks
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Total Time: 10 minutes

Make bottled cocktails at home with seltzer and your own mix-ins, like in this Marfa Ranch Water (aka bottled margarita cocktail) recipe.

Ingredients

  • 2 chilled 12-ounce bottles of Topo Chico mineral water or other bottled plain or lime-flavored seltzer
  • 2 fluid ounces (1/4 cup) tequila or mezcal
  • 2 fluid ounces (1/4 cup) Cointreau or triple sec
  • 4 fluid ounces (1/2 cup) freshly squeezed lime juice (from about 4-5 large limes) + lime wedges for garnish
  • coarse sea salt for garnish (optional)
  • lime wedges for garnish

Instructions

  1. Pour 4 fluid ounces (1/2 cup) liquid from each bottle into a measuring cup. Discard or save for drinking at another time.
  2. Pour the remaining mineral water into a 1- or 2-quart pitcher.
  3. Add the tequila, Cointreau, and lime juice.
  4. Wet the rim of the bottles and coat with sea salt, if desired. I find it's easiest to get an even layer of salt on the curved surface by sprinkling salt over the bottle as I rotate it over the sink. 
  5. Place a funnel in the mouth of one of the bottles, taking care not to knock any salt off the rim if you've decided to garnish it. 
  6. Get the cocktail back in the bottle by slowly pouring it down the side of the funnel—the same technique you'd use for pouring beer from the tap to reduce foam. 
  7. Repeat with the other bottle.
  8. Garnish with lime wedges and serve to appreciative guests.

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