Lukewarm Libations and Tepid Tipples – Room Temperature Cocktails 101

In contrast to my last article on how to cool your drinks down with liquid nitrogen, this week we’re going to be exploring room temperature cocktails – what they are, why they came about, and how you can best utilise them. To be frank, those customers who specifically request no ice may be on to something (although they might now know it)…

To begin, room temperature cocktails are typically quite boozy, spirit forward and bitter. This is both a challenge for the bartender and an intriguing new way to drink for the seasoned customer. Not to mention they can be absolutely banging when paired with a charcuterie board!

Generally, darker more complex spirits such as rum, brandy and whisky shine through best in these creations. Their rich flavour profiles are able to open up and breath without being dulled by the chill of ice. With this in mind, there’s no reason to not get adventurous. Try making a room temperature gin cocktail – it just needs to be rich and full of attitude. Experimenting with different combinations of amaro and vermouth is also worth a try…

The History of Lukewarm Cocktails

Where did this unusual trend begin? Well, back in the days of Jerry Thomas and alike, ice was a luxury and the vast majority of cocktails were served at room temperate – there was simply no other option for bartenders back then. Unless ordering a hand cut block of ice the size of a small house is classified as an option?

These room temperature libations fall into the category of drinks called ‘scaffa’. Broadly speaking, scaffa can be defined an iceless assemblage of wines, bitters and spirits made popular during the 19th century. The origins of the word are somewhat ambiguous, but some people claim that it refers to the practice of pouring a drink straight from the cupboard.

When the advent of refrigeration entered mainstream society however, this style of mixing began to fall into obscurity, and people started to favour colder, more refreshing beverages. In spite of this fact, there are several compelling reasons for why we should be finding a place for these tepid tipples on modern cocktail menus…

Benefits

Nuance and Subtlety 

Without the chill of ice, it’s far more difficult to mask rough or out of place flavours. These will be immediately obvious in a room temperature drink. This means that you must carefully balance the drink to be effective, with every little detail having been matched purposefully.

Serving the drink at room temperature also brings out the more subtle and nuanced flavours that would otherwise be lost within the drink. In many ways, the lack of chill acts as an amplifier for everything that’s both good and bad in the glass. So try to focus on the good!

Enhanced Aromatics 

Chilling a drink can dull or mute the aromatic compounds that would normally rise from a room temperature spirit. Consequently, by serving the drink at room temperature you’re allowing it to breath, enhancing the sensory experience for the customer.

Dilution is Key 

Just like a chilled cocktail, room temperature drinks need to be well balanced and diluted to the optimum level. This may range from anything between a couple of drops of water to 20 or 30ml. It really depends on what products you’re using and on the type of drink you’re aiming to make. For instance, something that’s heavy on vermouth may not need to be diluted as much as something whisky or rum forward.

It’s also worth noting that by measuring the dilution of the cocktail instead of stirring it down over ice, you’ve got a fantastic opportunity to introduce more flavour to the cocktail. If you infuse the water with a herbal essence or spice of some variety, then you’ll be adding even more complexity to the drink. This can be used to compliment what’s already in the glass.

In addition, it goes without saying that the quality of water being used is of the utmost importance. So no gross water that’s been sitting on the bar all night…

Hopefully this article has given you some inspiration to create your own lukewarm libations. They’re an excellent way to test your abilities as a bartender and can provide an interesting new alternative for customers who typically drink bitter, booze forward classics.

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Rohan Fisher

Rohan is a Melbourne based mixology and coffee geek who earns his beer money working as a cocktail bartender. With a passion for great spirits, most nights inevitably lead to being perched at the bar (sometimes face down)…