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Rewriting the Cocktail Rule Book: London's White Lyan Bar's Pre-Batched Bottle Service


It's what's noticeably absent—ice, juices, jiggers, shakers, and rows of liquor bottles—at White Lyan, a new bar opening in London tonight, that's about to turn the heads of cocktail connoisseurs everywhere.

After opening hot spots at home and abroad (including Edinburgh's Bramble, London's Worship Street Whistling Shop, and the just-launched Henry in New York City), acclaimed mixologist Ryan Chetiyawardana began questioning whether the drink-making approach adopted by many of today's cocktail dens could be improved. Why should a delicious drink take so much time or involve a lot of fussy ingredients? With White Lyan, Chetiyawardana's got a point to prove; the old way isn't necessarily best.

So what's the new and improved method? Pre-mixing and bottling the house cocktail menu ahead of time, making service as simple as cracking open a cold one, and sliding it across the bar. Care for an extra squeeze of lime? Too bad—you won't find a single perishable item (or any other items to substitute in your cocktail) on White Lyan's bar. After growing tired of seeing bags of citrus rinds discarded at the end of every service—not to mention the inconsistency of acidity in fruit (limes from Mexico taste differently from those from India)—Chetiyawardana found other less wasteful ways to add zip to drinks. Blueberry vinegar, for example, brightens a vermouth-based cocktail called Civil Serve.

The no-perishable philosophy may vex some veteran tipplers who prioritize fresh ingredients, but Chetiyawardana asserts that precise, consistent, and quality drinks don't require those elements. "I'm not turning my back on traditional cocktails," says Chetiyawardana of his unconventional, slightly madcap approach. "I just want to start a new dialogue."

That conversation extends to all aspects of bar service. While there's been a big push to use block ice in cocktails in the past few years, Chetiyawardana lets fridges and freezers set at specific temperatures do the chilling instead. This, Chetiyawardana believes, resolves the issue of dilution (which is impossible to control) and improves taste (because not all water is created equal). Each drink is served and enjoyed at the intended temperature, whether frigid and frosty, or slightly below room temp.

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Many drinks also feature offbeat ingredients, like a tincture made from roasted chicken bones dissolved in phosphoric acid and neutralized with calcium salts. It plays a starring role in the aptly-named Bone Dry Martini, and lends the drink a "soft and clean mouth feel," says Chetiyawardana.

So instead of waiting while your bartender painstakingly crafts one bespoke cocktail after another, you'll wait only as long as it takes to pop open a bottle cap. And since your bartender is spending less time preparing drinks, he or she is subsequently able to spend more time socializing with you and the other regulars. "I want to cast off any preconceptions about cocktails," says Chetiyawardana, "so that people enjoy what they're drinking, versus what they think they should be drinking."

White Lyan, 153-155 Hoxton Street, London; www.whitelyan.com

—Katie Chang is a writer and shopkeeper based in Brooklyn. Follow her at @katieshewrote.

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