Shut Down/Reset Advice

Yesterday I put the word out to friends in my hospitality community that I have a bit of experience in running a heavy batch/prep program, and I would be happy to advise them on what they could do to make sure they’re not losing stock during the dramatic downturn in trade, and potential venue shutdowns being forced upon them. It generated a bit of interest, so I thought I’d share the tips that I’ve been putting together for the venues in the company I work for. I’m taking annual leave, long since booked with serendipitous timing, so I want to make sure the crew left behind has a plan in place for when it eventuates, and how to revive the program once this is all over.
Shutting down a cocktail program that was in full flight until just a week ago is a huge task… Here’s a list of advice that should put you on the front foot, when you reopen down the track. Hopefully you won’t have to make use of this, but you might also find it useful for saving excess prep that’s starting to go to waste with the service slow down.
I’m a big fan of freezing things in small portions. That way you can take individual packets out as you need them.
  • Have a list of everything you have in your freezer, and how many packets there are.
  • Make sure everything is labelled and dated clearly.
  • When defrosting something, don’t use heat unless you think the flavour will stand up to it. For example, I’m happy to defrost orange marmalade syrup on the stove, because the original recipe is brought to boil and then stewed. But I don’t want to use heat to defrost a blended honey and capsicum/chilli based syrup that has never seen heat. Defrosting a container in the fridge overnight is your best bet, and always add the defrost date to the label.
  • Onion and garlic become stronger in flavour, and change dramatically after freezing. It’s pretty weird. If you use them in your bloody mary mix, you’re probably just gonna have to chuck it.
  • The higher the water content, the longer it will take to defrost. Don’t pour off any liquid until the entire amount is defrosted… you’ve just freeze-distilled it.
  • If you didn’t pay for your ice (ie you make it with ice moulds), when you do eventually have to close, ditch it and use that space for your prep.
Dehydrate leftover citrus and fruits for garnish, or make jams/marmalades/syrups with them.
  • Store dehydrated fruit in a clean sealed container with silica gel desiccant packets. Silica gel is more absorbent than clay desiccant, and they are reusable. If your packets have stopped working you can restore them by drying them at a low temperature. If stored correctly, and if the fruit is properly dried, it is unlikely to grow mould.
  • Store jams/marmalades/syrups in the freezer unless you are able to sterilize and seal your storage vessels.
Batched cocktails can be stored using a coravin/oxygen replacement gas, but anything that contains a housemade infusion, syrup, or if you include bitters in the batch, you should refrigerate or even freeze to prevent over-infusion or fermentation during the shut down period. Batched cocktails tend to have a lower ABV than a standard bottle of spirits, so there’s more room for things to go wrong.
  • Purchased/pasteurized fruit juices, fruit purees can safely be frozen.
  • Egg whites/yolks can be separated and frozen, but I personally wouldn’t attempt to keep them if you have already used them for a service.
  • If the batch contains a syrup that has not been properly pasteurized (heated to approx 75-80C for 20mins, or approx 55C for 2 hours) it will not be stable at room temperature.
  • Syrups that contain small particles, eg. powdered spice or tea based, have more opportunity to grow mould, as they can settle on the top of the liquid, and be exposed to air. Try oil filters/layered muslin cloth. I find oil filters have too loose a weave to stand up to very fine powders, but a coffee filter would the trick.
  • Batches that contain alcohols that have tendencies to oxidise (eg, wines, sherries, vermouths) are particularly vulnerable and should always be stored in the refrigerator in general. You might want to wine pump these.

Really know the lifespans of your prep.

  • High sugar content syrups will last ages – especially if citrus, and boiled water is involved
  • Acid powders LOVE to grow fungus. If you use acid solutions, and store them at room temp, check them regularly for white clouds.
  • I don’t recommend keeping a syrup longer than three weeks in the fridge. If it lasts longer in your fridge at home, that’s cool, but I’d say it’s still a bit iffy serving it to a paying guest.
  • If you make fat washes, remember that oil can go rancid, and even if you’ve got a super clean wash, your batch may not last more than a week or two at room temp. This especially applies for meat based infusions
  • Milk punch is a preservation method, but if it’s not cellared right (stable temp, cool, dark place) then it can still go off.
  • An unpasteurised syrup is unlikely to last more than a week in the fridge.

Despite the soft plastic waste, I’d recommend using vacuum sealed bags to store a lot of things if you’re freezing/changing temperature a lot. Glass jars and bottles are too fragile. Plastic takeaway containers degrade quickly. If you have access to them borosilicate glass containers, or something like the gastronorm plastic pans are great.

I’d also like to mention, that just because you’ve taken every care to preserve everything to the best of your abilities, you can’t control everything that happens in the bottle or container while your back is turned. Check everything for mould/fermentation/flavour degradation before you bring them back into service.