Mile High Cocktail Club: Tricks for Making Cocktails on Flights
For jet-setting bartenders and perpetually on-the-go brand ambassadors, the airport serves as their office and the airplane as their means of commuting to work — and as their mobile bar. Making cocktails at 30,000 feet is just something the industry has always done. With the dawn of photo-sharing apps like Instagram, the art of in-flight cocktail-making can now be captured for all posterity with a few dozen “likes.” Bar industry veterans around the world have taken their high-altitude one-man-shows to the next level, turning high-flying cocktail mixing into an informal competition between friends who share their latest aerial concoctions on social media.
We sat down with Arnaud's Chris Hannah, the Sazerac Company's Jason Coleman and a few other industry road warriors to get their tricks, shortcuts and big no-no's for mixing drinks while cruising the friendly skies.
Rules of the game
Buy your base spirit from the cart. Chris Hannah, head bartender at Arnaud’s French 75 and one of the game’s founding members: "You have to buy the spirit from the cart. You have to play by the airline’s rules. Try not to be disruptive or too obvious. Don’t ruin it for the rest of us."
Share your photo. There must be evidence.
No batched cocktails. Pre-batched ingredients for concocting are A-OK.
Seatbelt fastened, tray table down. Half the challenge is mixing a cocktail on the tiny tray table.
Tools to bring
Chris Hannah: "I have a plastic shaker. It’s easy to get into your carry-on and won’t set off the metal detector. I also use what’s available on my flight or in the airport."
Jason Coleman, Brand Ambassador for Sazerac Rye Whiskey and Buffalo Trace Bourbon: "I have a collapsible jigger, telescoping bar spoon, mini cobbler shaker, a quart-sized plastic bag with mini bottles and bitters and any random ingredients I might need that are not available in a concourse bar or in-flight service. I am still searching for an unbreakable mini mixing glass."
David Delaney, Jr., National Brand Ambassador for House of Angostura: "It can help to carry a retractable bar spoon, but definitely not necessary."
Tricks of the trade
Chris Hannah: "When you’re looking for garnishes or a food component for your cocktail, I sit at the airport bar and get to know the bartender. If I feel like we’re on good terms, I’ll ask for an orange wedge or sugar cubes. I use a book to cover up what I’m doing at my seat. People ask me all the time what I’m reading because they see my photos."
Jason Coleman: "I don't want to end up on some government watch list, so I tend to utilize the newsstand and bars in my terminal if I need to shop for ingredients. I have seen or used powdered eggs, dehydrated fruit juice, cups of lime and lemon wedges from airport bars and even mini bottles holding egg whites. The real possibility of making some pretty ridiculous drinks comes from planning ahead."
David Delaney, Jr.: "For an Old Fashioned, I will bring a small, empty plastic water bottle like Dasani, a few packets of sugar or simple syrup and a handful of both Angostura Aromatic and Angostura Orange Bitters. I will order a mini bottle of bourbon or rye (because we all know that it's illegal to drink our own liquor on a plane) along with a cup of ice. I then pour the spirit into the empty water bottle along with a desired amount of sugar and a healthy dose of both bitters. Shake ingredients to dissolve sugar and pour over ice. Garnish with either a lemon or orange peel that I have placed in a ziplock bag from an airport bar."
Missy and Kristen Koefod, Owners of 18.21 Bitters: "We use our 2 oz. sample bottles used for hotels, trade shows and (hopefully) eventually airlines. We just pour whatever we want into the "carry on" friendly size, order the liquor we want and mix up a drink ourselves in our seat. We haven't gotten fancy with garnishes or good ice, but the bitters and shrubs we carry sure do beat all the sugary sodas and juices that are usually available from the cart."
How not to get caught
Chris Hannah: "Like I said, stay calm and try not to be too obvious. Wait until the flight attendant moves past you before you start breaking out the tools and mixing. Always be aware of the people around you and try not to annoy your seatmate. Buy your spirit from the cart. Just don’t be dumb."
Jason Coleman: "I typically advise against bringing anything that can get you arrested, because that would be a bummer. I have gotten some trouble for trying to bring on a plastic knife from a picnic set. I tend to steer away from any form of powder just to make sure I get on my flight. Sugar cubes go over easier at security checkpoints."
Drinks on a plane
Chris Hannah: "I’ve made a Vieux Carre, which was probably my most interesting. Old Fashioneds are relatively easy to make as are daiquiris and a Martinez. I did make a Kir Royale which was cool because I got a little mini Chambord in the airport. It made a really nice drink."
Jason Coleman: "The first drink that I made in-flight was a Boulevardier. It is an equal parts cocktail, and all I needed from the airline was a cup with ice. My favorite cocktail to make while flying is definitely the Sazerac. The ritual of preparing the drink and the ease of carrying on Sazerac Rye (of course), Peychaud's Bitters, Herbsaint and a sugar cube works well."
David Delaney, Jr.: "My go-to is an Old Fashioned or a simple Pink Gin and Tonic."
Scott David Mayer, Georgia and South Carolina Market Manager for Infinium Spirits: "I’ll be honest, I’ve got what you call “airplane narcolepsy.” The minute I hit the seat, I’m out. But when I am awake enough to make a cocktail, I've had many airplane Old Fashioneds: sugar packet, tiny bottle of Angostura and whatever American whiskey they've got in the cart."
The unofficial winner (so far)
The “unofficial” winner of the challenge (thus far) by those who witnessed the feat or saw the results via her Instagram account is New Orleans bartender Bazil Zerinsky of Catahoula Hotel and El Libre for her Ramos Gin Fizz while on a flight to Tales on Tour: Mexico City in April.
Chris Hannah: "Bazil Zerinsky wins this round for getting an egg on board to make a Ramos Gin Fizz. She probably got it from one of the airport restaurants after the security checkpoint simply by asking for it. I’m pretty sure she needed to go to the plane’s restroom to separate the egg and throw away the shell." [Editor's note: Bazil confirms that she actually brought the egg from home and made it through security just fine. "We did everything in our seats, we made two drinks divided into three cups, and just had a bag for all the trash and egg shells. Garnish was pre-made."]
Jason Coleman: "Bazil made a proper Ramos Gin Fizz on the flight to Mexico City for Tales on Tour this year. That is just plain impressive!"
Bazil’s high-flying Ramos Gin Fizz
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Soothing the antsy seat mate
Jason Coleman: "I ALWAYS bring enough to share. The reactions from my seat mates make for some of the best stories. I have also discovered that there is no rhyme or reason to who will accept a cocktail and who will stare at me like I am insane."
David Delaney, Jr.: "Always bring enough bitters to make at least two cocktails! If your neighbor is really that annoyed at your shaking, buy their whiskey for them and offer to make them an Old Fashioned. Flight attendants actually get a kick out of it as long as you're not drinking your own liquor."
Is there an official hashtag or Instagram account?
Chris Hannah: "That would be really cool. That’s a really good idea. We should probably do that. I don’t have Instagram, though. Somebody should probably set that up."
Jason Coleman: "There is not an official Instagram hashtag, but now I think that one is necessary. Does #theREALmilehighclub sound like it works? I think so. Anyone who wants to join the game can tag me on Instagram in the picture with @aggressive_hospitality."
Parting words from Chris Hannah
“Every cocktail tastes better at 30,000 feet. It must be the altitude.”