When it comes to fine craft cocktails, speed is generally not a major consideration. Drinkers have to come to expect that they take a while to make and that they should certainly take a while to enjoy.
Reading the menu at New York’s watering hole Boilermaker, you’d expect its popular Hot Pink, which combines tequila, jalapeño, Aperol, citrus acid and grapefruit soda, to be no exception. So it’s a bit jarring at first to see the perfectly mixed cocktail rushing out of a beer tap into your glass.
After a few exploratory sips you’ll quickly get over the fact that the concoction wasn’t made right that minute and when you inevitably decide to have another you’ll truly appreciate the rapidity at which it arrives in front of you. (The establishment in fact even offers three other drinks on draft, including the innovative Bad Idea Bear, which includes Plantation Pineapple Rum, mezcal, cream soda and, unbelievably, a gummy bears garnish.)
While these drinks may sounds like a novelty, kegging craft cocktails is a real trend and Boilermaker is certainly not alone. The ability to serve a mob of thirsty patrons well-made elixirs at a speed usually reserved for beer and cola, makes the idea very appealing to a range of bars across the country, including West Hollywood’s Eveleigh that always has a special drink on tap.
Currently, the airy and laidback watering hole is serving a refreshing creation called the Waterloo Sunset that mixes rhubarb-infused Beefeater 24 Gin with sage syrup, Campari, lemon and watermelon.
Pre-batched cocktails also provide a level of consistency that doesn’t change no matter who is working behind the bar and is pulling the tap. That’s certainly a problem when dealing with bespoke drinks, which can vary depending upon the bartender on duty.
A draft system also allows a bar to lower its costs. “Not only is it fast for busy service but cheaper for our customers,” says veteran bartender Don Lee, who designed the system at Boilermaker. That’s “because you can leverage the economies of scale.” In addition, he says a real cost savings is to avoid certain perishable and expensive items that wouldn’t last long in a keg but are popular in standard craft cocktail bar beverages.
Depending upon the recipe, a drink on draft that contains only nonperishable items, like a rum & Coke or a highball, could potentially last indefinitely and should taste no different than if it was made to order. Although, Lee points out that certain drinks should never be kegged, including ones that contain egg whites, and others need to be served very quickly (over a day or two) before they go bad.
The kegs, which are either powered by carbon dioxide or nitrogen, do need to be agitated daily to ensure that the cocktail doesn't separate.
Some establishments have gone even further dispensing straight spirits from a tap. (Yes, you read that right.) Washington DC’s Jack Rose, famed for its exhaustive selection of Scotches, bourbons and ryes, has been running a draft whiskey program for a while.
It even offered Michter’s very sought after and limited edition Toasted Barrel Finish Bourbon from a keg. The bar promised us that the whiskey is served at room temperature and shouldn’t taste any different than when poured from a bottle.
Not to be outdone, chic Italian bistro Il Desco in Jacksonville, Florida, serves Fernet on draft and a special monthly keg cocktail. The Fernet comes off the tap chilled and, according to dining room manager Anthony Raters, as a result it “goes down a lot smoother.” The restaurant has 14 taps and they use three for cocktails and spirits. “The possibilities are endless,” Raters says.