On Cocktails on tap

tl-horizontal_main-1At New York City’s Alder restaurant, the most popular cocktail is made of rye, yuzu juice, amaro liqueur and smoked maple syrup and called Dr. Dave’s ‘Scrip Pad. Despite the complicated recipe, customers often receive their drink in seconds. The bartender pours it straight from a tap.

As demand for creative craft cocktails shows no sign of slowing, bartenders have struggled with how to serve drinks quickly while preserving the taste. From small bars to hotel chains, they are making large batches of cocktails and connecting them to tap systems like those used for beer. And cocktails on tap, also called kegged or draft cocktails, make it easier to serve mixed drinks at large events.

“You can sell it with the speed of a draft beer. It’s the best of all possible worlds,” says Anthony Caporale, a cocktail consultant and representative for Drambuie, the whiskey liqueur that sponsors a competition for kegged cocktails.

largerPart of the appeal of a cocktail has been watching the bartender mix it. While punches could be made in advance, cocktails needed to be made on the spot to blend the alcohol or give a gin and tonic the perfect fizz, traditionalists held.
But as bartenders have experimented with cocktails on tap, they found that, after some trial and error, they could come up with recipes that satisfied customers. Not all menus list if the cocktail is on tap, but those that do make this point not to warn customers, but to show off their capabilities, they say.

The new focus tracks with a jump in demand for these drinks. U.S. spirits suppliers have seen revenue growth each year since 2009, to $22.2 billion in 2013, according to the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, an industry trade group.

At Alder, Wylie Dufresne, a chef known for mixing unusual ingredients, and his bar staff keep three drinks on tap, with the black pull handles sitting next to those for beers. Customers can try a small sip before they commit to their order.

Alder put Dr. Dave’s ‘Scrip Pad on tap about two weeks after its 2013 opening, when bartenders found themselves making it twice as often as any other drink, senior bartender Christian Schaal says.

Now they make a 5-liter batch at the beginning of a shift and store it in a steel keg kept in a walk-in refrigerator downstairs. The kegs connect to tubing that runs upstairs to the bar. The batch lasts up to two nights, serving approximately 45 drinks a night at $14 each, Mr. Schaal says. The menu doesn’t list the drink as being on tap.

The easiest drinks to do on tap are made only of alcohol, such as Negronis or Manhattans, because the liquor doesn’t go bad.

Bartenders mixing large batches have to take into account factors like whether juices will stay fresh, how carbonation from taps powered by carbon dioxide will change the acidity of the drink, how much ice might dilute the drink and how often to shake kegs that contain ingredients like cucumber or ginger to keep them from settling. Ingredients that may clog the keg lines need to be strained. One thing that just doesn’t work, the bartenders say, are drinks with egg whites.

19boite-web1-master768Cocktail bars aren’t shying away from complex recipes. MG Road in Asheville, N.C., for instance, offers the Lychee Rose, made of rose-petal-infused vodka, lychee syrup and lemon. And Erick Castro, beverage director of Polite Provisions in San Diego, says the cocktails he sells on tap wouldn’t work as individual drinks. The drinks get infused with CO2 while sitting in a keg, which gives a nice carbonation. He rotates approximately seven drinks on tap, including sodas made in-house and spiked with spirits like bourbon or gin.

For some bartenders, taps sacrifice some of the romance of a cocktail. Neal Bodenheimer, a partner in the company that owns Cure, Bellocq and Cane & Table in New Orleans, doesn’t have cocktails on tap at his bars. He says they work for larger venues or events, but thinks they have no place in more traditional settings. “When you come to a cocktail bar, one of the things you pay for is atmosphere, and you pay for the theater of watching someone make your drink from start to finish,” he says.

Tad Carducci, a partner in cocktail consulting firm Tippling Bros., and an early pioneer of cocktails on tap, has helped incorporate them in several restaurants and bars, including in Chicago and Las Vegas. Mr. Carducci was originally enamored with the idea of cocktails on tap as a way to serve consistently good drinks at bars and large events. It saves time, and the bartender who mixes the initial batches is the only one who needs to know how to make a good craft drink.

Source: wsj.com