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.



On Breakfast


Breakfast may boast the highest capture rate of internal guests, but the meal period has often been strictly safety first. Not so at Destination Hotels, where around 25 of the company’s 40-plus properties are making mornings brighter through creative, chef-driven menu items, says Lou Trope, senior VP, F&B experiences, for Englewood, Colorado-based Destination Hotels. “Breakfast offers us the opportunity to put a stake in the ground,” he says. “This meal sets the tone of a guest’s stay.”

A two-pronged overhaul during the past year changes that tone: Chefs examine options that are unique and local to the area, with a healthy perspective in mind. Instead of approaching breakfast in the traditional way—”as a necessary evil,” Trope says—chefs are encouraged to offer “a welcome surprise,” stretching their creativity while offering a truly memorable experience.

Rather than jolt guests completely out of their comfort zones, breakfast menus at Destination properties nudge them away. So the familiar remains, with an upscale twist: At the new Camby Hotel in Phoenix, breakfast hash upgrades with mesquite-smoked brisket, Yukon potatoes, and red-eye gravy, piquing curiosity and stimulating palates without alienating traditionalists. Meanwhile, local and regional products and ingredients snag the spotlight. At Carolina Inn’s Crossroads Restaurant in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, Executive Chef James Clark plays with ideas in his recently renovated kitchen featuring, among other new equipment, Delfield coolers and freezers, a Restaurant Technologies oil removal system, and a Vitamix 5202 XL. He combines local grits, aged cheddar, eggs, and tomatoes, and a lox-and-bagel spinoff features North Carolina smoked sunburst trout.

Todd Shepard, director of operations, F&B, at Paradise Point in San Diego, calls breakfast the “trust meal,” an opportunity to wow guests and encourage lunch or dinner visits. Handling 300 to 400 covers daily in high season, breakfast at Paradise Point’s Barefoot Bar & Grill is “authentically immersed,” thanks to Shepard’s in-house “coolest dishes” contest. The biggest hits, featured under the menu’s Baja Fresh subhead—Carnitas Hash, Huevos Rancheros, Quesadilla Scramble, and Surfer Burrito—complement specialty drinks such as BBG Sangria.

“We give cooks an opportunity to display their talents, and guests see more than eggs, bacon, and potatoes,” Shepard explains. “Locals drive business, so when developing a menu, I offer conservative dishes for the vacationing Midwestern family and smoked pork belly with chipotle Hollandaise for the beach-dweller down the street.”

As a whole, F&B at Destination properties contributes 44% of revenues, with breakfast as a big driver; Trope notes that its restaurants often boast the area’s “power breakfast,” and as chefs have ramped up breakfast creativity, feedback has been “over-the-top positive. Being ingrained in a regional culture is a huge part of our F&B strategy, so for breakfast, we call out and use regional producers and influences, adapted and pushed forward in creative and unique menu offerings,” Trope explains. “We want chefs to embrace their locale and give guests a takeaway so they talk about the experience.”


The B&C space also benefits from Destination’s fresh breakfast perspective; local items are easily incorporated into action stations, as chefs can boost interaction by sharing with guests information about the products and the philosophy behind them. For groups, the Camby exchanges humdrum Danish pastries for multigrain croissants, local bacon and sausage, and waffle stations with seasonal fruit toppings, which especially appeal to sustainability-minded groups.

A couple of properties have considered or experimented with all-day breakfast items, but most locations reserve them for mornings only, often hosting hotel guests on weekdays, with weekend brunches to accommodate locals. Still, chefs are careful to avoid creative ruts by working seasonally or experimenting with specials. For example, Paradise Point has created a build-your-own Benedict option, with different bases (pork belly, crab cakes, shrimp, or traditional) and five different varieties of Hollandaise, to ensure variety for return guests.

2016mar-apr-destination-hotels-breakfast3Locals are also a focus at the Camby, where Dushyant Singh, director of culinary experiences, takes a street-food approach for fun, crafty breakfasts at its Artisan restaurant. He puts his own twist
Destination Hotels Breakfast on global favorites, using local products and ingredients. The Costa Rican-inspired Spotted Rooster, for example, combines heirloom beans, rice, fried egg, and plantains. Singh believes dine-in guests crave the memorable, such as shareable kumquat beignets, alongside familiar favorites elevated through preparation techniques, such as seared French toast.

“Hotel guests want to go where locals go, so if we provide that local scene at our restaurant, we’ll see more capture from hotel guests,” Singh observes. “We treat Artisan as an independent restaurant, moving away from the typical hotel breakfast menu.”

Trope wants each hotel to create its own perspective and avoid the cookie-cutter. “It’s not just breakfast; it’s an opportunity,” Shepard stresses. “I want a chef- and culture-driven experience that’s all about the food. Every item needs to be a wow.”