Keg Cocktails

 
Keg cocktails free up the bartender to focus on customer service.
Keg cocktails free up the bartender to focus on customer service.

Only a week after Tavernita’s opening in Chicago’s River North neighborhood, the most popular drink was quite evident.

It wasn’t the result of laborious craft by a bartender, however. A fizzy and fruity Booty Collins—green-tea infused vodka, passion fruit puree, lemon, cayenne, yohimbe bark and simple syrup—is tapped from a keg and is one of six cocktails “on tap” at a given time inside this Spanish-inspired restaurant.

Carbon dioxide is added to a large-batch cocktail recipe, stored inside a 50-gallon container in the basement and connected to the bar via an extensive, custom-designed network of tubes, says Scott Huth, Tavernita’s lead batchologist.

There are 48 tap lines pouring drinks such as sangrias, beers, vermouth, soda pop and wines. Wooden heads behind the bar mark a rotating list of selections.

According to Huth, their philosophy on tap drinks is this: They get to the customer faster and allows staff to focus more on hospitality.

Only a handful of restaurants around the country employ keg cocktails. For some, it’s an extension of the wine-on-tap trend that uncorked about three years ago.

“I have two whites, two reds and two cocktails,” says Kevin Diedrich, bar manager at Jasper’s Corner Tap & Kitchen in San Francisco.

Kegs are stored on the back bar. Right now he’s sticking with non-citrus creations, to avoid shaking the keg and separating the liquid every so often. Negroni and Hanky Panky are the two draft cocktails.

Providing cocktails on tap ensures quicker service.

“I started doing keg cocktails for a very simple reason. I wanted to do drinks that were standard and accessible but also make sense, and speed up bartender prep time, plus offer them at an affordable price,” says Mayur Subbarao, head bartender at Amor y Amargo in New York City’s East Village.

“Our focus is on craft cocktails and normally there’s a lot of labor involved,” he adds.

Diedrich, of Jasper’s Corner Tap, agrees. “For cocktails served on the rocks it’s a lot easier to go in the back bar and pull on the handle and pour two ounces.”

Serving on tap also allows the bartender to offer free tastes (smaller pours) of a drink, just as one might for beer or wine, but is essentially unheard of for cocktails, Subbarao says.

And that ties in with Amor y Amargo’s mantra about cocktails: crafted with care.  The aperitivo-focused bar’s tag line is “a bitters tasting room,” with unique cocktails that fold in fresh, handmade and offbeat ingredients.

Because the cocktails come from a keg, they’re not simple or cheap drinks, Subbarao says. They’re still prepared from an elaborate recipe—just in large batches. Housemade vermouth—wonderful on tap, he says, because there’s no risk of oxidization—and Americano cocktail are both served from kegs.

And there aren’t plans to roll out any more of these drinks, keeping in tune with the Amor y Amargo’s intimate feeling that includes offering only a few beverage choices—but making them all of the highest quality, including one with four bitters (the Boiler-Bach).

“We didn’t want to do anything elaborate. We’re such a small bar, with a narrow focus,” Subbarao says.

By Kristine Hansen