Why keg cocktails? Because the resulting drinks are convenient, consistent, and easy to make. Pouring a pre-mixed cocktail into a glass might lack the theater of making it from scratch, but it can also save the bar time during service.
Tapping the Trend
Right now, kegged cocktails are most common in cities that have a high demand for craft cocktails. Pre-batching cocktails has some serious advantages: it ensures consistent dilution, perfect proportions, and quick serving. It can also slightly reduce a bar’s waste by eliminating heavy pours or potential spills.
During the busiest bar hours, it also reduces strain on bartenders. Anyone who can pour a beer can pour a cocktail and garnish it, making it an easy way to speed up service. Though the idea behind the trend isn’t new, the presentation is still novel.
Still, kegged cocktails have a few disadvantages. Outside of the obvious loss from a poorly mixed batch, a bar must have a tap system that can accommodate gases other than CO2. To prevent corrosion, a bar must have special lines that won’t clog or corrode when exposed to sugars and acids.
There’s also a steep learning curve. Before starting to serve a cocktail, the bar has to know how a cocktail’s flavors change under pressure and over time. They must also decide on a gas (commonly nitrogen or CO2) to help dispense their product, and experiment to make sure that the resulting drink has the desired texture. After the initial modifications, the lines must be cleaned religiously to prevent mold or bacterial growth.
Bars must also choose when to dilute their cocktails. Most well-made mixed drinks are roughly one-fifth water after being shaken or stirred. For pre-batched kegged cocktails, the water can be added to the keg. Judging by the Google results, this is the most common approach. However, some bars do opt to mix undiluted cocktails, dispense a set amount, and shake or stir to add water.
Finally, there’s the legality of it. In some places, serving liquor out of anything other than its original bottle may not be OK, so brush up on the booze laws that govern your area.
Hit The Lab
First, choose a cocktail and a recipe. Batches of spirit-heavy drinks like the Manhattan or the Old Fashioned can be made the day (or two) before a party without much change, but citrusy cocktails like Gimlets or Aviations need to be made the same day to preserve freshness. After batching, refrigerate your cocktail. Vermouth oxidizes at room temperature and fruit juice will get bitter.
Next, multiply the recipe’s proportions by the number of servings you want to make. Once your numbers are straight, play around with dilution. Well-made drinks are approximately one-fifth water when they are served. You can either add this much water (if you had four cups of liquid before, add one cup of chilled distilled water) or stir or shake when you’re about to serve.
Combine ingredients in a pitcher that has a cap and is large enough to accommodate an entire batch.
Thanks to Nathan McMinn for the help with the technical side of kegging!