October 21, 2014
Austin bartenders talk the benefits, and challenges, of embracing new booze technology.
Craft cocktail bars have made drinking into an occasion: the perfect glassware, the high-end spirits, the historic recipes transform the experience of knocking one back. Unfortunately, all too often that fancy pants cocktail costs $14 and takes twenty minutes to make. Enter the draft cocktail: cheaper to make and much faster to pour, it promises craft excellence without the fuss. In Austin, more bartenders are batching cocktails by the keg to offer cheaper and quicker drink specials, without compromising the quality.
The mechanics of the process itself, however, are not without headaches. For Jeff Hammet at Swift's Attic, changing kegs at peak hours can be trying. "You always expect it to pour, but when you run out, often at 8pm on a Saturday night, it can be difficult to replenish," he explained. Most bartenders agree that pulpy ingredients such as citrus juice can clog up the pipes and be a headache to work with. At Pleasant Storage Room, they squeeze the key limes directly into the glass before topping it from the tap to avoid that problem. Other bars simply strain, strain, and re-strain, such as Odd Duck for their Moscow Mule. Plus there's a million new technical issues to master, from figuring out which gas or gas blend to use, to understanding how flavor changes over time in a keg. Cocktail ingredients could react differently under pressure, and bartenders need to balance out the different PH levels for citrusy drinks.