Tips on Taps: How to Succeed with Draft Cocktails

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One of the many benefits of attending the annual Nightclub & Bar Show with a Conference or VIP Pass is identifying industry trends.

This year, draft cocktails (cocktails on tap) were mentioned in multiple conference sessions. One session focused entirely on this increasingly in-demand—and profitable—drink category.

Missy and Kristin Koefod shared their real-world experiences and strategies for draft cocktails with eager Nightclub & Bar Show attendees. Not only do they own 18.21 Bitters, a company that crafts small-batch premium cocktail bitters, shrubs, syrups, tonic, ginger beer and bottled craft cocktail mix, they own and operate the 250-square-foot Drafts+Dogs kiosk, and the recently opened cocktail bar and restaurant The James Room. Both distinct venues are located in Atlanta.

For Missy and Kristin, draft cocktails were a necessity when they opened their first bar and restaurant through their company TJR Hospitality. At just 250 square feet, there’s not a lot of room inside Drafts+Dogs for both a full-size bar, bar team, kitchen and kitchen team. Draft cocktails are a brilliant solution for any operator who has size and space concerns.

Another concern for the Koefods was consistency. The duo wasn’t just facing the challenges of operating a food and beverage business. They’re known for the high-quality products they craft via 18.21 Bitters. If their bar team didn’t nail every drink they’d risk damaging the reputation of both businesses. Draft cocktails are fantastic for maintaining consistency.

Read this: Dominate with Draft Cocktails

Additionally, literally anyone can serve these drinks. It’s as simple as pouring, garnishing or otherwise finishing, and serving. Because the skillset isn’t demanding, consistency is all but guaranteed. Guests want consistency and draft cocktails certainly deliver on that front, driving business and bringing back regulars.

Cocktails on tap also marry craft cocktail service with speed and high volume. These types of drinks can make operators hundreds more dollars per hours than their standard counterparts. “Speed is money,” says Missy. “The faster we can pump cocktails out, the more money we can make.”

Another great benefit worth leveraging as soon as possible is the current niche status enjoyed by cocktails on tap. As Missy and Kristin pointed out during their session, consumers still consider these drinks new, which makes them a novelty. Guests get a kick out of “expecting” a beer to come out of a tap but watching a 5-ingredient craft cocktail fill a glass instead. This niche status offers operators lucrative promotional opportunities.

This perception of cocktails on tap as a shiny new thing also appeals to press, food and beverage writers, bloggers and social media influencers. They’re great to write about, photograph and film, so they’re a great marketing tool that gets mentions, likes, tags and shares. In fact, Missy and Kristin received a call during the 2019 Nightclub & Bar Show from press familiar with their Drafts+Dogs concept. The person calling was curious—and hopeful—that they’d offer draft cocktails at The James Room.

Executing these drinks can seem intimidating. After all, they’re different than traditional cocktails. Luckily, the Koefods are eager to share what they’ve learned during the 6 months they took to figure out how to execute cocktails on tap at Drafts+Dogs.

Read this: The Keys to Serving Cocktails on Draft with 18.21 Bitters

Missy and Kristin use Cornelius kegs that capable of storing 300-500 ounces per keg. Their system consists of four of those kegs, fours lines, and two towers. They turned to a local draft service for their install, to set up their draft boxes, and to link them to a local gas provider.

Setup, service and maintenance are just a few of the crucial elements of adding cocktails on tap to a menu. The Koefods learned what to put in their kegs as well. After 6 months of research and experimentation, they discovered that, at least from what they observed and tasted, egg whites and dairy should be avoided. “That is not what this is for,” says Kristin.

For those using fresh juice in their draft cocktails, Missy and Kristin discovered it’s best to use that batch within 5 days. Any later and the duo warns that the drink just won’t taste right. Speaking of batches, never add a new batch to an older batch. Always, they say, use or otherwise empty a keg completely before adding to it.

Operators should make sure they agitate their kegs periodically. Doing so will help to avoid any degradation of flavors and the buildup of sediment. As you can imagine, sediment and lines don’t always play well with one another. Coffee flavors also have an impact on lines. They’re strong and tend to linger in lines, so Kristin advises operators to tear them out and replace them if you’re not going to be using it to serve another drink with coffee in it.

Missy and Kristin learned a lot when it comes to batching and serving draft cocktails. They caution anyone prepping these drinks to strain cocktails that use citrus at least three times to before kegging to keep pulp from getting into and clogging the lines. Kegs and their accompanying lines should be labeled just as food would be in a kitchen: names and dates. Labeling with dates, depending on your area of operation, along with refrigeration should satisfy health departments.

Read this: Profits, Meet Practicality

Of course, there isn’t any ice in kegs. That means water needs to be added to the kegs to provide crucial dilution. Unfortunately (or fortunately if you really like experimenting with and tasting batches of cocktails), Kristin says figuring out amounts of water to add is less science and more art. This part of the process can be tedious but it’s necessary.

Draft cocktails, Missy and Kristen discovered, play very well with carbonated mixers and modifiers. This is great for a few reasons. First, a draft cocktail that for some reason doesn’t taste quite right can be “fixed” with a splash of tonic or ginger beer. Second, these types of modifiers and mixers help regulate or change drink temperatures. And third, Missy and Kristin batch and serve still cocktails via their draft system, topping them off with carbonated mixers and modifiers.

In their experience, Negronis and Boulevardiers work very well on draft. Interestingly, Kristin found that she personally didn’t think the Manhattan took to being served as a cocktail on tap. You’ll find recipes for drinks that Missy and Kristin experimented with and dialed in (including water measurements!), but they suggest running reports on your top-performing cocktails, identifying which of those lend themselves to batching, and putting them on draft.

Cheers!

Standard Barrel-Aged Negroni

125 oz. Barrel-aged gin, 125 oz. sweet vermouth, 125 oz. Campari, 93.75 oz. water

Golden Retriever

300 oz. Bourbon, 75 oz. 18.21 Bitters Apple Cardamom Shrub (this adds acid for stability), 75 oz. Cardamaro, 9 oz. 18.21 Bitters Prohibition Aromatic Bitters, 90 oz. water

Smoked Winter Paloma

225 oz. Tequila, 75 oz. mezcal, 75 oz. grapefruit juice (strained several times), 75 oz. 18.21 Bitters Blood Orange+Ginger Shrub, 75 oz. water. Top with soda water or 18.21 Bitters Ginger Beer (using soda means less water is necessary).

Barrel-Aged Coffee Rum Old Fashioned

300 oz. Dark rum, 75 oz. 18.21 Coffee Vanilla Cacao Syrup, 9 oz. 18.21 Bitters Barrel Aged Havana&Hide Bitters, 90 oz. water

Salty Mutt

300 oz. Vodka, 75 oz. St-Germain, 75 oz. 18.21 Bitters Lemon Basil Rich Simple Syrup, 75 oz. grapefruit juice (strained several times), 75 oz. water. Top with soda.

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