One of the most controversial of the current craft cocktail trends was on full display at last month’s Nightclub & Bar Convention and Trade Show and Vibe Conference – the emergence of draft and bottled cocktails.
As Matt Seiter of Sanctuaria in St. Louis, a practitioner of the new-fangled arts, pointed out at the lively session, entitled “Tapping Potential,” the trend to batch drinks before service has some classic cocktail adherents up in arms, though while he understood the fuss, he didn’t endorse it. “Am I cheating? Yes. If it’s going to save me and my staff some time and get a drink in your hand quicker, then how is that bad?”
Photo From Sumi Robata Bar in Chicago by Galdones Photography
He and Kevin Diedrich of Jasper’s Corner Tap in San Francisco joined Kathy Casey and her associate Danny Ronen of Liquid Kitchen in a wide ranging explication of the ins and outs of serving batched cocktails, whether through a draft system or in bottled offerings. Kegs, gas selections, line requirements, pressure issues, equipment maintenance, all played a part in their presentations, but most interesting was the speed and efficiency quality drinks turn out to be servable through these batching methods.
One of the drinks arrived served in a bottle from Casey, who has worked with bottled cocktails for a while. Others have also found the bottling of cocktails a happy medium between draft lines and drinks made a la minute as well: At the Sumi Robata Bar in Chicago, beverage director Matthew Lipsky helms the cocktail program at the restaurant and its underground lounge Charcoal Bar.
Lipsky was inspired to create the bottled cocktails as a way of offering Sumi guests high-quality beverages without detracting from the personalized one-on-one service he provides Charcoal Bar’s patrons. The subterranean bar only allows for 11 guests at time, with Lipsky serving as the lone bartender, and by offering bottled drinks, he eliminated the need for a service bar, while still being able to serve cocktails that complement the smoky flavors of the robata menu items.
Sumi’s four signature bottled cocktails incorporate yuzu, grapefruit to cold-brewed green tea in a pre-diluted batch, so there's no need to mix the individual drinks in ice. The batches are then poured into cold bottles and sealed with a crown cap. Currently, he serves the Dragon’s Milk (vodka, cucumber, mint, nigori sake, white pepper and lime); and the Roshi, (shochu, cold-brewed green tea, coconut lemongrass, and lemon).
Other restaurants, like The Tasting Kitchen in Venice, CA (winner of Nightclub & Bar’s Restaurant Bar of the Year Award) have introduced bottled libations made by Justin Pike, who adds yeast to bottles to carbonate drinks including the Mancini West (Meletti, anisette, soda, amaro and maple syrup). Also in Chicago, Mercat a la Planxa, a modern Catalan tapas restaurant and bar headed up by Chef Jose Garces, the beverage team recently introduced a lineup of bottled, carbonated cocktails using carbon dioxide to bubble up drinks including the Embotellado Espelette (grilled jicama and mango-infused vodka with house-made syrup of jicama, mango and chili and a gastrique).
Casey pointed out in her session that bottled cocktails were perfect for hotel room service, patio/beach service, nightclubs and modern bars; that bottling pre-batched cocktails allows for precise measures and quality control; offer a great branding opportunity; and a unique presentation style that generates great guest interest.
Draft cocktails may still be controversial, but it only takes one taste to realize that they can offer a great leap beyond routine, indifferent cocktails served at so many venues today.