The Keys to Serving Cocktails on Draft with 18.21 Bitters

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To draft or not to draft? When it comes to cocktails on tap, operators and bartenders have strong opinions.

When executed properly, there's no need to buy into the stigma attached to pre-batched cocktails and drinks poured from tap systems. Some of the world's highest rated high-volume bars pre-batch cocktails, whether in part or in whole. Again, as long as cocktails on tap are executed with proper preparation and care, there's no justification to perceive them as inferior to their traditional counterparts.

Missy and Kristin Koefod, co-founders and co-creators of 18.21 Bitters, producers of small batch, premium cocktail bitters, shrubs, syrups, tonic, ginger beer and bottled craft cocktail mix, will tackle this controversial subject at the 2019 Nightclub & Bar Show on Wednesday, March 27 at noon.

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The powerhouse duo are also accomplished bar and restaurant operators, and they've embraced cocktails on tap. Below, Missy explains her and Kristin's decision to utilize draft cocktails, proper execution, and the benefits for both operators and the guest experience. Cheers!

Missy, you're a multi-faceted entrepreneur wearing multiple hats, managing both restaurants and 18.21 Bitters. Can you give a brief overview of how you balance your time and use one side of the business to help inform the other?

Well, I spend most of my time on 18.21 Bitters, as does Kristin. We launched and shepherded the bars initially but have wonderful management in place that has really taken ownership and knows what direction we are taking the companies. They steer the ship down the path they know we would steer it. I can't emphasize enough the benefits of excellent staff and the pitfalls of poor hiring choices. We have an amazing team working on all of our businesses, and I think part of that is allowing them the freedom to make things their own and providing a clear path for them to grow their career with you to ensure you can secure the best staff.

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We do use our bars as a tool to inform 18.21 on what cocktail trends the public is really excited over. You can read trade magazines all day long but being in the trenches will really cast a light on what is popular and what is not. On the flip side, we utilize 18.21 in our bars to create really excellent cocktails that our customers are excited about. We bring fresh, bold flavors to cocktails while creating balanced and drinkable cocktails for our customers.

At the Nightclub & Bar Show this year, you’re leading a session on the ins and outs of cocktails on tap. Purists still seem to take issue with this drink category but when you see them at bars like Dante’s in NYC (#9 for World’s 50 Best Bars), it's clear they're here to stay. What do you say to detractors and what are the benefits they're overlooking?

Oh boy! I think the most obvious benefits are speed and consistency. I can pour a 7-ingredient craft cocktail in the time you can measure a shot of liquor. Customers love craft cocktails but hate to wait. There is also a novelty for the customer to cocktails on draft which keeps them asking questions and engaged, and we love to educate our customers on all things cocktail! It really is our driving force behind a lot of what we do, from our retail store to our draft cocktail kiosk. We want customers to feel engaged and get excited about cocktails with the hope that they will come away from any experience with us feeling like they spent their time well.


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When we met for drinks at Drafts + Dogs, you had some amazing craft cocktails on tap there. You also mentioned that dilution, carbonation and other factors were key to perfecting the drinks. How did you get this process down and what advice can you share for operations looking to add them to their menus?

I asked so many people who are experts in the industry so many questions. Our friend Tobin [Ellis] was insanely helpful, as were some incredible local bartenders in Atlanta who have spent quite a bit of time and energy on the more scientific aspects of the cocktail. After that, it was a lot of trial and error! We had a test keg and a test budget, and plenty of volunteers to taste the drinks and give their opinions. Now, we have it down to a science.

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Is freshness an issue for cocktails on tap, and how long does a keg normally last? Is there a certain style of cocktails or certain ingredients that are stored and served better than others?

Freshness is definitely an issue. You have to be careful with fresh citrus, and cream really doesn't work. You have to really make sure you have the volume to support draft cocktails. We have four drafts because we have the volume, but start with one and start with a smaller keg. We want the cocktails to be fast and consistent but our number one priority is providing the customer with the best possible experience and the best possible cocktails, and freshness is key. Spirit-forward cocktails work really well on draft. Think Negroni.

Some operators may believe that this style of serving drinks can remove the need for a trained mixologist. What effect has this had on hiring, training and labor costs?

We have seen labor costs and training costs drop at one location, but for another it is merely a supplement and our mixologists build the cocktails in the draft lines. It is an addition to our traditional menu at one location and our whole menu for the other, so it really depends on any additional offerings. Speed and consistency have driven up our average ticket prices though, as people tend to have the time to enjoy more than one cocktail!

You mentioned expansion in the near future with more Draft+Dogs locations and the James Room soon to open. What lessons have you learned opening these two different on-premise styles?

I think with a more traditional sit-down-style restaurant or bar it's easy, you know. There is a formula but with a kiosk and to-go cocktails, it is pretty new, so it took some trial and error. How do customers like to read the menu (chalkboard or handheld...they like handheld)? What kind of experience do they want (they want a more hospitality oriented experience with quick and easy to-go food and drink)? It has been a learning curve but we have it down now and are looking forward to expanding.

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Bonus Question: What productivity or business tools do you recommend for other operators to check out this year?

I love Cozi to share my schedule with my team! It is an app for scheduling for families but management puts their schedule down so everyone can look and see who is available. I also love Evernote. Although it isn't new I think it is here to stay!

Register today for the 2019 Nightclub & Bar Show so you don't miss out on Missy and Kristin's batching and cocktails on tap session, "Pouring Out Tips for Cocktails on Tap." Learn how to keep costs low while delivering high-quality cocktails with speed and precision.

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