Adding fizz to cocktails with soda may give unwanted flavor, while topping off drinks with seltzer water dilutes them. And using a soda siphon is too inefficient for busy bars. The solution? Forced carbonation, where pre-mixed cocktails are delivered via a pressurized tap connected to a chilled keg, or poured into bottles and capped until served.
Tap Table at Batch
Michael Rubel, beverage director for the seven (soon to be eight) concepts of the Chicago-based DMK Restaurants, believes forced carbonation gives a cocktail the perfect amount of effervescence—without overdoing it. “Carbonating the entire drink gives not only a completely different mouth feel, but creates the potential for flavors and experiences you cannot get otherwise.”
Rubel added forced carbonation drinks in both bottled and keg format back in December at several DMK concepts. At Fish Bar, his To the Woodshed ($9) combines Lunazul Tequila, Aperol, grapefruit, lime and grapefruit bitters, served on tap. For Cuff Links ($9), which combines Pisco Acholado, Cocchi Americano, tangerine, lime and Peychaud’s Bitters, one hundred fifty servings are batched into a Cornelius keg, carbonated with CO2 over a few days, hand bottled and capped. He offers three forced carbonated drinks at nearby County Barbecue, including Swinging Doors ($9) on draft, with Old Granddad Bonded Bourbon, ginger syrup, raspberry syrup and grapefruit, and plans to add a more to the menus at Ada Street and DMK’s new concept, Henry’s Swing Club.
The process for effervescent sips in bottles or on tap is pretty straightforward, according to Rubel. He does point out that for drinks served up, water needs to be added before force carbonating the drink, and operators should also be aware that the process affects certain flavors. “Carbonation produces carbolic acid, which intensifies spice and tends to make citrus more acute,” he explains. “And the ratio of sour to sweet is reset—as in anything else, trial and error is the guide.”
The Ginger Gimlet at Michael Mina 74. Photo credit Yamila Lomba.
Miami’s Batch Gastropub has four forced carbonation cocktails on the menu, priced $11-$12.50, and owner Kevin Danilo likes the consistency that forced carbonation lends to drinks. “We can carbonate all the ingredients, and by using a glycol-chilled line draft, the cocktail doesn’t dilute when being dispensed.” He also relishes the opportunity to reinvent classic cocktails with a modern spin. The Clover Bubbly, for example, is a mash-up of the French 75 and the Clover Club, with Beefeater Gin, raspberry, lemon and Graffigna Pinot Grigio; the 305 Collins is a hybrid of a Collins and Miami’s favorite libation the Mojito, and combines mint-infused Absolut Vodka with passion fruit and fresh lemon.
At Batch, lines for forced carbonated cocktails run from kegs stored outside in a cooler, to taps behind two bars. They also lead to seven tables, which allow guests to sip small tastes of kegged cocktails tableside. Staff did experiment with bottled carbonated cocktails, but space considerations—and the fact that bubbles tend to dissipate more quickly in the bottles—led staff to prefer bulk, via keg.
Danilo cautions operators not to expect the process to be easy. “It’s a lot more complex than it sounds, and if everything is not executed properly, drinks will not taste right and you can very easily damage a draft system.” The most important considerations are to use draft lines suitable for acidic drinks to avoid degradation, use 304 or 316 grade stainless steel for everything the liquid touches, including shanks, faucets and couplers, fine filter juices to minimize separation, and eschew oxygen for nitrogen, which preserves batches and prevents oxidation.
Not everyone is convinced that the tap is the right way to add fizz to libations, though. The Fizzy-Lifting Drinks section of the menu at Michael Mina 74 at Miami’s Fountainebleau Hotel has four effervescent cocktails priced at $16, including the Ginger Gimlet, with Ketel One Vodka, Domaine de Canton, lime and lemon verbena, and The Kramer, and La Ultima Palabra, with Kappa Pisco, maraschino liqueur, green Chartreuse and lime. But director of beverage Daniel Grajewski creates them not via a keg and CO2, but with a Perlini system, after which they are bottled. “The technology for forced carbonation [via a tap] just isn’t there yet, at least for the amount of carbonation I want,” he explains.
But Jeff Faile, bar and spirits director for the eighteen concepts of the Washington, D.C. and Northern Virginia-based Neighborhood Restaurant Group, speaks to the benefits of cocktails on draft—whether kegged or bottled, effervescent or still. “There is certainly a novelty to it which naturally starts a conversation between the guest and bartender.” Plus, whether carbonated or not, kegs are pressurized—translating to a longer shelf life, especially for drinks that contain only spirits and liqueurs. (At Iron Gate, Faile offers the Negroni Bianco, with gin, Cocchi Americano and Dolin Blanc, and Hang on St. Christopher, with rye, Averna Amaro and maraschino liqueur. Both are $12.) And there is an undeniable benefit to these drinks, especially for busy bars: speediness of delivery. “The kegging component provides an easier service for our bartenders, and a quicker turnaround on drinks for the guests.”