Pro Tips for Preparing Cocktails on Draft, Part 1
Dispensing cocktails on draft from a Jumper BoxTM inside your mobile bar or trailer is a cost-effective, efficient approach to providing your customers with a consistent product that’s especially convenient when the demand is high and your lines are long.
KEG WHAT’S POPULAR
The best cocktails to serve on draft are those that are widely popular, ordered frequently, and not weighed down by overly thick or unusually complicated ingredients.
A short list of the best cocktails to keg include:
- Cosmopolitan (nitro)
- Gin & Tonic
- Manhattan (nitro)
- Margarita (nitro)
- Moscow Mules
- Old Fashioned (nitro)
- Spiked Hard Seltzer
- Vodka & Soda
- Vodka & Cranberry (nitro)
- White Russian (nitro)
*Those marked “nitro” will be dispensed relatively “still” (with minimal, cascading carbonation) with N (nitrogen). The others will be carbonated with CO2 (carbon dioxide)—as will most beers you’d serve on draft.
Unless you’re catering an open-bar wedding during Spring Break at a no-holds-barred hotel for 1,000 amateur 21-year-olds, you’ll only need a compact, 5-gallon Cornelius keg (aka a “Corny” keg). They hold 640 ounces of liquid. Rarely to probably never will you use a commonly recognized, much larger “half-barrel” keg. It’s simply overkill. Here, less is more.
Corny kegs have two exceptionally user-friendly features:
- Easily removable flip-top, oval lid
- Quick-disconnect ball locks (for attaching and disconnecting beverage lines)
Whatever you add to your batched recipe inside the keg has to flow through a narrow beverage line (aka, “jumper”) and out an even narrower pathway through a faucet. Also, remember that you should be cleaning your draft lines regularly. Avoiding ingredients that slow or impede that flow or are difficult to remove through normal cleaning practices is essential.
Fruit or fruit juice is probably the most common ingredient, aside from the spirit and water, that you’ll be adding to your batched recipes. Fruit is good, but pulp and seeds are very bad. There’s one easy fix and one easy workaround.
You can strain the pulp out of any fresh fruit or juice using a common, food-grade, squeezable strainer bag. A traditional colander or strainer will not be fine enough, so sack up.
An alternative to fresh fruit is citric acid. Dose your batched cocktail with a couple scoops of commercially available powder to mimic lemon/lime flavors. You’ll just have to experiment with the ratios that shake out best for your recipe.
Texture matters. If your recipe calls for thick and sticky viscous syrups like honey or maple syrup, dilute them with water first before pouring them into your keg. Remember to account for the water you’re adding to your syrups when you’re portioning out the total water needed for your recipe to fill the keg.
The most important thing you have to remember when you’re batching kegged cocktails is that you’re not crafting them by hand one-by-one. You’re making (up to) 640 ounces of the same cocktail at a time!
When kegging a cocktail that’s normally stirred (e.g., a Manhattan), water effectively becomes an additional ingredient from the ice cubes melting. So, make one Manhattan with your preferred recipe, noting total volume of liquid ingredients. Then, after you’ve made your cocktail—and stirred it, allowing some of the ice to melt—strain all of the cocktail’s liquid from the ice. Lastly, factor in that additional volume of water into your bulk recipe.
Note: Sometimes some recipes, depending on the blend of ingredients, don’t translate equally in bulk. That’s okay. So, when you’re experimenting with your recipes and building them inside the keg, do as you would when cooking and build them in measured steps. Add a little at a time, then taste. Add a little, taste. And so on. Document your recipes because once you nail it, you can replicate it without thinking about it.
It’s almost therapeutic to watch a seasoned bartender spend five minutes building a complex, multi-layered cocktail with a dozen obscure ingredients. It should be if you’re paying $18. That’s part of the experience. You can retain some of the magic even with cocktails on draft.
It’s all about the presentation. Catering a wedding or festival is a different environment than only serving 10 seats in a dimly lit speakeasy. The name of the game is efficiency, but that doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice flare.
The time you’ll save from meticulously measuring and surgically mixing every ingredient into its cocktail form can be allocated to the finishing touches and the details that matter. You can still garnish your draft cocktails with attractive eye candy in gorgeous glassware. You should. And, while you’re at it, you’ll be able to build a more meaningful bond with the higher volume of guests you’ll be able to serve, which will lead to new customers, new clients, and more cash in your tip jar.
Thanks to our friends at Eastern Kille distillery, in Grand Rapids, MI for their expert authority in helping us compile this resource. If you’re in the neighborhood, tell ‘em we sent you.
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