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Cocktails on tap: the pros and (minimal) cons of a national booze trend

Following the sterling example of their awesome bigger brother, beer, and their froofie little sister, wine, cocktails are slowly but surely taking over taps across the country, with expert mixologists getting all Walter White/that guy who tried to show off by cooking himself before bad things happened, and treating five-gallon kegs as their own personal chemistry sets. The bar science is still there -- the precise measurements, the attention to detail, the innovation -- but now, it's all going into one big bin, kind of like a tappable bowl of punch.

But what are the pros and cons? Does this mean that expert bartenders will soon need to pack their mustache wax to make way for monkeys who have been trained to simply pull taps? And we mean literal monkeys. That bar would kill

We talked to bartenders at the forefront of the movement to find out the benefits and pitfalls of filling kegs with cocktails...

Pros:
  • The taps actually keep the costs down. Your fancy, made-to-order cocktails take time. Time is money. But if it takes 30 seconds to pour a legitimate Negroni, that sucker can be sold at half the price. At Portland's Imperial, for example, the bartender can sell a Vieux Carre for $5. At NYC's Amor y Amargo, you can get a pre-mixed Fernet & cola cocktail for $7. That's cheaper than a Bud Light in 110% of New York bars.
  • Allowing the cocktail to sit can change its dynamic, in a positive way. Say you've got a Manhattan on tap. Over time, the whiskey, vermouth, and bitters manage to bond to one another, thus creating a hybridized version of the cocktail with a slightly different profile that's totally unique and unattainable by standard on-the-spot mixing methods.
  • You can avoid people griping about not liking their cocktails by pouring samples. Let's face it: ordering a cocktail you don't know can be like playing Russian roulette with your taste buds. Even if they don't like it, most people just suck it up and suck it down. Some send it back. You can avoid both by getting a little one-ounce sampler before you pull the trigger.
  • There's less waiting for your drink. That means Rip Torn might not punch someone on any given night.
  • Off the beaten cocktail path, the trend means you can carbonate anything. Calibrating the gas can give you either a flat pour or a fizzy one. That means a bartender can spritz up his own wine for a mixer. Hell, he can even make a bubbly straight whiskey. But they don't do that. Because pure whiskey burps hurt.
  • Along with the cheaper price come larger pours. With each 5-gallon keg holding appx 200 drinks, and with the bartender measuring error out of the loop, the economics support you generally getting bigger drinks.
  • You might get more for free. Often, bartenders will send out small glasses as a courtesy to their patrons on a busy night. The ease of pouring them makes this a lot easier, and a lot more likely.
Cons:
  • There's a limit to what you can actually do without it being gross. Rumor has it that the trend started at Jasper's in San Francisco, who made the right call of sticking with a Negroni, a very spirits-forward drink. Throw in too much syrup, and you risk the ingredients separating, resulting in a layered mixture and an overly sweet series of pours at the bottom. And don't even think about doing White Russians, even if you LOVE bowling and ferrets and hot Tara Reid.
  • If the bartender messes up the mix, he's kinda stuck with it… No restaurant's gonna go for a five-gallon loss of product. Which means if the science is off, a bartender's gonna have to find SOMEONE to drink his Manhattans that taste more like Newark.
  • Some of the magic is lost when you don't actually get to watch a dude Tom Cruise the crap out of a cocktail. Sure, it's pretty cool to think about a bartender standing over a giant vat and pouring fifth upon fifth into it like the coolest witch ever, but you don't get to see that. Luckily, they're still happy to make drinks to order, just in case you wanna watch the dude flip a shaker and fantasize about him making out with Elisabeth Shue. Or Bryan Brown.
The Verdict: In general, cocktails on tap = good. Very good. Drink them freely, and, if you're lucky, for free.

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