As much as people like to complain about the eccentricities of the craft cocktail bar -- the cost, the obscure and geeky ingredients, the wait times -- I find it hard to tease out the inconveniences from the allure. The theatrics are there to entertain as much as deliver carefully made beverages. Does the experience change when the ceremony of mixing the drink in front of you goes away, like with the practice of cocktails dispensed from draft? Is a drink just as good on tap, and is the experience just as fun?
"It definitely helps in getting drinks out in a timely manner and it's a cool, fun way to engage the guest," said Kevin Diedrich of Jasper's Corner Tap. Diedrich keeps two cocktails on-tap, currently a Negroni ($9, Plymouth Gin, Campari, house blended sweet vermouth) and a Grand Promenade ($11, Wild Turkey 81 Rye, Laird's Bonded Applejack, Bendedictine, yellow chartreuse). "I've found that keeping a straight spirituous cocktail on draft helps with delivery, quality and batching," explained Diedrich, adding that using cocktails that don't use regular sugar, water, or citrus makes the most sense, since those ingredients tend to separate.
The romance may be smudged in getting a premixed cocktail from a tap, but it can also create an allure of its own. At Rio Grande, Morgan Schick and Russell Davis dispense a Four Roses Old Fashioned ($9 Four Roses Bourbon, bitters, sugar) from a Jägermeister freezer. For Schick, the chilling benefit is big, but adds that customers get a kick out seeing the drinks come out of the machine.
At the Grand Café, bar manger Kristin Almy finds that customers often want a drink from the draft system because of the novelty. Her Grand Old Fashioned ($8, Pierre Ferrand Cognac, green chartreuse) has been popular because of it. "Once a person spies a rocks glass moving towards a tap handle, they immediately want what ever is inside of that keg, said Almy.
Even in Napa the trend is being picked up at places like the newly opened Thomas, which has a rotating selection of drinks by the keg, currently a Negroni ($12, gin, Campari, sweet vermouth) and a White Manhattan ($15, Death's Door White Whiskey, white vermouth, kirschwasser, jasmine bitters).
For me, a freshly made cocktail is more interesting than one on tap for the most part, because the interaction with the bartender and his or her showmanship is really part of the experience. That said, there are times when the point of being in a bar is to see friends, and a kegged cocktail gets you out of the line quickly with a well-made drink.