Cocktails on tap: The death of the mixologist?

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Classic cocktails have made a huge comeback, but are speakeasies and labor intensive cocktails appropriate for all beverage outlets? Is there something to be said about cocktails on tap, like there are wines on tap?  

I like a classic cocktail, and now and again I like a little showmanship. But there's also something to be said about a great drink made well, and, well, made fast.
I was speaking with one of our consultants, David Wellborg, about changing trends in drinks — from craft beer to wine on tap, as well as the pros and cons of cocktails on tap. A perfect Negroni cocktail takes approximately one minute to prepare using on-spot mixing by an experienced bartender. A Negroni from the tap, however, takes only a few seconds to pour even by someone with no experience, and some experts would argue it even tastes better.
Now, what are cocktails on tap? In fact, it is exactly what it sounds like — the ingredients of a cocktail are poured and sealed into a barrel and the flavors mix and bond while creating a ready-to-pour cocktail. Since the introduction of wine on tap, it was only a matter of time before cocktails would be subject to this method. Cocktails on tap are described as the hottest new trend in the world of drinks.
In theory you can add any mix of liquor and ingredient to a barrel and serve it as a cocktail on tap. However, many cocktails — especially more modern cocktails — aren’t suited for the tap. For example, Strawberry Daiquiris and White Russians would quickly spoil due to the need for fresh ingredients. As a result, most restaurants and bars using taps are limiting them to liquor-based classic cocktails that mature over time, such as the Negroni and Manhattan. Let’s look closer on the pros and cons of cocktails on tap.
The benefits
  • Saves time for bartenders. And we all know that time equals money in a bar. The math is actually very simple — more drinks sold, more revenue.
  • Less wait time for guests. The faster the drinks are poured, the lower the wait time for the patrons.
  • No waste. Say goodbye to expensive alcohol going to waste due to heavy pours by bartenders. Cocktails on tap are pre-measured to eliminate waste in the mixing process.
  • New flavors. New ingredients, blends, mixes and even maturing time create new flavor profiles, adding a new spin to classic cocktails. Some experts also argue the aging process makes the drink taste even better.

The negatives

  • Equipment. Straight-up pouring and mixing doesn’t require anything but the skill of a mixologist; however, cocktails on tap require capital investments, installation and regular cleaning and maintenance.
  • Lack of theater. The showmanship and the art of a skilled mixologist crafting a cocktail is indeed a pleasure to see, and many patrons are prepared to wait for a well-made drink. A great mixologist’s theatrical movements will sell drinks on their own. Pouring a drink from a tap doesn’t impress anyone.
  • No improvisation. Once the drink is in the barrel, it’s in the barrel. Period. The cocktails on tap leave little room for creativity after the mixing process. This also means that if the measuring is off, then the entire barrel might be undrinkable even for the heaviest and least discerning drinkers.

It’s evident cocktails on tap have many reasonable advantages, which bar managers can stand behind. For high-volume bars, such as restaurants and airport lounges (or even LKF in Hong Kong), they do make a lot of sense. In strict craft bars, especially in the speakeasies around the world, cocktails on tap will definitely meet heavy resistance. Such specialty bars might not even have a cocktails list, and instead lean toward creating unique cocktails on the spot depending based on the taste and preferences of the patron.

Chaim Dauermann, head bartender at Gin Palace in New York, was keen to offer more information about this subject. The bar currently serves a gin and tonic — made with a house-made tonic — on tap. He said for the most part his guests love the drink, but for on-tap cocktails to become more mainstream, they can’t be an in-house endeavor.

“Someone has to be putting tap cocktails together and delivering them to order,” Dauermann says. “I'm sure that once enough demand is there, this will happen in some jurisdictions. “I've often been asked whether I think cocktails have ‘arrived,’” Dauermann continues. “My response is always that I won't be satisfied until I can get a cocktail at a baseball game as easily as I can get a beer. I don't think that cocktails will arrive in these spaces wielded by bespectacled mixologists in suspenders. Most likely they will arrive on tap. Hopefully right next to the Bud Light.”

Looking globally, I, for one, believe cocktails on tap are here to stay and will make an impact in the world of drinks fairly soon. Cocktails on tap might not slay the mixologist entirely, but they will put up a good fight.

What are your thoughts?

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Craft House Founder and Director, Yvette Jong, contributes regularly to her HOTELS Magazine Blog titled, "The Good, the Bad and the Funky." Topics of discussion include all aspects of hospitality development, operations, branding, marketing, human resources, sustainability and much more.