In the Spirit

Divide and Conquer

There’s a place for a keg

By Tony Cross

It’s common knowledge to those close to me: I don’t bartend much these days. Yes, that’s right — you’ve been duped. I’ve been making this up as I go along. Kidding. Well, kind of. It is true that you will not find me behind any bar, besides the one in my apartment. And by “the one in my apartment” I mean my kitchen.

I’m still very passionate about cocktails and everything that goes in them, it’s just that I’ve been completely devoured by my business. Oh, and if you haven’t heard, we batch cocktails for you to drink on draft. And while there are some in the cocktail community that are opposed to my business plan, I’d like to outline what I’ve learned in the past three years, and why I respectfully disagree.

I got the idea to chime in on this because of an Instagram post I read the other day from a popular online magazine. The post went something like this: “Draft cocktails have divided the cocktail world. With a mix of avid supporters and vocal detractors, the practice of putting cocktails on tap is controversial as some ask: Are draft cocktails taking the craft out of craft cocktails? Sound off below.”

As I scrolled through the comments, I was a little shocked (and delighted) to see more positive than negative feedback on draft cocktails. Now, the folks that are skeptical, or are just adamantly opposed to this style of drink, might be voicing opinions based on experiences in cocktail lounges. A common theme for naysayers is the fact that draft cocktails take away from the whole experience when you’re in a nice cocktail bar. Indeed, it does. And a few people didn’t like the fact that they’ve been to a quality cocktail bar, only to pay the same price for a draft cocktail as one made from scratch right in front of them. I agree with that as well. And then there were those that just had a crap cocktail that came from a keg. First impressions are lasting, and to those that experienced a bad drink on draft, I get it.

My turn. I don’t think cocktails coming out of a keg are going to be huge in well-established cocktail bars around the world. Draught cocktails do help bars get out a drink when it’s very busy and, sure, there are some that do it exclusively (Yours Sincerely in Brooklyn and Draft Land in Hong Kong), but all other bars are making their drinks in front of you. And I like that.

Where I do see draft cocktails expanding are places where you’re a bartender (maybe one who’s not devoted to making his own) who would like to figure out how to do draft cocktails to help with busy nights. If that’s the case, you’ll need a to do a few things. First, make sure your recipe is tight — it’s one thing when coming up with a new cocktail and learning to get the balance right, but it’s another when you’ve got 250-plus ounces at once. That’s a lot of cocktails (and money) down the drain with each mistake.

Once you have your recipe ready to go and you’re making everything fresh (I hope), you’ve got about a week to sell this keg before it turns. Oh, and make sure you’re shaking the keg every couple of hours to ensure separation of ingredients. Now get to it. But wait. If you don’t know how to make a proper drink to begin with, how in the hell are you going to understand balance? You’re not. And I am not knocking any bartender that doesn’t. I know plenty of great bartenders that can whip my butt serving a ton of customers in a busy dive bar/club/etc. on a busy night.

So, what am I saying? Over the past three years, my business, Reverie Cocktails, has catered to the needs of businesses that want a good drink that’s fast, consistent, and tastes good. You don’t need to sell our kegs in a week’s time (though, there are plenty of our accounts that do); our drinks hold just as long as beer and are made with quality ingredients. You’re probably not going to see our draft handle in any craft cocktail lounge, but you will see it in dive bars, large bars, restaurants, country clubs, breweries, music venues and more. We’re represented in three states (Indiana, North Carolina and Ohio) and will soon land a trial run in a NCAA arena. Fingers crossed.

I totally understand the purists out there. There’s nothing like walking up to a bar and having a skilled bartender whip up a delicious Manhattan on a chilly night. However, Reverie has legs. And while it’s taken some time to really get going, the best is yet to come. There are waaaayyy more Average Joe bars than there are craft cocktail bars in this nation. I like those odds.  PS

Tony Cross is a bartender (well, ex-bartender) who runs cocktail catering company Reverie Cocktails in Southern Pines.

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