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Should cocktails be served on tap?

Having cocktails on tap provides quick, efficient service for some of the world’s busiest bars, but does the serve detract from the craft of bartending?

Duck & Waffle Local in London has a number of cocktails on tap
Duck & Waffle Local in London has a number of cocktails on tap

The trend for cocktails on tap is hardly new but is much discussed among the industry, with many bars around the world adopting ready-mixed cocktails in bottles and in kegs.

Those who take an opposing view are usually over the potential loss of quality that comes with pre-batched drinks or the lack of theatre when shaking and stirring is replaced with the flip of a tap.

However the concept comes with its benefits too. This can include faster service, more consistent cocktails and bigger profits. A kegged cocktail even allows you to try a sample before you commit to a full glass.

Click through the following pages to see what two top industry experts have to say about the topic.

Rich Woods, head of spirit and cocktail development at Duck & Waffle, London

We opened Duck & Waffle Local in London’s Haymarket in May. The entire bar offering has been built around a cellar-­management system and is designed to deliver keg cocktails. The concept of the site was to offer a fast­-paced, casual style of service, so the drinks had to hit the table before the food. In any restaurant, this is always the aim but in this environment the serve time has to be sped up.

I approach anything I do with drinks with a bartender’s heart and a businessman’s mind. Creatively, it had to make enough noise to encourage people in but it also had to make sense from a business perspective. I didn’t expect everyone to get it straight away, and there are still some sceptics. My aim wasn’t to gain appreciation, it was to offer an exceptional product at an equally exceptional pace. Having cocktails on keg fits with our motto, ‘Consistency, Efficiency and Speed’.

For those who have protested and vented that the ‘craft’ has been taken away, it’s all rubbish. Our industry is about hospitality first. Delivering drinks at a quicker pace allows us to give customers a greater service. The so­-called ‘craft’ with kegs is all back of house. Drinks taste different in varying conditions; acidity, sweetness, carbonation, stability and dilution are all contributing factors that we need to consider.

A Negroni is one of my favourite classics, but the standard of equal parts will change massively in a keg. Within the keg you have to account for dilution, which must come from water, as you can’t put any ice in a keg. Then there are the sweetness and bitterness levels, which will increase as you leave the ingredients to marry.

One of the biggest advantages to this system is the amount of time spent on a stock take has been reduced as all products are counted by weight rather than volume.

Because of our use of kegs, at the back end of Duck & Waffle Local our beverage wastage was reduced to under 0.5% of net, I reduced my payroll by 2% month on month and added a minimum of one point to my profit and loss. From a business perspective, these are rewarding figures. I think keg cocktails are a part of the future – maybe not the be-­all and end-­all but for the right environment and conditions they are perfect.

Yugnes Susela, head bartender at Smoke and Mirrors, Singapore

I have not worked with kegged cocktails before and personally I’m not a big fan of having them in bars. The drinks are stored in the kegs for quite some time, and it might be difficult for bars to guarantee the freshness of their cocktail.

At Smoke & Mirrors, we freshly make each cocktail for the customer, and when you do this, there’s a personal touch in every drink that you make.

I also taste every drink before I serve it to make sure that there’s never a compromise on the quality of the drink. I think it would be hard to guarantee this freshness if the drinks come from kegs. Freshly making each drink also makes for a good Instagram story or social media post.

I think cocktails in kegs could only work when perishable ingredients like citrus are involved – it may be a good idea to keg the cocktail to extend the expiry date. However, I think I’ll always personally prefer the freshly made cocktails, and this method also helps me to work out because I get to shake it out!

The Piña Colada is my favourite cocktail to make. It may seem easy but it’s quite a technical drink. This is the kind of drink I think shouldn’t be kegged or pre­-made as its full of fresh ingredients, such as coconut cream. I don’t think the Martini would work in kegs either. You need to get the dilution right and you need to aerate the cocktail, which comes from stirring. Without these factors, it won’t taste authentic.

Some customers might like the idea of cocktails on tap, but I think most guests would still prefer a freshly made cocktail. Cocktails aren’t cheap in Singapore, and I’d usually order a beer if I wanted a drink from kegs.

However, one of my favourite local bars, Oxwell & Co, does cocktails in kegs and it works really well for them because it’s a mass­-volume bar. I think the kegged cocktails concept will only work well in certain bar operational structures. I don’t think kegs are the future of cocktails – it’s more likely to be something like sustainability.

At Smoke & Mirrors, we source our herbs from local farmers and one cocktail on our menu, called Mighty Duck, incorporates the Peking duck fat that is usually thrown out by the kitchen.

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