The phrase "batch cocktails" might land with a deadly thud in craft cocktail bars, but at Tavernita, Tippling Bros. Tad Carducci and Paul Tanguay have made an exquisite science of them, using an intricate keg system to deliver (almost) any cocktail from the belly of a stainless steel keg to the glass. "We're able to serve craft cocktails in the time it takes to serve a beer," says Tanguay, who took some time between fielding a flood of keg-generated interest to talk to us. "It's not just a gimmick," he says—though the two did tackle kegging in response to that incessant entrepreneurial nag, what next? "It has to be good."
A former "kitchen rat" turned sommelier and sake authority (partnered with award-winning two-decade bartender Carducci), Tanguay knows some camps consider batching sacrilege. And he's not afraid to stand up for Tippling's keg system, citing its rationale in the business of bartending, emphasis on biz. "A lot of high-volume cocktail bars around the country have to batch," says Tanguay, who actually just got back from a keg cocktails seminar at Tales of the Cocktail. But it’s not (necessarily) rapid-fire quantity over quality. "There's an art to batching. And basically [we're] taking that idea and thinking, 'How can we build a delivery system to deliver batches and have it fresh?'"
The answer, which the Bros. reached after a year of R&D, is currently in place at Tavernita, a half-carbonation, half-nitrogen system wherein special stainless steel kegs and custom tubing feed 48 taps, 10 of which are currently devoted to cocktails (the others pump sangria, homemade sodas, and beer). "Some of the things we were concerned about were fresh juices and purées," says Tanguay. "Through our experimentation we figured out we had to fine-filter a lot of the stuff—had to do some fining like they do in wine."
Tanguay and Carducci eventually figured out with the right air-tight system—"there's no oxygen degradation at all"—they could keg almost any cocktail in a bar menu. "No egg whites, of course," he says, but everything else is fair game. We recently tasted Tavernita's Booty Collins, the bar's second-most popular drink after sangria (which might also speak to the drinking style of your average high-volume patron). Playful verging on zesty, the Booty Collins is a lightly carbonated mixture of green tea-infused Absolut vodka, passion fruit, lemon juice, cayenne pepper, and yohimbe bark. For those few of us unfamiliar with African dendrology, yohimbe is an evergreen whose bark, says the National Institutes of Health, has many—predominantly aphrodisiac—naturopathic applications (i.e. it could counteract some of the, er, deflating effects of alcohol.) Keg bonus: the drink arrives as quickly as it goes down.
There's no denying that the high-gloss expediency of kegging sacrifices the compositional drama that many bars trade (and charge) upon—imagine the slow scarlet pour of a Negroni over a clear cube of ice versus the rush of liquid pumped through the pitch dark interior of tubing. But that tends not to matter to Tavernita patrons. "A lot of people really don't care," says Tanguay. "They're not asking, 'Why did it come so fast?'" The key, he says, is "giving something delicious."
That's why Tanguay and Carducci develop keg cocktail recipes the same way they would if they weren't batching, one drink at a time. "We create a single cocktail; if it's good, we try putting it on the menu," says Tanguay. While they do add water to recreate the subtle dilution of shaking, Tanguay and Carducci insist their system upholds the integrity of a regularly made cocktail. If anything, says Tanguay, sitting in the keg a week or two at a time might be good for a cocktail (though if it sits any longer, "you've got the wrong thing in the keg"). "We had stuff in there for two weeks and were testing Margaritas," Tanguay remembers. "People actually preferred the 2-week-old Margarita to a Margarita made on the spot."
We won't hold our breaths for "keg aging" to follow in the already venerated footsteps of barrel and bottle aging. But the keg system's success (Tavernita's currently ringing in beverage sales to the tune of 55 percent) does seem to foretell a serious future for keg cocktails in the industry. Meaning high-volume aspirants might consider tapping into the power of the keg.