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Austin bars experiment with cocktails in kegs

Arianna Auber

The cover story for today’s Austin360 tab gets an inside look at a relatively new phenomenon you might have noticed at a few bars around Austin. Places like Wonderland, Blackbird and Henry, Pleasant Storage Room and others have been putting cocktails on draft.

In other words, the cocktails are made ahead of time in a far larger quantity than usual, going into kegs that are hooked up to draft systems for pouring straight from a tap — just like beer. It’s a practice bartenders have taken to doing, as I explain in the article, for a number of reasons, namely faster service, better consistency and quality, and subtle new flavors.

Although the bars and restaurants I mentioned above were my main sources for the piece, they are by no means the only ones in town experimenting with draft cocktails. South Lamar’s Odd Duck has a Moscow Mule on tap. Swift’s Attic kegs a Negroni. And even though Drink.Well doesn’t currently have any cocktails on draft, the North Loop pub has had them in the past, including one with bourbon and local beer, Hops and Grain’s the One They Call Zoe. The Lazy Dog, as it was called, served as my first foray into cocktails from a keg earlier this year, and I still remember the conversation I had with Drink.Well co-owner Jessica Sanders about it.

She said Hops and Grain delivered Zoe to Drink.Well flat so that it was carbonated in the keg with the other cocktail ingredients. Drink.Well had made the Lazy Dog before, albeit not kegged, and Sanders and the other bartenders noticed the draft version tasted brighter and more effervescent, the result of all the ingredients getting carbonated together in the keg. Fingers crossed the Lazy Dog returns on tap.

One cocktail in particular that I think benefits from arriving in a new format is the Moscow Mule, especially as Odd Duck makes it. With fresh-pressed ginger (rather than ginger beer), the drink has a bubbly crispness without any of the bright burn of ginger beer. I did notice after later sips, however, that my mouth was left very dry — perhaps because of the effect of carbonation on fresh ginger and how long it was in the keg for?

Keg cocktails can be tricky, after all. They aren’t going to produce the same result as cocktails prepared five minutes before you drink them, and they also wear harder on draft lines than beer does, requiring constant care of the system. But if done just right, they can be such a fun, functional addition to any bar.