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The Lowdown On Kegged Cocktails

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Why keg cocktails? Because the resulting drinks are convenient, consistent, and easy to make. Pouring a pre-mixed cocktail into a glass might lack the theater of making it from scratch, but it can also save the bar time during service.

Tapping the Trend

Right now, kegged cocktails are most common in cities that have a high demand for craft cocktails. Pre-batching cocktails has some serious advantages: it ensures consistent dilution, perfect proportions, and quick serving. It can also slightly reduce a bar’s waste by eliminating heavy pours or potential spills.

During the busiest bar hours, it also reduces strain on bartenders. Anyone who can pour a beer can pour a cocktail and garnish it, making it an easy way to speed up service. Though the idea behind the trend isn’t new, the presentation is still novel.

Crossed Lines

Still, kegged cocktails have a few disadvantages. Outside of the obvious loss from a poorly mixed batch, a bar must have a tap system that can accommodate gases other than CO2. To prevent corrosion, a bar must have special lines that won’t clog or corrode when exposed to sugars and acids.

There’s also a steep learning curve. Before starting to serve a cocktail, the bar has to know how a cocktail’s flavors change under pressure and over time. They must also decide on a gas (commonly nitrogen or CO2) to help dispense their product, and experiment to make sure that the resulting drink has the desired texture. After the initial modifications, the lines must be cleaned religiously to prevent mold or bacterial growth.

Bars must also choose when to dilute their cocktails. Most well-made mixed drinks are roughly one-fifth water after being shaken or stirred. For pre-batched kegged cocktails, the water can be added to the keg. Judging by the Google results, this is the most common approach. However, some bars do opt to mix undiluted cocktails, dispense a set amount, and shake or stir to add water.

Finally, there’s the legality of it. In some places, serving liquor out of anything other than its original bottle may not be OK, so brush up on the booze laws that govern your area.

Hit The Lab

A lot of places have written solid guides to kegging alcohol (like here and here ), so we’re going to give you some tips on batching your favorite drinks.

First, choose a cocktail and a recipe. Batches of spirit-heavy drinks like the Manhattan or the Old Fashioned can be made the day (or two) before a party without much change, but citrusy cocktails like Gimlets or Aviations need to be made the same day to preserve freshness. After batching, refrigerate your cocktail. Vermouth oxidizes at room temperature and fruit juice will get bitter.

Next, multiply the recipe’s proportions by the number of servings you want to make. Once your numbers are straight, play around with dilution. Well-made drinks are approximately one-fifth water when they are served. You can either add this much water (if you had four cups of liquid before, add one cup of chilled distilled water) or stir or shake when you’re about to serve.

Combine ingredients in a pitcher that has a cap and is large enough to accommodate an entire batch.

Thanks to Nathan McMinn for the help with the technical side of kegging!

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What's the Right Way to Make a Sazerac?
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If you pronounce New Orleans "New Or-leens," or if you can’t get enough of those Big Ass Beers sold on Bourbon Street, you’re probably not actually from New Orleans. But if you’re feeling adventurous and missing the Big Easy, a Sazerac might be just what the doctor ordered. 

‘Tails and Stories

A few hundred years ago, you might have actually gotten a doctor’s order for a Sazerac. One of the drink's origin stories claims that it was invented by New Orleans apothecary Antoine Amedie Peychaud. According to this tale, Mr. Peychaud mixed up the drink with his eponymous bitters and served it in an egg coupe in his shop. 

A more likely origin story states that the drink was invented by a different New Orleans resident (though in the same neighborhood). Around 1850, Sewell T. Taylor sold his bar to Aaron Bird and went into the import business. One of his products happened to be Sazerac-de-Forge et Fils brandy. While Taylor was importing, Bird renamed his bar the Sazerac House and began serving a house cocktail that featured Taylor’s brandy and, as the story goes, bitters made by his neighborhood apothecary, Mr. Peychaud.

In the 1870s and 1880s, Europe's grape crops were decimated by an infestation of American aphids. In just four years, French wine production was cut by 67 percent, and even the most dedicated cognac drinkers switched to whiskey. For New Orleans, that meant switching to rye whiskey that was shipped to the city down the Ohio River and through the Mississippi. Thomas Handy, who owned the Sazerac Bar during that time period, likely switched the drink's main ingredient. This take on the signature cocktail is the one that found its way into the 1908 edition of The World's Drinks and How To Mix Them, with the recipe calling for "good whiskey," not Sazerac cognac. 

The origins of the Sazerac’s name is vague. It’s possible that it was a nod to the fact that it was the bar's house cocktail, but it’s also possible that it’s a reference to the brand of brandy. In those days, “cocktail” referred to a specific alcoholic drink format. As put forth by The Balance and Columbian Repository in 1806, a “cock-tail” is “a stimulating liquor composed of spirits of any kind, sugar, water, and bitters.” If you wanted this type of drink with whiskey in it, you would ask for a Whiskey Cocktail. If you wanted Sazerac brandy (until the aphid plague, at least), you'd ask for a Sazerac cocktail.

Hit the Lab

Sazerac Recipe:

2 dashes Peychaud's bitters
.25 oz simple syrup (or a sugar cube)
2 oz good rye whiskey (use the good stuff)
lemon peel for garnish

Place the sugar cube into an absinthe-rinsed rocks glass. Dash the bitters onto the cube and muddle. Add whiskey and one large ice cube and stir to combine. Garnish with a lemon twist.

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What’s the Right Way to Make a Caipirinha?
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Flickr User Janice Waltzer // CC BY 2.0

The Rio Olympics start in just a few weeks, and all eyes are on Brazil. To celebrate, we decided to focus on the country’s most famous cocktail creation: the Caipirinha.

In form, the Caipirinha is pretty much a Brazilian Daiquiri. It’s made from sugar, lime, and cachaça. Cachaça could be considered a cousin to rum, but it is altogether unique. While most rum is made from molasses, cachaça is made from fresh sugarcane juice.

Unlike rum, which can be made anywhere, cachaça can only be made in Brazil. Though it’s often sold unaged, it is usually matured in woods that are native to Brazil, like peanut and balm. As with wine, beer, and whiskey, different kinds of wood affect the product inside differently.

The classifications of cachaça aren’t based on the type of cask in which it’s aged. It can get a bit confusing: Spirit that is not stored in wood or is kept in stainless steel vats before it’s bottled is often called branca (white). But cachaça aged in wood that doesn’t color the liquor may also be labeled as branca. This category goes under several other names, including prata (silver) and clássica (classic).

Cachaça that’s stored or aged in wood is usually labeled as amarela (yellow), in reference to its color. These may also be labeled as ouro (gold). Envelhecida (aged) cachaça, a subtype of amarela, is a bit more involved: it’s considered aged if more than 50 percent of the content of the bottle has been aged for at least a year in a barrel that’s 700 liters or smaller.

Cachaça is the “third most produced distilled drink in the world,” according to Alcohol In Latin America: A Social and Cultural History. Though more than 5000 brands existed in 2008, it was relatively ignored outside of Brazil until the recent resurgence of craft cocktails. In fact, until 2013, it had to be labeled “Brazilian rum” to be imported into the U.S. As a result, it’s often mistaken by many people for being a type of rum.

Unfortunately, we don’t really know anything definite about the origins of the Caipirinha. Like the Mojito and the Old Fashioned, the formula was perhaps first used in folk medicine. Carlos Lima, the executive director of IBRAC (the Brazilian Institute of Cachaça) told Casa e Jardim that a mix of lime, garlic, and honey with a pour of cachaça was probably used in São Paulo around 1918 as a remedy for the Spanish Flu.

As the story goes, someone eventually decided to skip the garlic and honey. Then, to balance the acidity of the lime, sugar was added. Over time, the drink spread into bars, ice entered the equation, and it became the Caipirinha we know today.

HIT THE LAB

Like the Mojito, the classic Caipirinha recipe is quite simple, but it’s also been the subject of many, many variations. We’ve included the International Bartenders Association (IBA) recipe as well as a modern take on the drink.

Caipirinha
Modified from the IBA website.

2 ounces Cachaça
1/2 of a lime
1 tablespoon sugar

Muddle lime and sugar in an Old Fashioned glass. Fill with ice and pour cachaça over it. Stir and enjoy.

Prata B. (Puerto Rico Asta Ah Brazil)
Recipe by Luis Ramos, bar manager of Bourbon and Branch in San Francisco.

1 3/4 ounces Avua Prata Cachaça
3/4 ounce lime juice
3/4 ounce pineapple gomme syrup
1/2 ounce Pedro Ximenez sherry
1/4 ounce Punt e Mes
Grated nutmeg, lime zest, lime wheel for garnish

Combine all ingredients in a Collins glass. Add crushed ice and stir until glass frosts. Top glass with grated nutmeg, lime zest, and lime wheel.

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