Following the rise of both wine on tap and bottled cocktails, some of Melbourne's leading bartenders are now pouring complex drinks in record time. Sydney even serves them from cans (see the ingeniously named Mar-tinnie). Despite the purists’ reluctance (“but what about the theatre?”), we’re all for a lickety-split Espresso Martini, so long as it tastes as good as a slow one.
Arbory Bar and Eatery recently trialled the concept, putting the classic Espresso Martini with a little (nitro) twist beside its beers. "It's easy to put a mixer on tap, but we wanted to take it one step further," says Arbory bar manager, Tom Byrne. "A cocktail should be interesting and complex. We were told there would be plenty of sacrifices when we started trying to make this product on tap, however we have found very few."
From a bar perspective, one of the huge benefits of putting cocktails on tap is the ability to streamline the process and serve us significantly faster.
Putting a concoction of spirits and syrups in a keg is a delicate business; air pressure, texture and taste all need to be considered. "Tap cocktails are more complicated than just throwing booze in a keg," says Jason Chan from Hats and Tatts. Just like kegged wine, the base product has to be good. "We rest our cocktails in glass before kegging. This allows us to adjust the balance of the cocktail, because flavours will evolve and harmonise over time."
For example, in Hats & Tatts' tap-poured Blood Orange Negroni, Campari is balanced with a bitter syrup created from vacuum packing blood-orange peel, gentian (the root of a common flowering plant) and sugar. Fresh citrus has traditionally been a very tough ingredient to use in keg cocktails, but the South Melbourne bar has access to a machine that extracts the oils from fruits and flora, allowing it to use typically unstable flavours.
Chapel Street's Jungle Boy also does an on-tap version of a Negroni, and uses a local sweet vermouth. The biggest difference for the Jungle Boy team is that the Negroni comes out of the tap cold. This slows dilution, which means your last sip is likely to be as good as your first. “Once we worked it out, it was an easy three-step method. Fill glass with ice, pour Negroni, garnish. Boom, ready to serve!" says Jungle Boy's Serena O'Callaghan.
The trial-and-error element of pressurising the previously unpressurised is proving to be great for experimentation. "The fact that there wasn't much documentation around how to approach it, and that we have had to figure it out ourselves, has made it even more appealing," says Linus Schaxmann of The Noble Experiment in Collingwood.
At Schaxmann's Smith Street bar, a Spiced-Rum Espresso Martini is currently on pour, the first of many on-tap cocktails planned. While it eases the flow of service on any given night, the team spends months researching and perfecting the cocktail, and hours prepping it. "We've made and barrel-aged our own spiced rum for six weeks, worked with a local coffee roaster to match it perfectly with the right coffee. We’ve worked with a gas company ... ensuring that wonderful silky mouth feel."
"We age ours for a month in kegs before we put it on tap," says Ben Duval from Thornbury favourite, Carwyn Cellars. Here a Triple-Vermouth Negroni and a Japanese Whisky Highball are available via lever. In Tokyo the Highball is a simple mixture of Japanese whisky and soda, served in a mug with ice. In this Melbourne bottle shop-bar, the addition of yuzu bitters and a citrus-rind twist mixes things up.
Contrary to the initial reactions of some, pre-batching and pressurising your favourite mixed drink doesn’t mean compromising on quality. On the contrary, bartenders taking part have the chance to play with elements they've never considered before. While the speed of service is a massive perk, it's this element of experimentation that makes tap cocktails as exciting as their slow counterparts. When it comes to turning craft cocktails into draught cocktails, the possibilities are somewhat endless.
Espresso Martinis on tap:
Arbory Bar & Eatery
Flinders Walk, Melbourne
The Noble Experiment
248 Smith Street, Collingwood
Negronis on tap:
877 High Street, Thornbury
96 Chapel Street, Windsor
Hats and Tatts
78 Cecil Street, South Melbourne
Asian Beer Cafe
(Pina Colada and other rotating cocktails)
Melbourne Central Dome, Melbourne