When you order a craft cocktail, you expect a certain rigamarole: a mustachioed bartender gathering heritage liquors, gingerly plucking herbs from a flower pot, then carefully shaking a drink to perfection. The result is tasty, but the process can be time-consuming. Now, as more bars implement new technologies and try proactive methods, this routine isn’t the only path to a quality, handmixed cocktail.
Anyone who’s visited The Passenger on a Friday night and waited nearly 20 minutes for one drink has felt the pain. That’s why the bar’s owner, Derek Brown — with bartender JP Fetherston, tech expert John Burke and business partner Angie Salame — founded Brigade, a new venture aiming to bring kegged cocktails to the mainstream.
The company makes cocktails available to establishments that may not have the space or resources to support a full bar program, such as Union Market’s Red Apron Butchery, where Brigade’s pilot program launched in early April. For their exclusive blend, Fetherston mixed Green Hat Gin from local New Columbia Distillery with a custom-made tonic infused with sage and apple peel ($8).
“One benefit [of kegged cocktails] is you get a consistent pour,” Fetherston says. “It’s the same cocktail from the first pour to the last pour, a week later or a couple days later when the keg is kicked.”
Brigade isn’t the only service preparing cocktails before the point of order. At The Coupe, a 24-hour diner in Columbia Heights, pre-batched cocktails have been on the menu since its October opening. Beverage director David Fritzler mixes boozy concoctions and serves them in pre-poured, individual bottles ($10-$11). He likes how batching gives him more control over his cocktail program, and how a large volume makes it easier to fiddle with the recipe. “You can really tweak a beverage just a little bit on the scale of it,” he says.
At Bar Pilar, beverage director Jonathan Fain was looking for a way to serve frozen drinks without one of those speedy — yet bulky — slush machines. Enter the Tequila Sunset Slushy ($12), a strong, boozy play on the classic Tequila Sunrise. Half of the ingredients are mixed and frozen in prep; once ordered, the remaining alcohol is poured over the frozen mixture to give the drink an icy consistency.
Fain is playing around with other made-in-advance libations, though this particular method is less about convenience than it is about enhancing flavors. He’s currently aging three cocktails in French oak barrels for one month before he’ll transfer them to a keg and pour them on draft: an Old Pal with Campari, vermouth and rye whisky; a Vesper with vodka, gin, Cocchi Americano and orange bitters; and an Old-Fashioned with rye whiskey, simple syrup and house-blended bitters.
Todd Thrasher, owner of PX, Alexandria’s well-loved speakeasy-inspired bar, can appreciate the appeal of premade cocktails, though he doesn’t think it’s a good fit for a throwback bar like his own.
“For a place like PX, it kind of takes the romance out of bartending,” Thrasher says. “But for a super-busy bar where you want to do some really cool cocktails, I think it’s a great idea.”
If you’d rather spend more time drinking than watching a bartender theatrically preparing your order, we know where to find you.