Tapping into the draft cocktail trend

When cocktail royalty such as Alex Kratena and Monica Berg start adopting a particular serve approach, chances are it’s going to be big. Shay waterworth reports

BOXES HAVE ONLY recently started to regain their status as an acceptable form of decanter for wine. The box was often thought of as a cheap alternative to bottles, degrading the quality of the wine, but this is changing and it has become far more popular in Scandinavia, Europe and even the US. A similar thing happened with canned beer, embraced by the craft movement to rid the format of the poor reputation bestowed by canned lager. And now there is another trend on the boom – cocktail taps. Yep, draft cocktails are a thing, and they’re serious.

Many cocktail bars, even ones in The World’s 50 Best Bars, are serving cocktails from taps. Milk & Honey in London has a variety of tapped cocktails and the city even has a bar called Fare Bar + Canteen, which serves every drink – including beers, wines and cocktails –from taps, and not a bottle in sight.

In the most recent edition of our sister magazine Class, Monica Berg and Alex Kratena described how one of their new bars, Elementary, will only serve cocktails from taps. They will use Norwegian company Taptails to develop its dispense system and, considering people have been waiting three years for them to open their own venue, they must have faith in the concept. Kratena highlighted the simplicity of using taps rather than training or paying for top-level bartenders. Perhaps the purists out there will mourn the lack of romance with just pouring a cocktail, but to the average Joe, it’s a cocktail served as quickly as a pint of beer, more consistently and with less fuss.

Sam Millin, founder of Taptails, says: “When we started out a few years back there weren’t many people doing cocktails on tap, but the main part of our business is making the liquid rather than installing the equipment. We try not to get too involved with installation regularly because there’s a lot of responsibility associated with it. Installation is also one of the biggest costs involved with tapped cocktails but it can be easier and cheaper setting up in pubs with existing equipment.”


Millin adds: “There are lots of things to consider about technology when serving cocktails from a tap. The temperature wants to be the same as if the liquid was coming out of a shaker – about -2° to -6° – and the easiest way of achieving this is by using an existing draft beer system with a coil cooler. These types of system can use a form of antifreeze to keep the liquid flowing.”

Carbonation levels and mouthfeel are also crucial to cocktails. Taptails has been working with in-line carbonation and the use of argon to perfect the systems, but Millin insists that for them to continue testing this equipment, they need demand to increase to cover the costs involved.

Because the company is based in Norway, with much of its business taking place abroad, there is an emphasis on developing the expiry dates of its cocktails. “We’ve worked hard on extending the shelf life of our products by limiting the oxygen exposure. We started out using Cornelius kegs to hold our liquid because they were easy to use, but discovered that the contents can change slightly over time.”

There are also some tricky ingredients in cocktails, particularly with more complex drinks which use egg white or lime juice.

Millin says: “We want to make our cocktails as honestly as possible without using artificial stuff or pasteurised egg whites for example. We want to retain our premium focus.”

World of Zing in London is another company making premium pre-batched cocktails without getting involved with the installation of taps. Founder Pritesh Mody says: “We don’t do a lot of tech, we just work with the premium end of pre-batched liquid. We provide bottles or pouches up to three litres to more than 150 venues, and everything we do is bespoke for the individual.”

Rather than installing the taps, World of Zing is working with venues that already have the facilities, such as Hippo Inn pub chain in London – but the venues have to meet the same standard of the liquids

“Some clients choose not to have taps,” says Mody. “I think in the eyes of consumers it can cheapen the experience of a cocktail. But if you look at a place such as Soho House, it can do a Negroni on tap with no issues, because it’s a premium brand and its clientele would think it’s really hip. But not every venue has this luxury, which can make a tapped cocktail a difficult sell.”


Taptails’ Millin adds: “Tapped cocktails are potentially the Holy Grail for brands because, at the moment, brands provide a bar with their products, and then rely on the bartender to not only sell, but serve their drinks to a high standard. If this can be replaced with a simple on-off switch then their product can be represented more consistently.

“Also, even fast bartenders in high-volume cocktail bars would struggle to keep up with the speed at which cocktails can be served on tap.” This will also open up cocktails more people, especially consumers who don’t want to wait long for a drink.

Of course, the premium level of bars will, for the most part, retain traditional bartenders and therefore shakers, but as major chains such as Slug & Lettuce in the UK or TGI Fridays get wind of tapped cocktails there could be less demand for qualified ’tenders.


Spirits brands are likely to lead the significant growth of tapped cocktails as they begin to come in with their own bulk liquids and tap technology, and offer to install it for free. This, in theory, could cause the prices of cocktails in major on-trade outlets to drop because of the cheaper production and transport costs, and also because venues will be able to turn over higher volumes with lesser qualified staff. However, Millin insists it will be difficult for premium brands such as Taptails to follow suit as they wish to remain a more exclusive supplier.

Branding could be an issue for tapped cocktails. Looking at beer, each pump has the name of the brewery, beer name and brew style on the label. But Taptails only has the cocktail name on the tap, leaving consumers with no idea what brand of spirit is inside. This won’t be an issue in high-volume venues, but premium bars could be different, especially with the modern consumer being thirsty for a better understanding of what’s in their cocktails.

World of Zing has a different approach. Mody says: “We aren’t precious about our branding, we work with the Diageo Reserve range in our pre-batched cocktails and we wouldn’t hide this on our tap labels.”

Brands will always want more on-trade exposure, and if they’ve already lost their bottle on the back bar due to cocktail taps, you can bet they’ll want their name somewhere else. Millin adds: “Tapped cocktails are still a relatively new concept but over the next two or three years they could really take off.”

And when they do, it will not only be a gimmick for premium cocktail bars, but an efficient revenue stream for multinational brands as well as bespoke suppliers such as World of Zing or Taptails. More consumers who don’t like waiting for drinks will gain access to a quick cocktail, possibly at lower prices. However, not only could the romance of bartending be lost – in the same way screwcaps aren’t popular in Bordeaux – there could yet be a different landscape for the bar industry if taps do take off. Fewer bartenders will learn how to make drinks traditionally, making staffing in the premium category much more difficult – and tips will be few and far between.