Tap cocktails are suddenly flowing from spouts all across Brooklyn, and we’re not just talking frozen margaritas. At Greenpoint bar Esme for instance, they’re serving up a special concoction called the Middle Kingdom, white and golden rums infused with a house-made Chinese Five Spice mixture, ginger, and lemon oil. “It’s our first foray into draft cocktails,” said Nathan Ricke, co-owner of the restaurant and director of their beverage program. Developing the drink’s precise recipe was a challenge. “When we tasted it, everyone was coming out hammered.” he said. “It was way too intense because, essentially, it was just straight rum with a little bit of ginger.”
Ricke and the Esme team reassessed their math time and time again. “We realized you have to dilute everything in advance,” he explained. “So that one took us a few times—letting all the pressure out, adding a few more ingredients, resealing it, re-pressurizing it, re-carbonating it, and then doing that several times until we finally got the taste right.”
After a period of trial-and-error, Esme also perfected Thicker Than Thieves, their take on the Gin & Tonic, which features tonic water made right there in the restaurant. “This gin and tonic, it’s 100 percent alcohol, except for the small amount of water we add to simulate the dilution, and then the whole thing is carbonated again. So you’re drinking something that’s at full strength rather than a drink with a bunch of water added to it,” says Ricke.
Draft cocktails have long been a thing in Manhattan, but for a brief moment encountered a threat to their very existence. In 2012, the New York Times spoke with Ravi DeRossi, the owner of an Alphabet City bar called Gin Palace. He claimed the booze police had turned off the taps on the free-flowing gin and tonics the bar had been known for. According to the Times, “He said he believes that the liquor authority’s action was rooted in a Prohibition-era law that forbids a bar from taking alcohol from a bottle, pouring it into another and serving it.” Fortunately, the antiquated law is no longer being enforced, and the G&Ts are flowing once more—at Gin Palace and elsewhere.
The resurgence of the tap cocktail, though, is tempered by at least one challenge, on top of the degree of difficulty in preparing them. “Cocktails are at least partially about theater,” says Ricke. “So I think some people are a little nervous that you lose that.” Matthew Belanger, head bartender at South Williamsburg cocktail bar Donna, though, is less concerned. “Not every guest comes to a celebrated cocktail den looking for a history lesson and one-on-one contact with the bartender,” he says. “Many come just to have a good time.”
Where to Find Them:
999 Manhattan Avenue, Greenpoint
Thick As Thieves: A gin and tonic with house-made tonic water; Middle Kingdom: Like a spicier Dark and Stormy.
1037 Flushing Avenue, Bushwick
Frozen Negroni: Will make every other Negroni you’ve had seem like baby formula.
Baby’s All Right
146 Broadway, Williamsburg
The Pink Baby: A frozen drink with vodka, grapefruit, and lemonade; Sacred Snow: A frozen, spicy piña colada.
27 Broadway, Williamsburg
Carribean Punch: El Dorado 5-year Rum, Appleton Rum, Velvet Falernum, Pernod Absinthe, and root beer.
152 Metropolitan Avenue, Williamsburg
Uncle Willie’s Frozen Coffee: A milky sweet, bourbon-based coffee concoction.