Building Better Draft Cocktails

Nov 10, 2018

A truly great cocktail has many facets above and beyond flavor. The flavor must be balanced and walk the line between sweetness and acidity, bitter and sour, and so on. However, texture, temperature, and dilution all play major roles as well. Jeffrey Morgenthaler believes (and I agree) that to make a great cocktail you must have the right recipe, the right technique, and the right ingredients.


There is a correct method for the way a cocktail is shaken or stirred to ensure perfect temperature, texture, and dilution. A cocktail properly shaken for 12 to 15 seconds, should finish between 19 and 23° F, and ideally be diluted 25 to 40%. A cocktail properly stirred for 30 to 45 seconds should finish between 23 and 32° F and ideally be diluted 20 to 25%. Stirred cocktails tend not to be quite as cold or diluted as shaken drinks, but shaking adds texture to a drink in the form of tiny air bubbles. These air bubbles don’t last forever, so it is best to keep shaken drinks small for quick consumption and get them out fast. Because of the textural component, a drink that would normally be shaken tends to fall flat when put on draft and poured directly into a glass or over ice.


When deciding whether a cocktail should be shaken or stirred, simply consider the ingredients. Any drink that contains juice, cream, or eggs will be better shaken due to the foaming effect of those ingredients and therefore fall flat when put on draft. Any drink that is composed entirely of spirits, like a Manhattan, Negroni, Martini, or Old Fashioned should be served crystal clear, ice cold and free of ice chips and air bubbles. These types of cocktails are far superior when batched and served on draft.


To batch, simply scale up any recipe by ratio (always testing to ensure balance was maintained and adjusting when necessary) and then dilution is all that needs to be calculated. Dave Arnold has a formula for calculating estimated dilution in his book Liquid Intelligence:


Dilution ratio for stirred drinks = -1.21 x abv2 + 1.26 x ABV + 0.145


A simpler method is to weight a single cocktail before and after stirring to determine how much water was added during the dilution/chilling process. Do this a few times and find the average. Determine the ratio of the water volume in the recipe and scale up with the rest of the recipe by ratio.


Any recipe generated by this method, using the right ingredients and dilution ratio can also be used in individual or large bottled/batched cocktails to increase the speed of pickup and throughput. Bear in mind that due to the lower alcohol content of these drinks, refrigeration is important in preserving their integrity.


I recommend serving these drinks over a large “rock” (large ice sphere or cube) to achieve the perfect temperature without compromising the dilution ratio. Large rocks have enough surface area to be inefficient for dilution but are perfect for maintaining just the right temperature. Serving “up” is an option as well but this will cause the drink to warm more quickly as it is already starting out slightly above the ideal temperature range of 23 to 32 degrees F, so smaller portion sizes are preferred for this application.


Follow these guidelines and any cocktail connoisseur will be thrilled to belly up to your bar for some delicious draft concoctions.

Mike is a Certified Cicerone® beverage expert and all-around restaurant guy. He lives in the Midwest but works all over the country as an Operations and Beverage Consultant for SYNERGY Restaurant Consultants.