People have been drinking spirits from kegs for years. The metal barrels are commonly associated with draft beer that pours out of the millions of taps in thousands of taverns across the country. Now the keg is leaving the frat house party and going upscale.
The modern day keg traces its roots to vineyards and spirit distillers that stored and aged their products in typically oak barrels. The modern day “keg,” however, is typically construction of aluminum or steel (in the case of beer, almost always the latter). It is rounded around the edges for easy lifting and has an opening at the top of one side, referred to in the industry as the “bung.” Since a keg is typically pressurized with a gas like carbon dioxide, there is an opening that allows this gas to pour the beer out of the barrel. A typical US keg is 31 gallons. However, half barrels and quarter barrels are also common. Keg sizes vary around the world. For example, in Europe, a full “barrel” is only 13.2 gallons.
To most Americans, no frat house experience is complete without an obligatory “kegger” party. This often negative associated has resulted in 21 states limiting keg distribution and even enacting registration laws. Now, as bars struggle to differentiate themselves in the marketplace, several innovative industry entrepreneurs are attempting to rebrand the keg as a high-class dispenser of classic cocktails.
For those unfamiliar with the concept, kegged cocktails consist of premixed, pre-stirred, combinations of one or more spirits, mixers, as well as bitters or anything else one might choose to put in a drink. Kegged cocktails range from down home creations like Rum and Coke, to more elaborate classics like the Rye Whiskey Old Fashioned found at the popular Reno tavern The Library. The concept has been around for some time and even creeped into several movie scenes, like the movie Cocktail starring Tom Cruise. However, the concept quickly lost luster as bars and lounges simply used the method to cheapen the mixed drink concept into a malt beverage monstrosity that became too closely tied to Zima, Smirnoff Ice, Skyy Blue, as well as other bottled typically malt based concoctions.
Pre-mixing drinks in a keg offers several key advantages. First, it takes the possibility of human error out of the equation. In the hands of a bartender, every mixed drink is slightly different. By mixing everything in a keg beforehand, the bartender is able to adjust for error, and even taste his or her creation before serving it to customers.
Second, kegging speeds up the bar line, which is becoming increasingly important as bar patrons demand more and more innovative products from their mixologists. Unfortunately, the second part poses some problems. Bartenders and restaurant owners alike need to avoid the trap of cheapening the product and reincarnating the 80s stigma associated with the practice. If the drinks become too easy or too mass produced, consumers will shy away and the keg will once again be relegated to the frat house.