A few days ago, I was stuck on a desolate sidewalk during Chicago’s Fall heatwave. While no water could quench my thirst, I thought an iced coffee certainly would. While I love to support the slew of local coffee shops in my area, Starbucks was the nearest option as the sun beat down, and so I wandered in and ordered my drink.
Suddenly, I became swarmed with green aprons, all advising me to try their “nitro” varietal. I consented, and was presented with an iced coffee from a tap, that settled in the plastic cup not unlike a freshly-poured Guinness. The product was smooth, frothy, flavorful, and far less acidic than most coffees.
For the food and beverage industries, it’s not only what product is served, but how you serve it. For example, in my article Get a Drink, with the Push of a Button, I discussed how self-serve bars were appealing to millennials (and frankly people of all generations) looking for a casual dining scene, particularly when you don’t have to fuss with a bartender for a drink. Well now let’s take it a step back further and talk about how alcohol beyond beer got in these taps at all.
It was back in Madison, Wisconsin when I first encountered a cocktail on tap, in the whiskey bar Cask & Ale. It seemed like an oxymoron; “craft” cocktails could only qualify as craft if a bartender carefully mixes every one, with a skill and refinement matching the drink itself. But any doubts were obscured when I tried their seasonal Tequila Mockingbird, which packed a heavy chili punch that haunts my taste buds to this day.
Kegged or batch cocktails can be found in several places throughout Chicago as well; the city’s first self-serve bar, Tapster, offers several that you can, of course, pour yourself. Billy Sunday in Logan Square boasts an impressive cocktail line-up with “tonics,” using draft’s carbonation factor to their advantage. Revel Room also dabbled in the draft cocktail business.
But it’s not only cocktails flowing from kegs, but wine as well. Kashmira Gander of the Independent recently claimed wine on tap was set to take on the world. The style was apparently developed in the old-world land of Italy and has already become more common throughout Europe.
In the same piece, wine experts Tom Harrow of Honest Grapes and Radka Beach, who runs La Muse Blue blog discuss why tapped wine is gaining so much traction; it’s a more low-key dining experience — which attracts money-strapped and more casual millennials — it’s cheaper for the establishments themselves, and it’s a more environmentally-sustainable alternative.
Appropriately, many Italian restaurants throughout Chicago feature these wines on tap; Bascule Wine Bar and Bar Toma are two such establishments. City Winery in the West Loop pairs wine on tap with an engaging and varied experience, featuring live music and of course vino expertise. The more seamless the wine comes from the taps, the more quickly customers can return to Arlo Guthrie.
Ultimately, kegged wines and cocktails make two libations often associated with priciness and exclusivity more accessible. Suddenly ordering a merlot involves the same effort as ordering a Goose Island Green Line, and it is this ease — or, at the very least, the customer’s perception of ease — that are making these taps increasingly popular. Serving alcohol on tap is not a fading trend, but indicative of the evolving manner by which Americans hope to enjoy their beverages.