The bartenders at Mount Washington's The Summit must hear it constantly: "You have vodka on draft?" Amidst the bar's familiar lineup of craft beers, a Tito's tap-handle certainly stands out. And though straight liquor doesn't flow from it, the fresh and spicy Moscow Mules that do are even better. The Summit is one of a growing number of Pittsburgh bars using their draft systems for more than beer.
"Draft cocktails are super-convenient for service," says Summit co-owner Shane Witt. The Summit was already selling tons of Moscow Mules (thanks largely to its house-made ginger beer), so a draft version was the next logical step. Witt ferments fresh ginger juice, sugar, water and yeast in a small home-brewing-style keg, then adds the vodka and hooks it to a specially fitted draft line. When someone orders a Moscow Mule — as someone does more than a hundred times a week — the bartender simply fills the signature copper mug and finishes it off with lime and candied ginger.
Cocktails on draft have been gaining popularity around the country for a few years now, and speed of service isn't the only reason. "It lets us provide a craft product with consistency," explains Adam Henry, of Squirrel Hill's Independent Brewing Company. Like The Summit, the IBC first experimented with kegging cocktails out of necessity, as the beer-focused bar wasn't staffed to make them to order. However, Henry quickly realized that he could use the technology to deliver a better drink. To that end, he selects cocktails that require effervescence, like an Indian-spiced Dark & Stormy or a Spanish-style gin and tonic. On draft, Henry's cocktails are fizzy, fast and consistently delicious — a win all around.
Kegged cocktails have also popped up around town at spots like Butcher and the Rye and The Commoner. Though not all cocktails should go on draft (I hope I never see egg whites coming out of a tap), they're an exciting addition to Pittsburgh's already dynamic drinking scene.