Behind the Bar Bar Talk

There’s a Right and Wrong Way to Serve Draft Cocktails

Brooklyn’s Yours Sincerely is the first bar to focus exclusively on cocktails that can be pulled from a tap. Even the most elaborate drink order takes no more than 10 seconds to land in front of a guest (we counted). But in order to deliver a 10-second craft cocktail, it takes a lot of activity behind the scenes.

We talked with Darren Grenia, who along with Julian Mohamed co-owns Yours Sincerely and Sincerely Burger (formerly Dear Bushwick, named for Brooklyn’s Bushwick neighborhood), about the art of pre-batching, how he learned to keg cocktails and the deal with those bar taps topped with creepy ceramic doll heads.

What made you decide to set up a tap-only cocktail program?

I came from seven years of working in nightclubs. There, it’s all based on speed and getting as much money under the register as possible, with no care about the drink. It’s different in cocktail bars. It’s all about care for the customer, but the money was quite a bit less.

We had been hearing about draft cocktails since 2009, 2010. There’s good and bad to it. The good is that draft cocktails are fast; the bad is that they often tasted like crap. We thought we could do better. We also had to understand what Bushwick wants: a lot for no money. We had to keep the overhead low. We had to bridge the gap: the speed of a nightclub but the taste of craft cocktails.

One of your selling points is low pricing—$4 to $9 drinks, instead of $14 and up for similar drinks at cocktail bars.

Bushwick is full of dive bars. We have beer-and-a-shot specials. We had to bridge the middle ground between a dive bar and cocktail bar. Price is an important part of that—to not gouge the customer and get people in who otherwise would not go to a cocktail bar because they think it’s too pretentious. We keep margins slim. We have no straws, no cocktail napkins, no ice to shake and discard, just ice to show the drink.

Walk us through what happens behind the scenes.

It boils down to the care you put into it before it goes into the keg. I’m like the kitchen manager, and I treat it like a kitchen. I write up a prep list for three to four days. The base of the drinks is made first—infusions, tinctures, syrups. Then we put the drink together and tag it.

Filtration is key for anything you put through a tap. All the way through the process, everything gets filtered a total of three or four times. When we make the cocktail, it gets filtered one more time before it goes in the keg. That gets you better viscosity. It helps the drink to blend, and there’s less settling and separation.

Yours Sincerely.

We work with organic fruit-derived acids, citric and malic acid. It’s a tasteless sour palate; you give it a lime or lemon tincture. How much acidity, lime or lemon flavor varies per drink. That also keeps things mixable, blendable. It’s a lot of work. But in front of guests, it’s not.

It’s easy on the bartenders. They make more money. But they have to know what they’re talking about. All of the bartenders are required to do batching shifts. People are curious; we spend most of the night answering questions. We want to know what we’re talking about and make people comfortable.

Darren Grenia batching cocktails.

How did you learn how to do all this?

By reading Dave Arnold’s book. Liquid Intelligence is my bible. And trial and error. If anyone is getting into draft cocktails, this book is all they need. I read up on beer—beer filtering, carbonation. Anton Baranenko of Draft Choice, the company that did our draft lines, helped me out too. He’s the only one doing it and doing it well. Gin Palace [now closed] had a G&T on tap; he did that. Ryan Chetiyawardana of White Lyan [also known for pre-batched cocktails] also was an inspiration.

It’s so new. There’s not anything you can Google and learn how to carbonate cocktails. How do I make a kegged Manhattan? Can’t just watch a video online; there’s very little literature on kegged cocktails. You have to figure it out by yourself. It took me two years to get to where I am now.

We have to ask: What’s with the doll heads on the bar taps?

They’re porcelain doll heads from the 1800s, found in an archeological dig in Germany. The bodies were made of cloth. The arms and legs also are porcelain; we have them somewhere but haven’t yet figured out how to use them.

Cocktail spritzed with aromatics.

And the beakers you use to serve the drinks?

My mentality was to make the drinks easy to measure during the shift. I knew jiggers wouldn’t work. Each drink has a pour size, measured by a line on the beaker. It’s a normal-size pour; it just looks smaller in the glass. Beakers also were cheaper to buy in bulk. The 500-milliliter-tall beaker equals a pint, the 250-milliliter short beaker became a double rocks glass, and the 250-milliliter-tall beaker is like a Collins glass. I had to make the decision not to use glassware. We went straight scientific and decided to make fun of that.

What’s next for you?

We’d like to have a bar where people could see what was going on, like a laboratory concept, so people could understand what’s going on behind the scenes.