Chip Walton | NB Digital Producer
Get a Keg Up on Having the Best Cocktails
Summer is the season of outdoor get-togethers, backyard barbecues, and hanging out by the water. Of course, we are fans of having a cooler full of cold beer for such occasions, but another great option for warm weather enjoyment is kegged cocktails. Delicious cocktails served sparkling, cold, and easily from a keg.
The Cool Thing About Kegs
There are several advantages to kegged cocktails. First off, it’s nice to have something a little different on tap besides beer. Cocktails offer a wide range of refreshing summer-friendly flavors: naturally sweet fruit juices/purees; tantalizingly tart flavors of lemon, lime, and grapefruit; herbs like mint, lavender, and rosemary.
Second, and possibly more important, you don’t have to wait for fermentation to enjoy and share a homemade alcoholic beverage. Of course we all love to brew beer for events and parties, but if you are short on time and can’t turn around a beer quick enough, kegged cocktails are an excellent quick-fix option. Just mix, carbonate and serve. It’s also convenient to make a big batch of cocktail and have it on hand rather than being stuck behind the bar making a bunch of individual servings all night and missing out on the party. And honestly, even if you don't want a cocktail super bubbly and fizzy, making a batch cocktail to be served via keg set at even a low pressure still makes tending bar a bit easier.
Lastly, cocktails are easily scalable. I prefer to make one gallon batches and keep things portable and easy to share. Northern Brewer carries many sizes/volumes of kegs -- 0.5 gallon, 1 gallon, 3 gallons, and the classic 5 gallons -- including kegs custom built for dispensing cocktails, so it’s simple to make exactly what you need. If you completely new to the equipment and processes involved in kegging and carbonating beverages, consider taking our Northern Brewer University online video course, Kegging 101: Introduction to Kegging.
Find the recipes for our Sparkling Paloma (left) and Pineapple Popper (right) below.
Designing a Kegged Cocktail Recipe
Not every cocktail translates well to being carbonated, but we have found that many do (and provide two original recipes below!). This is because the carbonation is a key “ingredient” in the beverage. When thinking of cocktails to keg, look at recipes that include soda water or other flavored sparkling water as an ingredient. Because part of what you're doing by kegging a cocktail is adding bubbles of your own by way of carbonation. So, regular water becomes the soda water, a blend of water and fruit juice becomes the fruit soda or flavored sparkling water.
Kegged cocktails are also a space where you can experiment with new ingredients to help you achieve the flavor you’re looking for. Consider fruit purees, flavorings, extracts, and powders. Or the unique flavors of Silver Cloud flavorings might inspire you to try something you never would’ve thought of.
For a look at the kegged cocktail process, here is a great video tutorial that we like from Liber & Co. It introduces the equipment needed, explains the quick-carbonating process, and highlights a carbonated Gin & Tonic recipe.
Let’s Make Some Kegged Cocktails!
There’s no shortage of drink recipes out there that will make for great kegged cocktails. We here at Northern Brewer came up with two recipes of our own (see below) to share. One is for a cocktail we call Pineapple Popper. Inspired in part by another summer favorite, grilled jalapeno poppers, this beverage brings together the sweet flavor of pineapple with a bit of heat, pepper flavor, and smoke from a hot pepper simple syrup and the inclusion of mezcal in the spirit blend. This is a really fun cocktail that involves a bit more work in the kitchen to make the simple syrup, but is totally worth it! Our second cocktail is for a Sparkling Paloma, our riff on the tequila-soused cocktail, packing a good bit of tartness from the grapefruit and lime juice, which puts it pretty much on the other end of the spectrum from the Pineapple Popper. It should be noted that based on these recipes (which can be modified of course for strength and scale) Pineapple Popper is about 6% ABV, whereas the Paloma is about 15% ABV. So, pour and enjoy responsibly and accordingly.
and show the process of making them at Northern Brewer HQ.
Recipe: Pineapple Popper
Developed by Chip Walton (NB Digital Content Producer)
I was inspired to create this kegged cocktail by flavors I love: pineapple, smoke, and pepper heat. Jalapeno Poppers (which I also love) came to mind. This cocktail has been a hit around NBHQ and my own backyard. It checks all the flavor boxes in a way that is also light, refreshing, and crushable in the summertime. The star of the show is the hot pepper simple syrup (recipe below) that includes both fresh and dried peppers. In a pinch, I think you could just use the dried chipotles as they provide both smoke and heat. But, I do think it’s worth seeking out fresh jalapeno peppers for that real authentic fresh pepper skin flavor.
Yield: 1 gallon (128 oz | 16 x 8 oz. servings)
ABV: 6% (15% of one-gallon volume is ~40% ABV spirits [rum and mezcal])
- 54 oz. Water
- 40 oz. Pineapple juice
- 18 oz. White rum
- 13.5 oz. Hot pepper simple syrup (recipe below)
- 2.5 oz. Mezcal
- Rim glass with Tajin seasoning for even more spice and lime acidity
- Ring or wedge of pineapple
- Jalapeno slices
In stages, mix all ingredients in one-gallon pitcher, adjusting any ingredients to taste along the way. Pour through a funnel into a one-gallon keg and seal the keg. Refrigerate and carbonate at 35 psi for 2-3 days (or use the quick carbonation method in Liber & Co video above). Serve with or without ice and garnish.
Recipe: Hot Pepper Simple Syrup
When I was developing this recipe, I knew I wanted complex pepper heat and smoke notes to play off those hallmark flavors of a grilled or smoked Jalapeno Popper. After several rounds of testing, I found this blend of three hot peppers provided perfectly balanced layers of heat and flavor to the syrup: that “green” of fresh jalapenos; the toasted, almost roasted, character of the Chili de arbol; and rich smokiness of dried Chipotle peppers. While many traditional simple syrup recipes call for a 1:1 ratio of sugar to water, I’ve seen it suggested that a hot pepper simple syrup should be 2:1 ratio of sugar to water to balance the heat with additional sweetness – which is how I’ve presented it in the recipe below. I do think this works really well here, but a few test tasters thought that the syrup could be made with that classic 1:1 ratio to reduce the overall level of sweetness of the final kegged cocktail (also considering the percentage of pineapple juice used). Feel free to experiment and flavor to taste.
- 1 cup water
- 2 cups sugar
- 2 Jalapeno peppers - fresh, sliced (seeds intact)
- 2 Chili de arbol peppers - dried, chopped (seeds intact)
- 2 Chipotle (Morito) - dried, chopped, seeds intact
In a medium saucepan, heat water over medium heat. Add sugar and stir to dissolve completely. Bring to a boil. Add peppers and boil for two minutes. Reduce heat and simmer for five minutes. Remove from heat and steep for two hours. Strain and use in recipes. Store any leftovers in an airtight container and refrigerate. It can be used in other standalone cocktails (like the Imperial Pineapple Popper recipe below!) or as a glaze for grilled/roasted meats and veggies.
Variation: Imperial Pineapple Popper
Looking for a more potent version of this flavorful cocktail? As we were blending the full one-gallon batch (with its 6%ABV), we stopped at a certain point and decided that this would be a great variation for a stiffer, uncarbonated version (about 15% ABV) that highlights the same fun flavors. As beer nerds at heart, we jokingly called it the Imperial Pineapple Popper.
Ingredients (for one 8oz serving)
- 3 oz. Pineapple juice
- 2 oz. White rum
- 1 oz. Hot pepper simple syrup
- 1 oz. Water
Mix all ingredients and serve over ice. Alternatively, shake ingredients with a handful of ice and strain into a glass.
Recipe: Sparkling Paloma
Developed by William Richartz (NB New Product Development)
Our coworker William wanted to come up with a kegged cocktail version of the popular tequila-based Paloma cocktail. Whereas some Paloma recipes include grapefruit soda (often overly sweet and/or sweetened with things like aspartame), William chose to build that grapefruit flavor using grapefruit juice, water, and some optional agave nectar. In full transparency, as card-carrying Sour Beer Nerd William omitted the agave nectar altogether to intensify the drink’s tart and salty flavor, but you could certainly add it to your liking for a bit more balance. We tried this recipe with both reposado tequila and blanco tequila, thinking the reposado might add some complexity. But, after tasting both versions we decided the blanco provided a nicer, “cleaner” flavor that allowed the tart fruit elements to shine.
- 41 oz tequila (your choice, but blanco is nice)
- 41 oz part grapefruit juice
- 41 oz water
- 4 oz lime juice (5mL for one gallon)
- 1/16 tsp salt per gallon
- Agave nectar (optional, to taste)
Mix all ingredients in a one-gallon pitcher, adjusting any ingredients to taste along the way. Pour through a funnel into a one-gallon keg and seal the keg. Refrigerate and carbonate at 35 psi for 2-3 days (or use the quick carbonation method in Liber & Co video above). Serve with or without a salted rim.