Keeping fruit purées at hand for market-fresh cocktails poses several logistical challenges, including space to store them, a means to add them and the need to turn them over quickly enough to prevent spoilage. At The Met Bar & Grill in Bethesda, which features American fare and a wood-fired grill, owner Kathy Sidell worked to create a system to address all of the above—and add a striking element to the back bar.
Sidell hired Custom Beverage Services in Boston (The Met operates four other locations in Massachusetts) to design a prototype based on her vision: an on-tap system using a COa float system traditionally used for beer, adjusted to allow it to store and pour a variety of purées through chilled glass tubes and out through the taps. “Our purées are kept in Cornelius kegs which hold 18.9 liters and pumped via nitrogen gas,” explains general manager Susan Spiwak, who points out that the restaurant uses products from The Perfect Purée of Napa Valley, touted for their freshness and true fruit flavor.
The system can dispense up to thirty different selections, which may change both seasonally and at the whim of bar staff. Most popular are El Corazon (a citrus blend), blood orange and Meyer lemon, but any of the flavors can be added to create a martini, mojito or customized cocktail, all of which are priced from $10 to $15. Spiwak recalls a recent customer who requested a rum drink with coconut, lime mint and El Corazon purées. “This particular guest loved the creative input he was able to contribute to his experience; he created three more.”
Non-imbibers can mix any of the flavors with soda water, lemonade or flavored soda for a fun, flavorful alcohol-free beverage. And the tapped ingredients can serve as juice substitutes, too: “Any drink that calls for lemon juice or cranberry juice, we substitute with the Meyer lemon or cranberry purée and it takes a standard cocktail to another level.” The menu also touts a list of already-thought-out recipes, such as The Beltway, with Cachaça 51 Brazilian Rum, elderflower liqueur, green apple and El Corazon purées. All purées are kept at a cool thirty-six degrees, but are added to the shaker with other ingredients and shaken with ice to assure a well-balanced cocktail.
Spiwak admits there was a learning curve with the system, including experimenting with ingredients with different thicknesses and viscosity, as well as those that are smooth versus those with pulp. Flavors with a lot of seeds like strawberries and raspberries need to be strained three times, while the pressure needs to be adjusted for coconut so it doesn’t turn to marshmallow. “Each flavor has its challenges and takes different care and tweaking,” she notes, “It took a lot of trial and error, but after six months, we have finally hit our groove.”
Not surprisingly, guest response has been overwhelming positive, as the chance to customize what ends up in your glass is irresistible, and the combinations seemingly endless. “Nowhere else can the guest become the ‘guest bartender’ on every visit!”
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