Draft cocktails have been growing in popularity over the last couple of years, and I was intrigued to see that as part of the Portland Penny Diner revamp. (The menu's received a makeover and they've extended their hours into the evening.) They now offer eight cocktails on tap, which is apparently more than any other bar in the city.

There are advantages to kegged cocktails, namely they are batch produced and thusly quick to serve—useful if the bar is busy, obviously—and, for the same reason, they're cheaper. In a part of town where you can easily drop ten-plus dollars on a drink, ‘Pennydraft cocktails’ are $7, dropping to $5 during happy hour. So what’s lost? For some, the time and attention a bartender puts into making a drink is part of the attraction. Certainly there's an art to bartending that provokes admiration and sometimes curiosity. Recently at Kask, a concoction was being prepared that required smoking wood chips, and my friend was so intrigued he ordered one. Bartenders can also concoct your drink exactly as you like it.

But most important is how these tapped cocktails taste. Penny Diner has an interesting menu built around classics, such as the Martinez (a sweetened precursor to the Martini) and El Presidente (rum, dry vermouth, orange curacao and grenadine). Trying samples at their launch event I found each one tasted great as a drink—but perhaps not as a cocktail. The problem was they tended to be one-note, with the flavors running together, whereas one of the pleasures of a good cocktail is the different ingredients playing off or against each other. (The Mad Hatter was probably best at bringing out its individual whiskey and absinthe flavors.) They were very easy to drink, but lacking the punch a real cocktail has to remind you this is an adult drink. In other words, for a refreshing, uncomplicated couple of drinks at happy hour, they are prefect. But for something more gracious, ask for one made from scratch. Portland Penny Diner, happy hour 4-6 pm Mon-Sat, for full details of late opening hours and food and drink menus see here

The Penny Diner draft cocktail line up
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  • The Penny Diner draft cocktail line up