A lifetime ago, before retinol cream entered my bedtime routine, many nights included a stop at MiniBar. (It helped that, for a time, I lived in a duplex right behind the establishment.) It was usually my last stop, the place I’d go when I wasn’t quite ready for the night to end, and I would sip a three-dollar Hamm’s or knock back a shot of Cuervo before stumbling home. It was never the bar I’d go to for a craft cocktail.
Ryan Miller is quietly changing that. In August, he became MiniBar’s general manager, and he brought with him all the goods that he had developed under his pop-up beverage concept, Fancies Sodas. Of the eleven taps available at MiniBar, Miller took over five for seasonal rotating highball cocktails. Highballs are your typical rail drinks—a spirit and a carbonated mixer, like a vodka soda. But Miller’s draft cocktails are far from basic.
There’s a seasonal gin and tonic (Rieger’s Midwestern Dry Gin paired with a crisp and calming celery tonic), a warming Americano made with chai-spiced seltzer, a mojito made with tart mint soda, whiskey with a punchy ginger soda. The Boozehound, Miller’s take on a classic Greyhound, marries Tito’s vodka with Fancies Twangy Grapefruit soda and a salted rim. The Fancies brand is true to its name, and Miller doesn’t cut corners.
“Everything is made from scratch,” he says. “The spicy ginger soda is ginger, chiles, water and sugar, and I’m processing all those things by hand.”
To make his grapefruit soda, Miller zests grapefruit peels and juices the fruit, then adds sugar, water and different acids and salts for balance before carbonating all the ingredients together and kegging the cocktail for the tap line at MiniBar. The final product looks deceptively easy—Miller rims a glass with salt, fills it with ice and releases the pinkish liquid from the faucet—but the drink itself is bright and tart and eminently sippable.
“Draft cocktails can make service speedy and more efficient and offer a consistent product,” Miller says. “And it comes down to the service part. Being a craft bartender means that you’re great at your craft, and there’s plenty of craft in pouring a shot of Malört at a sports bar and serving it with pretzels because there’s more to bartending than just making drinks.”