Custom cocktails by the keg

Cary Greene
Cary Greene pours one of his kegged custom cocktails from draft at Surfside Restaurant and Taco Stand in D.C. (Photo by David Stuck)

Cary Greene became a lawyer for two reasons. One: to make a decent living. And two: to work in the industry that he loves — beer and wine. Over the years, the attorney came to see cocktails as an emerging market. While popular, the mixed drink was mainly made to order due to the difficulty in selling a consistent product to a wide audience. So as a remedy, Greene launched Made to Measure Cocktails in 2018. The business crafts customized cocktails by the keg for restaurants, bars and other businesses throughout Greater Washington.

Greene, 44, lives in Washington’s Sixteenth Street Heights neighborhood and is a member of Ohev Sholom – The National Synagogue. He spent close to five years developing the concept for Made to Measure Cocktails and eventually decided to step away from the law firm he worked at to focus on his new venture full time.

“Eventually, I came to the conclusion that it was riskier for me to stay on as a lawyer than it was to start a startup, which I know sounds a little bit batty,” Greene said. “But when you are focused on starting this new thing — and I was — I was concerned that I wasn’t going to be able to focus on my other job to the degree that my clients deserved.”

Made to Measure Cocktails crafts kegs of custom cocktails at of kitchens in Lorton and Washington. Each batch is made to a client’s specifications. With lab precision, Greene can adjust a drink accordingly — such as making it 3 percent sweeter or change alcohol levels by degrees — which he says can’t be done with pre-made cocktail mixes from factories.

“You can’t do that with manufacturers. You just can’t,” Greene said. “So if you wanted to keep the Mojo of cocktails and match it with a mass-market appeal, the only way I sought to do that was batching.”

Another upside of batched cocktails is the ability to make a drink that would normally be either too difficult or too impractical for a bartender to replicate, such as a passion fruit black pepper gin and tonic.

“You can’t really build this drink in a bar. It’s a great drink. It’s clearly craft. But it isn’t something that any bartender will build because it’s just too hard,” Greene said. “We build the tonic syrup from scratch. We take passion fruit and process it very carefully to end up with a clean, consistent flavored juice. We build our own black pepper tincture. This all takes a lot of time and wouldn’t be practical in a bar setting.”

Despite precision, kegged cocktails do have their hurdles. One is the stigma from those in the industry. Greene said there’s a perception that cocktails from draft either aren’t good or aren’t as good as those made by bartenders. Another is the logistical challenge of modifying cocktails for drafts.

Greene grew up in Suffolk County on Long Island, N.Y. It was while attending the University of Virginia, where he received a master’s degree in English, that his passion for beer, wine and spirits was sparked. He got a job at Jefferson Vineyards in Charlottesville and eventually moved up to assistant manager.

“It was something that I just loved right from the get go,” Greene said. “Back in the ‘90s, when I saw this industry emerging and how much passion people brought to it and the artistry they brought to it and the meaning that they drew from it — that was appealing to me. And I swore at the time that I was eventually going to do something similar.”

So Greene went to law school with the goal of one day operating a business in the beer and wine industry. And 17 years later, he made that dream a reality. At the moment, the hospitality industry has been devastated by the coronavirus pandemic, and Made to Measure Cocktails along with it. However, Greene said his business model is well-positioned to take advantage of consumer trends, such as cocktails for carryout. Whatever twist or turn his business takes, Greene said that something he’ll turn to for guidance are Jewish principles.

“Whether it’s washing your hands or putting your shoes on, or waking up in the morning, everything has consequences,” Greene said. “Everything is serious in Judaism, every action we take in life can be elevated, made better. And I take that into my business career that you act with a certain level of integrity, you produce something of a certain level of quality.”

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