Free Flow Wines / R&D Kitchen
If your first thought when you hear “keg” is a flashback to a wild college party, the idea of high-end wine in a keg is hard to fathom. Wine has a ritual. After selecting a bottle you uncork it with flourish, pour a bit, swirl, smell, sip and approve. Somehow pulling a tapper seems a bit lowbrow. But get over it, because wine on tap has big benefits for oenophiles with an open mind.
Wine on tap actually started in Italy, and has existed in the United States for at least 30 years. The original tap wines were low-quality swill, which gave these wines a bad reputation. However, that has changed. You’ll find brands like Cline, Klinker Brick, and Tablas Creek providing wine in kegs. In fact, more than 5,000 restaurants and bars in America now have wine on tap.
For anyone ordering by the glass in a restaurant, keg wines are a Godsend. The delivery system eliminates the problems of oxidization, cork in your glass or simply getting a glass that has spoiled. Wine can stay fresh in a keg for three months, making the first pull of the tap as fresh as the last.
“The taste of wine is better because the temperature is perfect for the wine, and no wine is ever old,” says Heather Clauss with Free Flow Wines, the largest supplier of keg wine in the country. “Out here in wine country there are tons of wines on tap, and in this place of winemakers and refined palates, it says a lot that people became instant believers.”
Kegs are perfect for wines that are meant to be enjoyed young, which is 75 percent of the wines sold in the United States. The wine won’t age in a keg, so red wines are aged before being kegged. Both red and white wines work in kegs and, surprisingly, even Prosecco can be offered on tap.
In theory it’s less expensive for wineries to supply in kegs because a standard 20-liter keg is equivalent to 26 bottles, corks, and other packaging that is no longer needed.
Free Flow helps more than 250 winemakers provide their wine in kegs for wholesale accounts. The winery leases kegs from Free Flow and Free Flow helps fill, distribute, and pick up used kegs for recycling. In theory it’s less expensive for wineries to supply in kegs because a standard 20-liter keg is equivalent to 26 bottles, corks, and other packaging that is no longer needed. Often, though, restaurants expect a lower cost because they know that the winery’s cost is less.
Because so much less packaging is needed, wine in kegs is eco-friendly. Free Flow Wines alone has saved more than 12.5 million wine bottles from landfills, the equivalent of 18 million pounds of trash.
“I like the fact that using a keg has so much less environmental footprint,” says Jason Haas, partner at Tablas Creek Winery. “It’s in keeping with our push to be more sustainable in all aspects of our business.” The winery offers its Patelin line consisting of a red blend, white blend and rosé in kegs.
The kegs can be used many times over, so the number of bottles and corks and amount of packaging just one keg saves is astronomical.
“When we opened Highball & Harvest at the Ritz-Carlton Orlando, Grande Lakes, we decided to offer keg wine for multiple reasons,” says manager Matthew Cristi. “We really liked the idea of the sustainability aspect (corks, bottles, and less waste) since it really helped tell a story that coincided with the concept of the restaurant.”
When fine dining restaurants in traditional establishments like The Ritz-Carlton offer keg wine, it’s clear to see that tap wine has evolved from the Boone’s Farm level. At Highball & Harvest, guests find fine wines like A Proper Claret from Bonny Doon and Chateau Tassin, a cabernet blend from Bordeaux on tap.
“We loved the idea of being able to serve wine at such a high quality, from the first glass to the last,” says Cristi.
Not only is keg wine tasty, but it’s also trendy.
“It’s rare that I go to a market and hear that most of the coolest, newest restaurants don’t have wine on tap,” says Haas. “Some of our most progressive, interesting accounts buy our wine in kegs.”
Master sommelier David Keck is known for blazing his own trail. First, by electing to open a honky-tonk bar, Goodnight Charlie’s in Houston, as his first establishment, forgoing a fancy wine-focused spot, and second by offering only two wines, both on tap.
“We selected Duchman’s Vermentino and McPherson ‘Les Copains’ Red blend, as they are two of the best Texas wineries working with Texas grapes to produce these wines, so very much on brand for our Texas Honky-Tonk,” says Keck.
Surely, if keg wine is good enough for a master somm, it’s time for the general public to embrace the concept.
“Upon opening we made sure to provide the staff with very thorough training and education of the wine on draft system, and all the different benefits that it provides,” says Cristi. “This most certainly helped with some of those initial questions and perceptions that people would have when they entered a restaurant in The Ritz-Carlton and saw wine on draft.”
The only way wine on tap can ever be inferior to the same wine in a bottle, is from user error, not wine quality. Restaurants and bars must ensure that the tap lines are clean, the correct temperature is maintained, and the gas and pressure are correct. When those things are in harmony, wine on tap is music to any wine lover’s ears.
Bring the idea home with the WineStation by Dacor, a temperature-controlled automated wine dispenser that will fill your glass with the touch of a button. It can hold four bottles and will keep wines fresh for up to 60 days—cheers to that!