The next time you are dining out, take a quick gander at the "by the glass wine list and you might see something quite surprising: a "wines on tap" list. While you may be appalled at the lack of charm and tradition that comes with getting your wine out of a tap, the experience might leave you pleasantly surprised.
What's in a Tap?
Once again, Europe is leaps and bounds ahead of us in the trend department. Serving wine out of a cask is second nature in Italy or France. However, here in the ole US we like our wines bottled with fancy labels and fancier prices. In the last few years however, that has begun to change. Restaurants across the country are popping up with kegs of wine in their back rooms. How does it work?
Instead of shipping out bottles, the Winery ships out a keg. When the restaurant receives it, they simply tap it and serve. Seems simple enough right? Pioneers of this trend seem to think so and they cite several pros to its institution.
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“Saving the World, One Keg at a Time”
No this is not the tag line for an alcohol-prone comic book hero. It is the tag line for Free Flow Wines, a leading supplier of wine in kegs. They, along with several others hopping on this train, believe this trend is better for the environment, better for business and better for the consumer. How so?
Save the Trees, Drink out of a Tap.
Each Keg is re-usable and can hold upwards of 25 bottles! That means there is greater efficiency across the map - in shipping, in waste removal, and in packaging. All that adds up to a reduced carbon footprint. The Ritz Carlton hotel chain has taken to this trend, with a full page of their menu devoted to "by the cask" wines.
The bottom of the menu holds this disclaimer. Each steel keg put into service eliminates the carbon emissions equivalent of taking a car off the road for two years. Now you can tell your friends your end of the day glass of wine is a charitable endeavor!
A Bottle Saved is a Bottle Earned.
Sending their wine out in Kegs means major savings for the winery. Think about all the money going into bottling, labeling, and so on.
According to one CEO, a winery has the potential of saving upwards of fifty cents per bottle, which may seem like small potatoes but considering the amount of bottles shipping out daily, it adds up to a pretty large potato field. (I may have lost that analogy half way through, but you get the point!)
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What does this mean for our favorite restaurant or bar? Purchasing wine at cheaper prices enables them to turn around and sell it at cheaper prices. Plus they don't have to worry about turn around on their by the glass bottles. With the keg, everything stays fresher longer. Less waste, more profit.
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There is a "Me" in Team. How does this impact the customer?
Lower costs for the winery mean lower costs for the restaurant which means lower costs for the consumer. It's a chain of savings. Plus, the suppliers of wine in kegs guarantee fresh wine with every pour. So we have a better product at a cheaper cost with less of a carbon footprint. Sounds amazing right?
The Con of the Cask.
Putting aside the loss of tradition, there's also some questions raised about cleanliness
Several protestors to the wine on tap trends are concerned about sanitation. With so many bottles fitting inside, how often is it getting cleaned? Once cleaned, are those chemicals seeping into my wines? Are these legitimate concerns? Probably. Will it slow down the trend? Probably not.
The freshness of wine is always something a restaurant has to think about. If a customer orders a single glass of wine, they may have to open a new bottle. If no other customer orders a glass of that particular wine for 3-4 days, there is a good chance that they will have to throw out the remaining 3 glasses. What a waste!
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However, if a similar thing happens with a keg of wine, there is no concern about the contents turning. When you open a bottle of wine, air, specifically oxygen, comes in contact with it. The moment this happens, the wine starts to change. With a keg of wine, compressed CO2 is used to move the fluid out. None of that pesky oxygen sneaks in to cause the wine to start going bad. A single keg can be on tap for months and still be as fresh as when the first glass was pulled.
The fact that oxygen doesn’t come in contact with the wine, until the time that it pulled from the kegmeans that the freshest product available is going into the glass. Another hidden advantage to kegs is manufacturing costs. Certainly, a keg costs more to make than a bottle. However, a bottle contains 4 glasses of wine, while a keg can hold 114 servings.
When the keg is empty, it can easily be returned upstream to be cleaned, and used again. A keg can be reused so many times, that over its life, it can replace thousands of glass bottles (more than 1 ton), not to mention the thousands of corks that seal those bottles. Kegs are more convenient for staff members as they do not have to handle heavy cases of wine that take up precious space. And heaven forbid someone breaks a bottle of a prized vintage!
With more than 5.4 billion bottles worth of wine being sold in the United States each year, it is clear that a more sustainable method of transporting wine should be available, and it is, thanks to the wine keg. This is applicable on both macro and micro levels. In a restaurant or wine bar, wine on tap means more efficient service, smoother daily operations, reduced quality concerns, better guest experiences, and easier cost calculations.
On a macro level, wine kegs mean fewer materials are going into landfills. While glass can be recycled, it is a cumbersome and potentially expensive endeavor. Because of this, tons of wine bottle end up in landfills every year. While the discarded glass from just one high-volume establishment can be substantial, think of the bottles thrown out by thousands of such businesses. Another environmental fact to ponder: one steel wine keg saves the CO2 emission that is equal to 28 trees.
If wine on tap is better for your bottom line, your customers, and the environment, it is nothing less than a win-win situation. Not to mention you can create some buzz-worthy blends (pun intended) that will make your business the hottest ticket in town.