Ronn Wiegand, publisher, Restaurant Wine, estimates that there are over 200 establishments in the U.S. pouring wines on tap – dispensing wine from kegs, like beer. Those who are cite many benefits – including cost savings (owing to reduced packaging, transport, and garbage/recycling), less of an environmental impact, and wines that are fresh from the first to last glass. One of the pioneers behind wines on tap, Sang Yoon, owner, Father’s Office, Santa Monica/Los Angeles, CA, has 12 taps – six for rosés, six for whites (which he feels pair best with his Asian cuisine) – from five gallon kegs. “Serving wines from five gallon kegs not only reduces wine costs because much of the packaging has been eliminated and deliveries are fewer, but it speeds up service because bottles don’t need to be opened and dealt with,” says Sang. He adds that serving wines by the glass from bottles is especially wasteful, not only because of all the packaging, but the spoilage, which he estimates can be as much as one-third of a bottle. Todd Rushing, owner, TWO Urban Licks, Atlanta, GA, is another wines on tap pioneer and an advisor to Silvertap, a Sonoma vineyard that he convinced to sell premium wine in kegs six years ago. “I want to give our guests the freshest, highest quality wine, and when wine is in a bottle, all kinds of things can happen,” he says. “We’ve created a wonderful beverage service experience for customers using great glassware and decanters.” Todd says wines in a keg are at least 10-15%, and as much as 25%, less expensive – savings that he and other operators pass along to customers. The restaurant displays 42 stainless barrels in a 26-foot glass and steel, temperature-controlled tower and the wines are drawn by gravity. The only wines not on tap are sparkling wines and Champagnes. Todd buys from 74 different wineries, primarily on the West Coast; when new kegs are delivered, empty kegs are returned for cleaning and reuse.
Robert Newton, chef/owner, Seersucker, Brooklyn, NY, serves wine on tap as an extension of his locavore philosophy. Robert buys direct from regional wineries that deliver and pick up the kegs. “Right now I’m serving a Paumonack Chardonnay for $10 a glass, and last summer I featured a Red Hook rosé for $6 glass – both great deals for customers. I’d serve more, but the availability of wines in kegs from local and regional wineries in New York State is limited to only five or six wineries,” he says.
Robert retrofitted one of his beer lines for wine; like beer on tap, these systems use inert gas to displace oxygen and push wine through the lines. According to Dave Moore owner, Pipe Dreams, a company that handles draught beer systems installation and maintenance for Robert, the technology for retrofitting beer systems and building brand new systems for wines on tap is evolving quickly. He says that the cost of converting beer lines to wine depends on the age of the system, the types of lines, etc. If the system is relatively new, he estimates the cost at about $200 per line. (To get started, contact the company that handles your beer system, and your wine distributor. To view TWO Urban Licks’ wines on tap list, click here.