What you need to know about wine on tap

31 May, 2018 by
Brittney Levinson

Casual pubs and high-end restaurants are fast discovering the benefits that come with wine on tap.

Wine on tap is a relatively new offering that has quickly risen in the popularity stakes for both consumers and venues. Initially, tap wine was mostly found in large pubs and hotels, but now up-scale restaurants are installing wine taps to reduce waste and save money, space and time.

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Brisbane bar and restaurant The Charming Squire has served wine on tap since opening in 2014. It started off with just a small selection, but the venue now serves most of its wine on tap, with a few premium varieties available by the bottle.

“We currently have two whites, a Rosé and three reds on tap,” says venue manager Darren Khan. “When we opened The Charming Squire, there was only a small range available by keg. Since then, we’ve approached several companies to get them started on keg wine.”

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The venue is now pouring wines from a number of labels including Dowie Doole in South Australia and Peregrine Wines in New Zealand’s Central Otago.

While popularity is undoubtedly growing, many venues still encounter customers who are reluctant to try wine on tap. “Customers were very hesitant [in the beginning], but my attitude was if you were sitting on the other side of the bar and I poured you a glass of wine, you wouldn’t know the difference no matter what it came out of — it’s exactly the same wine,” says Khan. “I’ve managed to talk around a lot of people.”

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Stuart Hordern, senior winemaker at Hunter Valley winery Brokenwood Wines, confirms what a lot of customers might not believe: wine from a keg is exactly the same as wine from the bottle. “We just prepare them as we would normally for our other wines and it’s literally a matter of filling the kegs rather than putting it into a bottle,” he says. “In terms of winemaking, it’s no different.”

Brokenwood Wines currently kegs several wines, including Cricket Pitch red and white, a Semillon, as well as an exclusive blend for Chin Chin Sydney. “We started with very small volumes as an experiment and it’s now at a point where it’s available through our national distributor,” says Hordern.

Venues are opting for wine on tap for several reasons, including convenience, to save on storage space and to reduce waste. “I’ve found it better than the bottles simply because of convenience,” says Khan. “It’s easier for a high-volume bar to pull up a glass, open the tap and close it rather than walking over to the fridge to get the bottle out, unscrew, pour and put it back.”

Wine on tap keeps wastage at a minimum for The Charming Squire, as there’s no chance of the wine going off, according to Khan. “If someone forgets to put a date on an [open] wine bottle, you’re not sure how long that bottle has been sitting in the fridge,” he says. “In any high-volume bar we’ve done, we always used to find multiple open bottles of the same wine. This eliminates all of that. You might not pour the wine for two or three days and it comes out perfectly fine.”

Sustainability is one of the biggest selling points for wine on tap. A 30-litre keg holds the same amount of wine as 40 bottles; therefore one keg saves 40 bottles — including labels and lids — from ending up in the bin. As for the keg, it comes in two varieties; reusable stainless steel, which has a lifespan of approximately 25 years, or single-use plastic that can be recycled.

Melbourne-based company Tap Wines has been supplying bars and restaurants with wine on tap for several years, using both stainless steel and plastic kegs. Managing director Andrew De Angelis says the design of the plastic kegs has continued to improve, and now they make up 20 per cent of his business.

“We have a program in which we pick up the empty kegs [from venues] and we then break them down and separate the different plastics and give that to a recycler,” he says. “From a quality aspect, they have a foil lining inside, so the product is never compromised from the gas or plastic.”

Whether you choose stainless steel or plastic, kegs can also help maintain the quality of the wine. “The wine actually lasts and stays fresh because you’ve got zero contact with oxygen and zero contact with light strike and UV rays,” says De Angelis.

He says wine on tap is a sustainable solution for a commodity that is typically consumed by the glass. “There’s really great opportunities of cost saving and efficiencies for a restaurant,” says De Angelis. “You don’t need to get your staff to fill up the fridges with wine and you’re also not throwing away bottles. Bin costs are quite high in restaurants, and you’re reducing that as well.”

With storage an ongoing issue for many venues, kegs can offer a space-saving solution in place of dozens of bottles that take up valuable space. “If you’re struggling for space and you sell a lot of wine, it would be the perfect solution because you can stick the keg under a counter and it doesn’t take up as much space as bottles,” says Khan.

Hordern agrees, but says it’s important for venues to do the math before adding wine on tap to their drinks menu. “Storage space is at a premium for most restaurants, so not requiring cases of your house wine stacked up is a big benefit,” he says. “To justify having a tap, you need a certain amount of throughput; it’s similar to beer. It probably doesn’t suit a venue that’s doing a couple of glasses a night.”

While the benefits may be clear, there is still some stigma surrounding wine on tap and customers who are hesitant to make the switch. “It’s similar to going from corks to screw caps; there was a huge stigma behind that,” says Khan.

“This is a very similar thing, but more places are now putting wine on tap.” Wine on tap can offer a space-saving and sustainable solution for venues that sell high volumes of wine. Start with your house red or white on tap before adding a larger variety to your drinks offering.

This article originally appeared in Hospitality‘s May issue. Subscribe now.