Ten years ago, Todd Rushing’s peers questioned his notion to tap wine from a keg at TWO urban licks, the restaurant he owns in Atlanta.
“Everybody thought I was nuts,” Rushing says. “There’s still romanticism of wine. There’s the idea of the white-gloved server who shows you the bottle, but what do you do with the bottle once it’s empty? The beer group got it right a long time ago.”
Yet today—claiming to be the country’s first restaurateur to offer wines on tap—he’s a visionary with 70 selections on tap. Increasingly, more eateries are adopting the method, many within the last two or three years, and in a high-volume environment, wines on tap contribute to efficiency. Serving time is significantly reduced because it takes less time to tap a keg or pour from a machine than it does to retrieve and uncork a bottle, then toss it in the recycling bin. Another argument for wines on tap is longer preservation times, typically up to four weeks.
The most popular method is a glass-walled machine housing upright bottles that, through a siphon, release pours of different sizes. Producers include Micro Matic, Cruvinet, and Enomatic.
Another option is stainless-steel kegs. Much like beer, the kegs tap directly into customers’ glasses. It’s an improvement over wine bottles because there is less wine wasted. “If you’re not able to sell [all the wine from a bottle in a specified] time period, it turns to waste,” says Ken Henricks, president of Bottleneck Management in Chicago, owner of Old Town Pour House and Howells & Hood. Using the keg and tap system, he says, “You can get 100 percent yield out of the 5-gallon container.”
Since opening 18 months ago, the Mexican restaurant Kachina in Westminster, Colorado, has had four kegs—two for red wine, two for white—all stored at cellar temperature thanks to a digital temperature read-out on the unit. “The wine doesn’t oxidize. It stays nice and fresh … for the next guest that orders it,” says Derek Lewis, general manager at Kachina. When drink orders start piling up on a busy night, the keg system enables faster turnover. Plus, after they are empty, the kegs can be easily refilled, making the concept very eco-friendly.
However, at Kachina, Lewis notes, “The selection of wines by the bottle far exceeds those that are in kegs,” adding his favorites have been Acrobat by King Estate’s Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir (Oregon). Within the last year he added Paul Dolan Vineyards Chardonnay (Mendocino County, California) and Artezin Zinfandel (Mendocino County, California). “The fruitier reds, Pinot Noir and Zinfandel, tend to go a little better with our cuisine,” Lewis says.