Restaurant Skadi proprietor Ian Algerøen knows what you’re thinking. Wine … in a keg? You bet, wine lovers. More and more vintners are gravitating to kegs, and more consumers are getting the hang of asking for some of their favorite varietals “on draft” or “on tap.” Algerøen views the trend as perhaps the biggest thing to hit the wine market since, well, the bottle … or at least the synthetic cork.
“It’s old technology made new again,” he observed, referencing winemaking’s use of the keg as a delivery format, marking a return to traditions used in Europe and America just after Prohibition in the early 20th century, when wineries often supplied restaurants with wooden casks instead of bottles.
The process used is not unlike keg beer, though wine is kegged with nitrogen at low pressure, whereas beer runs at higher pressure due to its carbonation.
Beer giant Anheuser Busch tried and failed to make keg wine popular again in the ‘80s, but consumers didn’t embrace the idea. Of course, a la today’s much made fun of “wine in a box,” the wine used at the time was lower end. “It wasn’t good … just cheap,” Algerøen recalled. “Now, we’re getting GOOD wine on tap!”
Keg wine re-emerged about two years ago, and has several advantages. First, it’s greener in the by-the-glass market than its bottle counterpart, using no corks or labels, or bottles for that matter. And, as Algerøen points out, it’s “infinitely recyclable.” Kegs are returned to the winery for washing, and then refilled and sent back out to buyers.
One of the keg’s biggest advantages, however, is its ability to preserve the wine in an almost unlimited pristine stasis. “Every glass has minimal exposure to air … it’s absolutely new and fresh, every time,” Algerøen said. Keg wine is rated at retaining freshness for at least 60 days, perhaps longer. Good luck getting that kind of longevity out of an opened bottle! “The proof is in the glass,” he stated.
Algerøen credits some of the smaller, more progressive vintners with advancing the idea of going back to the future with keg wine. Smaller, boutique wineries in the Santa Ynez and Santa Maria valleys were already into kegs as of about two years ago, which Algerøen said put them on the cutting edge, instead of Napa Valley, which is only just now starting to catch on to the movement.
As of a few months ago, just a handful of restaurants were adding kegs to their libation repertoire, but now more are getting on board in Los Angeles. San Francisco is “already on it” and Algerøen is the first (as far as he knows) in Mammoth to bring in kegs.
“Heartier reds, such as cabernets, with more tannins are fine in the bottle. The keg really lends itself to lighter reds, pinot and syrah, for instance, and pretty much any white varietal, such as viognier and chardonnay,” he said. Skadi has taps for white wine kegs on the way and will soon have two each of red and white available at the bar.
And as of next week, tap wine will take its place alongside Skadi’s new expanded bar offerings, including distilled spirits and cocktails.