taps at a bar with a blurry background

Wine kegs are a thing, but are they right for your restaurant? Wine on tap is a trend that is starting out as a very slow burn. Mostly because before restaurants can embrace it, the wineries making the wine need to first.

Putting their juice in a keg instead of a bottle involves an investment in new equipment, and before that can happen, the demand from the market needs to be worth the investment.

But, what exactly are wine kegs, and is it worth making changes to your bar to accommodate them? What are the pros and cons of the wine keg?

Pros

More consistent wine.

When wine is kegged, it has less likelihood of something happening to that wine on its journey from the barrel to the glass. Bottled wine has an arduous journey to make that can include broken bottles, corked bottles or oxidized wine, which all equal financial losses. Wine that’s traveled in a keg has far few obstacles, resulting in more consistent wine, an important detail in by-the-glass wines.

More savings and less waste.

The cost for the same amount of wine is lower when it’s sold by keg instead of bottles. In fact, it’s about a $6 per case saving. Those types of savings make your by-the-glass sales more profitable, without increasing the price on your list. Kegs also preserve the wine better, so there’s less waste from bottles opened and not finished, another cost saver.

More earth friendly.

Glass bottles, corks, labels, glue, transportation. It takes a lot of materials and resources to get your wine from the barrel to the bottle. Glass bottles are heavy, making them expensive to transport, and leave a larger carbon footprint than transporting the same amount of wine in kegs. While 750ml bottles are perfect for home cellars, restaurants consume wine differently and benefit from a different type of delivery mechanism.

Wine barrels stacked in the old cellar of the winery.

Cons

Outdated perceptions.

The wine world has been slowly unraveling its reputation for being snobby and elitist. As more and more of the world exports their wine, prices have gone down and wine drinking has grown in popularity. People used to scoff at the idea of any wine of quality having a screw cap, but that perception is slowly changing as more wineries (especially in countries like Australia and New Zealand) use screw caps for all their bottlings, not just the cheap stuff. The wine is what matters, not the romance of the bottle and cork. Sustainability can be just as romantic, right?

Careful maintenance.

Your keg setup could negatively impact the wine if not properly cleaned and cared for. Taps should be stainless steel, as metals like brass could affect the flavor. The tap lines also need to be clean, the temperature consistent, and the gas pressure must be perfect.

Fewer wine options.

Installing a wine keg in your restaurant is an investment, but when it’s complete you may find yourself with limited wines to choose from. Until more wineries commit to making the investments in their production to be able to keg their wine, there will be limited options for finding wine to pour. Still, with one solid white option and one solid red option, you should be in a good position to have a keg option in your wine program.

So what’s a restaurateur to do?

While some wine bars have decided to go all wine on tap and embrace wine kegs, most will find it a convenient addition to their existing wine program; an economical solution for storage and cost for a by-the-glass option. Create some demand for it by talking to your wine distributors about wine keg options that they can pass on to producers.

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Kristin lives on the West Side of Providence with her wine blogger husband. When she's not co-hosting their monthly wine tastings, she's planning her next travel adventure and daydreaming about Spanish jamón. She can often be found pouring over travel guides at her favorite neighborhood spot, Nick's on Broadway.