This article originally appeared in the June 2017 edition of Grapegrower & Winemaker.
Could wine from a keg become an on-premise option that offers the same practicality as pulling a beer? With weeks (instead of hours) of shelf life, and ease of transport, don’t knock it just yet. Camellia Aebischer reports.
The glass bottle isn’t going anywhere. It’s sturdy, recyclable, pleasant to the touch, and many corners of the industry are adapted around it.
That’s all well and good. However, there are other options out there for storing wine beyond a glass bottle or wood barrel. Some brands choose to package in bladders, shipping wine overseas and having it bottled onsite. This works for large producers who can afford to arrange bottling in a new country, and produce high volumes.
For smaller sized operations, getting wine around town, country or the globe is a priority for business to stay buoyant. Packing wine in a keg can save on cost, maximise efficiency and do good for the planet (as well as your lower back). A keg is the perfect portable option.
The Cornelius keg, or 19L ball-lock keg, looks a bit like a large scuba diving tank with a flat top. The kegs can be found fairly abundantly in wineries as they get used for storage and to top up barrels. They’re also a common sight at bars, breweries and sometimes in the homes of hobby brewers.
The kegs are low in cost, and although there is some upfront investment (around $100 depending on if you buy new or used), they can be washed out, and refilled. They should have a long life, provided the rubber seal is kept in good condition.
The wine will also stay fresh (depending on the wine style) for around two weeks.
At Mothervine, a wine bar in Adelaide’s East End of the CBD, manager Patrick Madden uses the kegs to supply their house pour. The bar keep a few kegs on hand which are filled by a rotating group of local winemakers.
“Our bar has some pretty key contacts in the wine industry through the owners. So I set up the coordination through them and we just go pick them up,” said Madden.
“We have a couple of kegs that we own, but they’re a pretty commonly found item in the winery. So when someone drops two off we say ‘here, take these two and fill them up, and we’ll let you know when we need some more.’” Like swapping a gas bottle at the service station.
“We have agreements between the producers because they see it as an opportunity to have something special and they see it as an opportunity to do something else.”
The purchasing arrangement evenly benefits both parties. “We have agreements between the producers because we see it as an opportunity to have something special and they see it as an opportunity to do something else.”
A main pull factor for Madden and the winemakers is that they’re easy for one person to handle alone and can be transported in a car. The kegs can hold 19 litres of wine, which is one litre more than two standard cases (around 25 bottles).
Throw it in the bin
Another newly emerging option is the KeyKeg. This Dutch invention is slowly becoming a popular option for smaller wineries to export their products. The keg is made up of a hard plastic shell, with a lined aluminium bag inside. The airtight bag is filled and stabilised by the hard outer shell. Each keg comes with a filling adaptor and can be easily filled in the winery by hand.
The lightweight and sturdy design cuts down on shipping costs and adaptability to a bar system makes them easy to use instantly for tapping systems. The kegs are also completely recyclable and can be easily crushed by one person to maximise space in the bin.
Because of the internal bladder, the wine never comes in to contact with oxygen or Co2, as the air is pumped between the bladder and plastic outer wall to dispense the wine. Wines in KeyKegs can keep happily for around 2-4 weeks, depending on the style.
Bart van Olphen, winemaker at Chalmers wine began using KeyKegs after demand from his British importer.
“There were different sizes on offer, but the 20L keg was easiest to work with on a small scale. The size and the packaging weight also has positive benefits for freight logistics and costs,” said van Olphen.
“The size and the packaging weight also has positive benefits for freight logistics and costs”
KeyKegs can be branded with the producers details and there’s even an option to buy seat cushions for them, to repurpose after use. The individual retail cost for a 20l keg is $18 AUD and they come in 10, 20 and 30l options.
KeyKeg also pride themselves on offering comprehensive information online for users. There are plenty of instructional videos as well as any details you’d like to know on www.keykeg.com. Van Olphen said that the comprehensive instructions make it easy to multitask and learn how to fill kegs in the winery without having to call on reps or friends for advice.
Wine by the glass
The largest market for these dispensing systems is to stock venues who offer wines by the glass. The keg systems will keep tapped wine fresh for up to two weeks according to Madden. The benefits are easy to list; portability, cost, ecofriendly, reduces waste and great for sparkling wine (which goes flat quickly). It also allows bars to offer different sized carafes of wine.
“The kegs are ideal for white, red and sparkling wines. They’re perfect for our sparkling Moscato – a match made in heaven. All the feedback suggests the wine is maintained in good condition.”
The main drawback is the customers. Much like screw cap tops on wine bottles, wine on tap still holds a low quality connotation. Even though the house pour from a tap is going to be fresher than the glass of white from a week-old refrigerated bottle at your local pub, there’s still work to be done to get the public on board.
“It’s a verbal thing for us, like I said there’s that association with something being cheap so my staff are trained to inform the customers about what we offer,” said Madden. “As soon as they have that conversation and we give them a little taste of the wine, they’re fine.
“We’ve done a lot of promoting on social media for it and it’s been received really well. I think because people have that incorrect perception of it not being good.”
At Mothervine, wine is pulled on the same taps as the beers, which opens up an easy conversation point for customers. “We can only facilitate so much though. We have chatted about getting more and if we could install more lines I’d be happy to have them,” said Madden.
Currently, worldwide there are 193 wineries bottling in KeyKegs for distribution to places with wine on tap.