Does the word “keg” bring to mind raucous frat parties? Tailgating?

How about chardonnay?

Yes, the pinky-up crowd is discovering the joy of kegs too—only rather than foamy, frothy beer, they’re getting glasses of their favourite vino.

Wine in kegs isn’t new—it’s common in Europe—but it’s just starting to catch on in the North American market. Two companies at opposite ends of the US, Free Flow Wines in California and the New York-based Gotham Project, have started kegging up wines for restaurants, and, judging from the attention from worthies like the Wine Spectator and Food and Wine, things are only going to heat up from here.

That’s because there are many, many benefits to serving wine from kegs, rather than bottles.

The first, and possibly the most significant for restaurateurs, is taste and freshness. Traditional bottling exposes wine to oxygen, which is important for higher-end wines that are meant to age before being consumed. Most of the wine in restaurants, though, is meant to be drunk right away—which means the less oxidation, the better, especially as bottles may sit open for days before being finished. Kegs use argon or nitrogen gas to protect wine from oxygen, meaning that the last glass is just a fresh-tasting as the first, even in a keg that’s tapped often.

Beyond the taste, though, serving wine from kegs reduces a huge amount of waste, especially for restaurants who aren’t able to recycle their bottles. According to Food and Wine, 80% of wine sold in US restaurants is by the glass, which adds up to about 60 million bottles a year. Kegs, which are reusable and hold the equivalent of up to 26 bottles of wine, could divert a significant amount of waste from landfills.

Then there’s the cost advantage. Bottles, corks, and labels all add to the cost of bottles. Bottles are heavier than kegs, which means they cost more to transport. Because of the reduced costs, kegs can often cost up to 25% less than the same quantity of wine bottled—significant savings to restaurants, whose profit is often largely made on alcohol sales.

Finally, using kegs allows restaurants to have a little flexibility in how they serve wine—small tasting glasses are suddenly more economical, and large parties can order carafes rather than a bottle.

Now, serving kegged wine isn’t quite as simple as tapping a keg and pumping a tap. The Gotham Project recommends that any fittings that come into contact with the wine be 304 stainless steel (as opposed to the 303 steel that’s standard with beer kegs), with the shortest lines possible and specific barrier tubing used. That being said, the initial costs of retrofitting a traditional beer keg system can be realized through other savings.

With tetra packs and screw-top bottles becoming more popular among home wine drinkers, it’s obvious that consumers are starting to accept wine packaged in non-conventional ways. Are kegs the next obvious step?

What do you think? Would your patrons go for kegged wine? Leave your thoughts in the comments section.

Image credit: isante_magazine