Wine Wednesday

Inside the Keg Wine Craze

Washington taps get fresh.

By Julie H. Case July 18, 2012

Looking for the freshest Washington wine? It’s time to belly up to the tap. It is now possible to get some premium Washington wines not from a bottle, but from a keg.

A handful of wine distributors have latched onto the keg model—including Bunnell, which has two wines on tap—but two companies are producing wine specifically for kegs: Piccola and Proletariat.

If you’re ordering by-the-glass, keg wines are the way to go. For starters, you’ll never get a corked wine—there’s no cork for the wine to come in contact with. You also won’t be drinking wine that’s been open and sitting behind the bar for several days. Kegs are green friendly and cut down on cost and waste: there are no (expensive) bottles or corks, and since the wine doesn’t come in contact with oxygen until it’s in the glass there are no half-full bottles for restaurants to ditch at the end of a slow night.

“Piccola": primarily it produces its own wine—a pinot gris, an unoaked chardonnay, a Bordeaux blend, a merlot, and a syrah/mourvedre—which they then put in kegs and distribute to restaurants around the state. (They also package wines in a plastic tote with a tap.)

Restaurants such as ART, The Highliner Pub and Grill, and Five Fish Bistro typically charge $5 to $9 a glass, making them good places to sample Piccola keg wines.

If, however it’s seriously good Washington state wine from producers you might not get to taste by the glass otherwise—or, if you’re looking for a Walla Walla wine for by-the-glass at a cost of about $10 per bottle— Proletariat is the way to go.

Started by Rotie Cellars Sean Boyd in 2011, Proletariat puts wine that was originally meant for a bottle into a keg instead. A few years ago, Boyd realized that many of his favorite Washington’s wineries were bottling just 60 percent of their wine for distribution. Which meant there was some 40 percent of the state’s best wine sitting in various wineries, longing for the right palate to come along and sip it up.

The reason a winery might not bottle and release all of what it has comes down to simple economics: Not only are bottles and corks and labels expensive, no winery wants supply to exceed demand.

With that in mind, Boyd started talking with winemakers, and buying their leftover wine. He stores it on premise, then puts it in kegs.

Boyd won’t say which wineries, but he wants to crow about the fact that his keg wines are exceptionally well-made, super fresh Washington state wines.

Still, there’s interesting buzz surrounding what’s filling these kegs and if it’s true, the juice is coming from some pretty phenomenal and established wineries. Many of these wines don’t make it to a glass-pour list ever. And, for many, the price of a bottle is out of range for weeknight drinking. That you can get a 2009 cabernet sauvignon made from Seven Hills Vineyard and “a secret source” grapes for just $8 a glass at Black Bottle, a 2008 Walla Walla Bordeaux blend (which is mostly merlot) that’s brimming with smashed fruit and that Walla Walla terroir for just $8 at Nick’s Off Market (when it opens around August 1), or a fresh and creamy-delicious barrel-fermented—yes, that means oaked—chardonnay while you’re throwing strikes at West Seattle Bowl, makes you consider banning the bottle all together.

So, go ahead, next time you’re out ask for something on tap. But please no keg stands.

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