Kelly J. Hayes: WineInk
Aspen Times Weekly
Bottles used to rule.
OK, they still do, but in the world of wine and beer a number of new packages, vessels and containers are changing the paradigm. Kegs, taps, cans and bags may not be ubiquitous yet, but they are definitely trending in that direction.
Three experiences this month illustrated this for me. The first occurred in Boulder at Bobby Stuckey and Lachlan MacKinnon-Patterson’s new and insanely great Pizzeria Locale on Pearl Street. The modern upscale pizza joint pours wines on tap including a Scarpetta Verdicchio that Stuckey and Peterson-McKinnon source from Italy.
Next, I was in the beer cave at Winetime Fine Wines and Spirits in Carbondale where a new shipment of beer had recently arrived. There, on the top shelves, were a number of outstanding craft beers. All in cans.
Finally, I got a call from Fed Ex that a box of wine was waiting for me. For a wine writer this is an occurrence that always sparks anticipation of what may be in the shipment. This particular box was too small to hold much wine, or so I thought, but when I saw the Clif Family Winery logo (these are the folks who invented Clif Bars) I knew it would be something innovative. Sure enough inside were two bags of wine. One a Cabernet Sauvignon, one a Chardonnay each holding 1.5 liters or the equivalent of two bottles of wine.
Go into just about any serious new restaurant in New York or San Francisco these days and you’ll find a wine on tap. In NYC the hot tap is the Gotham Project from innovative wine makers Charles Bieler and Bruce Schneider. The Gotham Project is supplying restaurants with wines in kegs that use tap handles to pour the wines. They sell a Riesling from Germany, a Sauvignon Blanc from Chile and local wines from New York’s Finger Lakes region and Long Island.
The arguments for using kegs and taps emphasize economics, (the wines can be shipped cheaper because kegs weigh less than a comparable amount of wines in bottles), ecology (there is much less packaging waste), and quality (no corkage or oxidation and a keg wine will remain fresh for up to 60 days after opening). All good things. And with modifications, like changing out certain types of steel components for more wine-friendly ones, a restaurant can customize its existing draught beer system to pour wines on tap.
Quality and freshness are also benefits touted by brewers who are canning rather than bottling their beers. Light, oxygen and heat are the three culprits that can alter the fresh taste of beer. For years the craft community has been fighting this by using brown bottles to reduce the amount of light that can infiltrate a beer. But if a beer is in a can it is impervious to both exposure to light and oxygen – a two-fer.
Oskar Blues first put it’s Dale’s Pale Ale in cans in 2002 as a goof. They thought it would be funny to package their high-concept Pale Ale in a package that was more akin to the NASCAR crowd (not there is anything wrong with NASCAR drinkers). Anyway, it wasn’t long before they began to realize there are other benefits. Like being able to take cans on a backpacking trip. They are 30 percent lighter than bottles, you can drop them into a creek to cool them off, and when you’re done you can crush ’em and take them out for recycling.
Clif Family Winery’s newly introduced “wine pouches” appeal to folks for many of the same reasons that tap wines and canned beer are becoming popular. They create a smaller ecological footprint than bottles, they keep the product fresh and they are simpler to use. These near-impenetrable bags can also be tossed into a backpack for easy toting to a picnic or on a camping trip. And at $16.99 (that’s just $8.50 a bottle, less than a six-pack of Dale’s Pale Ale), the Climber Pouch, as the product is called, is an outstanding value with wines sourced and made by Napa wine veterans Bruce Regalia and Sarah Gott.
It only makes sense that, as technology evolves in lock-step with the growing awareness of the effect the alcoholic beverage industry has on the environment, innovations in packaging will continue to emerge. As consumers we owe it to ourselves and our planet to be open-minded about these new products.
Give them a try.
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Perhaps it’s because we are in the abbreviated days of winter and I instinctively know that the sun is shining down-under. But every January I go through a nostalgic period where Australian wine dominates my mind.