The advent of wines in kegs a couple of years ago brought great hope of an emerging delivery system: Being able to get fresh pours on tap. Since then, progress has been measured in fits and starts.
During the same stretch, however, more restaurants have installed European coolers with gas lines that preserve opened bottles for 30 days or more. And befitting the craft cocktail movement, local mix-meisters have been experimenting with wine-based drinks, especially with sake.
All along, “draft wine,” as its producers prefer to call it, has been slowly finding a home locally. The Blue Plate Company championed the format for a while at Scusi and Highland Grill, but has since dropped them. However, Doug Flicker’s new Sandcastle restaurant in south Minneapolis offers four wines on tap vs. only two by the bottle.
Several other venues sell draft wines from Saintsbury, Hobo, Tangent, Acrobat and Proletariat. And quite a few also have nifty stand-alone kegs of malbec or torrontes from Piattelli.
Problems with installation and recycling have slowed the spread of tap wine. Stainless steel kegs have to be shipped back to the producer, sanitized, refilled and shipped back — quite the carbon footprint. Chris Griese, director of on-premise wines for distributor World Class Wines, said Petainer plastic kegs, basically a plastic bottle in a cardboard cylinder, are a promising newer product in this realm.
Meanwhile, many restaurants are sticking with bottles rather than barrels and upping the quality and quantity of their by-the-glass programs by purchasing preservation systems.
The Broders’ new wine bar Terzo installed a system like the one they have been using across the street at their Pasta Bar. Blue Plate is adding a wine-keeper apparatus at the Edina Grill to go with those already in use at Scusi, the Lowry and Longfellow Grills. Blue Plate transplant Luke Shimp put in a 32-bottle system at his new Red Cow restaurant.
The result: by-the-glass programs dwarfing anything the Twin Cities has seen until very recently.
Sake, sake everywhere
Also popping up in glasses are cocktails that go well beyond sangria. Bubbly-based drinks such as mimosas and bellinis have been around forever, and have been joined by Cava, Prosecco or Champagne mixed with a variety of liquors and liqueurs at La Belle Vie, among others.
Far more prevalent, though, are sake-based blends. Not surprisingly, moto-i in Minneapolis, the first sake brewery outside of Japan, is leading the way with concoctions such as “the Problem Solver” (with tequila, St. Germain, berry coulis and lime) and the “Japanhattan,” a Manhattan knockoff. The Minneapolis hot spot even has a trio of cocktails containing both sake and prosecco.
Sake drinks also are showing up in surprising places. Jesse Held at Borough made the final round of a national cocktail competition with his “Saiya Nara Sling” (named in honor of the sake-producing Saiya family). Lowbrow, Northeast Social and Eat Street Social are among other eateries where the bartenders have been, in Griese’s words, “spending a lot of time and energy trying to figure out what makes sake tick.”
For those who would rather try something simpler and less boozy, perhaps the latest rage in Spain will hit the hinterlands soon. That would be the kalimotxo (cal-ee-MO-cho): equal parts red wine and cola, perhaps with a citrus twist. Unlike the kegs and complex cocktails, this one’s easy enough to try at home.
Bill Ward • @billward4