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Perlick taps into wine kegs

By Tom Daykin of the Journal Sentinel

August 8, 2013
Perlick taps into wine kegs

Perlick Corp.'s tap system makes it easier to dispense wines by eliminating process of uncorking a bottle

Bradley Wooten and the rest of the staff at Balzac Wine Bar on Milwaukee's east side aren't quite ready to hang up their corkscrews.

But a new system made by a local company is helping restaurants and taverns provide wine lovers with an alternative to vintages poured from bottles.

Perlick Corp. has begun selling equipment that dispenses wine from a keg by pulling a tap — something common for beer but rarely used for wine.

The wine tap system's efficiency gives establishments like Balzac more flexibility to offer high-quality wines at affordable prices, said Wooten, general manager and sommelier. That could entice wine drinkers to branch out, he said.

"It's a good way to explore new options," Wooten said.

Founded in 1917, Perlick has made tap beer dispensing systems, refrigerated cabinets, glass washers and other bar equipment for decades. The move into wine taps is a response to the growing number of high-quality vintages being sold in kegs to bars and restaurants, said Tim Ebner, Perlick vice president for marketing and business development.

"We could see the growth that was coming," Ebner said.

A tap system makes it easier for bar and restaurant workers to dispense wines by eliminating the process of uncorking a bottle and pouring it into a glass, Ebner said.

Using a tap reduces the number of opened but unused bottled wine that might otherwise be poured down the drain, he said. It also is more environmentally sustainable by using kegs instead of individual bottles, corks and labels, and reduces distribution costs.

Perlick's system is made from a higher grade of stainless steel than that used for beer tap systems, Ebner said. Wine is more acidic than beer, and its contact with lower-grade steel can trigger a taste akin to sulfur.

"That's not so good," Ebner said.

Also, the system includes controls that cover the wide range of ideal temperatures between white wines and red wines. White wines are best served at 45 to 50 degrees, Ebner said, with red wines best served at 55 to 65 degrees.

"You don't want the same temperature as beer," he said. Beer kegs are usually tapped at 38 degrees, Ebner said.

Among the local establishments that are using Perlick's wine tap systems is the newly reopened Pizza Man, 2597 N. Downer Ave. Owner Mike Amidzich bought two Perlick systems, each with up to seven different wines, for each floor of his restaurant.

At Balzac, 1716 N. Arlington Place, there are four different tap wines. Sales have been strong, Wooten said.

Wine kegs are still novel. At both Pizza Man and Balzac, the handful of tapped wines offered to patrons is dwarfed by scores of bottled wines.

But Wooten notes that alcohol served in kegs is part of Milwaukee's heritage.

"Our rich beer history has proven that you just can't beat the freshness and vibrancy that kegs can provide, not only for beer, but wine," he said.

At Perlick, 8300 W. Good Hope Road, beverage dispensers account for about 25% of the family-owned company's annual revenue, which Ebner declined to disclose. He said the wine systems are providing faster sales growth than beer dispensers, which is good news for the company and its 230 employees.

One challenge to selling the systems is the history of previous attempts to sell keg wines in the 1970s, when the vintages and equipment were both low quality, Ebner said.

"People want to see it being successful," he said. "It's a matter of getting people past the perception that, if it's coming out of keg, it's a house wine or a wine of lesser quality."

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