Wine in a keg? Maybe it’s the influence of living in a college town, but at first hearing, that sounds very “frat-party.” But quality kegged wine, served in a restaurant on tap, is a movement picking up speed in the fine-dining world for good reason. “Kegged wine is perpetually sealed, which means that each glass poured retains the same freshness as the first glass poured from a bottle,” explains Rick Rauch, co-owner and managing partner of The Gilded Otter on Main Street in New Paltz “Couple that with the reduction in fuel consumption associated with reduced transit [of bottles] and the result is a seriously ‘green’ business formula.”
The Gilded Otter brew pub and casual restaurant will celebrate its 20th anniversary in New Paltz this November. And in the same way they were at the forefront of the craft beer revolution when they first opened their doors in 1998 — when craft beer brewing was still unfamiliar to most people — they’re now serving kegged wine by the glass (or carafe) on tap.
From the customer’s perspective, you’re guaranteed a better tasting glass of wine at every pour. The wine is the same quality as that usually bottled; Rauch says the selection of seven wines he offers on tap are the same ones that would cost $17-$24 by the bottle in a retail setting. The only difference is in the packaging: after the barreling stage, instead of being bottled, the wine is transferred to airtight bags inside five-gallon stainless steel kegs — or as Rauch endorses, reinforced hard plastic kegs — from which the wine is transported through a series of hoses to the taps in the bar. Pushed through the hoses by nitrogen, the wine is protected from oxidation and delivered through the tap at the perfect temperature.
A sampling of the current Cabernet offering at The Otter, a robust 2015 Rancho Rodeo Cab from California, was, as promised, as good as a first glass from a freshly opened bottle. It was also served correctly chilled to 51 degrees; the room temperature of a cellar, those last three words the often forgotten part of the adage about serving reds at room temperature. To a former restaurant server, with memories of standing at a bar waiting for my customer’s drinks and being handed multiple bottles of wine to open for the bartender frazzled by keeping up with the demands on him or her, the simple delivery of wine through a tap was nothing short of impressive. (This resulting speed-up of service will benefit the customer, too.)
And to any lingering doubts about the quality of the wine, Rauch points out that wine enthusiasts who used to scoff at screw-top bottles, favoring the romance and tradition of popping a cork, now understand the benefits of the twist-off cap. “The seal created by a twist off-top is virtually infallible and results in significantly less ‘corked’ wine while also maintaining the freshness of opened bottles longer than when simply reinserting the removed cork.”
The Gilded Otter has always cared about the environmental impact of their craft beer brewing, Rauch says, with even the spent grain from the process repurposed as livestock feed at a dairy farm in Highland. The Otter offers growlers, but do not bottle the beers, preferring recyclable aluminum kegging to maintain freshness and quality of flavor. Rauch sees the adoption of kegged wine as similarly sustainable and environmentally responsible, reducing the carbon footprint of serving wine.
Bottling any beverage is costly, he notes, with bottled beverages of any type requiring miles of transit from production facilities and distribution warehouses to restaurants, retailers and homes. “This shuffling of bottles requires not just time, but fuel and resources to complete its journey.”
The seven available wines on tap — three reds, three whites and a blush — will be accompanied by a hard cider option on tap, as well. The only wines that will continue to be served in a bottle are the sparkling varieties, which cannot be kegged because the nitrogen used in the process of moving the wine from keg to tap apparently de-carbonates them.
And in this 20th anniversary year for them, The Gilded Otter is updating a few more things in the restaurant beyond the wine service. The menu has been streamlined, retaining customer favorites while adding options like the vegetarian beet burger, served on a gluten-free roll. Wraps are on the menu and sandwiches will now be served on a lighter potato roll (for the most part; the meatloaf sandwich is back, served on Texas toast, and the meatball hero is served on a sub roll). Blackboard daily specials will still be offered, and new dinner entrée items include a Chicken Marsala, boneless pork chops and smoked beef brisket topped with gravy.
Rick and Debra Rauch’s daughter, Dylan Rauch, a recent SUNY New Paltz grad — who has worked at the restaurant since she was 12 years old — is now the acting general manager of The Gilded Otter and the very personable server Juan Galvan has been promoted to assistant manager.
The Gilded Otter is located at 3 Main Street in the village and is open daily. A newly revamped website will soon be up at www.gildedotter.com. To arrange for catering or schedule an event, call (845) 256-1700.