Tap & Barrel: wines on tap and dazzling downtown views, Tim Pawsey photo

We owe a debt of thanks to Blasted Church’s Brent Hayman for being the first to give us the heads up on the burgeoning tap wine business, earlier this spring.  He introduced us to Steve Thorp and Mike Macquisten at Vancouver Urban Winery, who were just bottling kegging their first FreshTap batch of Blasted Church Hatfield’s Fuse.

Vancouver Urban Winery’s Steve Thorp (l) and Mike Macquisten, Tim Pawsey photo

(Last week Vancouver Urban Winery opened their retail outlet, with 35 wines on tap for tasting. They also have more than a little Mendoza Malbec and Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc on offer under their Roaring Twenties label.)

Afterwards, Brent and I went for a quick bite at Edible BC at the Market, which has had Nichol Vineyard wines on tap since the Granville Island bistro opened last year.

Why is this man smiling? Tap and Barrel owner Daniel Frankel knows he’s onto something, Tim Pawsey photo

At the time we said we felt it was a ‘gamechanger.’  Yes, we know that’s a much abused and overused word. But this week’s visit to just-opened Tap & Barrel (owned by keg wine early adopter Daniel Frankel) now has us even more convinced that wine on tap is here to stay.

An impressive line of taps, beer and wine …

Frankel jumped on the chance to put eight wine taps into his Mill Marine Bistro (pub), back in the spring. Two tiered Tap & Barrel (3 mins walk from Science World, with sweeping views of False Creek and the downtown skyline) is breathing life into the Athletes Village. It has no less than 14 wines on tap***, not to mention 24 BC craft beers. (Frankel, btw, confides he’s  particularly impressed with dragon boaters’ capacity for pints (of beer, that is…).

Tap & Barrel downstairs bar sports 24 BC craft brews on tap, plus 14 wines, Tim Pawsey photo

Initial response to the T & B taps has been positive because the quality of wines on offer is very sound, with Okanagan leaders such as Laughing Stock, Okanagan Crush Pad*, Blasted Church, Summerhill et al on board. (*Okanagan Crush Pad has their own, separate system.) Frankel, who’s really bullish about the all-BC aspect of his new (and quite dazzling) pub style restaurant, says he had to work hard to get some wineries to come along. But we have a hunch some of those will be surprised by the results.

Vancouver Urban Winery transfers wine shipped under controlled conditions from 400 litre stainless steel tanks to 19.5 litre kegs, Tim Pawsey photo

A few other winemakers have expressed misgivings (citing issues of quality control, mainly, but which haven’t been a problem so far). It seems—especially if the resto is turning over the wines in a reasonable time (likely less than a few weeks here) the FreshTap  system is more than worth the upfront investment for the payback in convenience, almost complete elimination of spoilage (no more bottle leftovers from by-the-glass pours) and reduced carbon footprint (one shipment replaces three hundred 750 ml. bottles). Overall it’s a huge reduction in packaging, shipping, labour and so on. We’re thinking servers like it too.

Tap & Barrel upstairs wine bar, Tim Pawsey photo

Of course, the ‘barrels’ at Tap & Barrel’s very snappy upstairs wine bar aren’t really barrels at all but French barrel top-facia (courtesy of Mission Hill) for the taps, which are fed by pressure lines from the cellar. They’re also divided, so that staff can tap wine in the lower level, which is BC beer focused.

T&B’s taps feature leading Okanagan producers, Tim Pawsey photo

Interestingly, when we’ve mentioned this to folks elsewhere (eastern Canada, for example), there’s not a firm grasp on just what the FreshTap system can do, and what it might mean, especially for Casual Fine Dining. We expect more than a few to hop on board.

Vancouver Urban Winery’s model could be well worth a look for Ontario wineries looking for more restaurant love in Toronto, for example. Ontario VQA has just approved tap delivery, which shows they absolutely get it.

That begs the question of whether/how/when the BC Wine Authority will agree that the very same BC VQA wines which are tank shipped for kegging can be identified as VQA on the winelist. There’s no doubt in my mind that it’s only a matter of time before the Cellared in Canada crowd get this figured out as a real threat to their market share. The grown in BC wines, including VQA, will need every point of difference they can muster to justify the quality price ratio, once they have to compete against imported, cheap bulk wines.

Oh, yes, and then there’s that irritating little VQA bag in box issue… 

But we digress.

Meanwhile, we’ll be heading back to Tap & Barrel for some ‘drunken’ mussels, or maybe more roasted pork belly pizza with egg on top … and a glass of tap wine, of course.

Enjoying the nightime skyline at Tap & Barrel, Tim Pawsey photo

*** Tap & Barrel features stainless steel keg wines, offered in 6 oz, 9 oz and 750 pours, from the following:
Blasted Church

Laughing Stock

Nichol Vineyards

Le Vieux Pin

Desert Hills

Church & State

Clean Slate (developing …)

Hester Creek

Okanagan Crush Pad

Lake Breeze

Summerhill

Joie Farm