“It requires cognitive change”: Portland hotel offers local wine on tap

KEX Portland is hoping their selection of Oregon wines will prove that kegs aren’t just for beer.

PORTLAND, Oregon – The people of Portland are trained to expect the unexpected. So when we entered KEX Portland, a boutique hotel northeast of Martin Luther King Jr. Bloulevard and Couch Street, we were surprised.

KEX’s downstairs restaurant, Dottir (the Icelandic word for girl), serves 10 Oregon wines by the glass, all served on tap.

“We’ve built a reputation for it,” said KEX co-owner Sean O’Connor. He adopted the concept of offering wine on tap when the hotel opened in late 2019. After finding that they didn’t have enough storage space to accommodate a list of bottled wines by the glass , they realized they could do it using drums.

“I literally drive around town and down the valley (Willamette) and bring casks to people,” O’Connor said, referring to the relationships he has established with local wineries.

O’Connor uses aluminum casks which he purchases from Portland cask wine pioneer, Cooper’s Hall Winery and Taproom. The barrels can be reused hundreds of times and each contain the equivalent of 26 bottles of wine. Avoiding additional glass, labels, cork, boxes and shipping saves O’Connor around $ 150 per keg and helps the environment.

“I do this because I believe in sustainability and I think it allows us to support local wine producers in a very unique way,” said O’Connor. “But if this prompts people to serve wine on tap outside of a financial goal, then so much the better! Let’s kick them out.

Since the pandemic, O’Connor said many restaurant owners have asked him questions about keging wine, hoping it might help them run their businesses more efficiently. After KEX reopened on June 11, O’Connor learned firsthand how long cask wine could last, even after it went on sale.

“Due to COVID, we had wine from before our March 2020 shutdown that we are pouring right now,” he said.

While customers can’t order wine poured from a bottle at Dottir, they can order wine bottles – the bartender simply fills reusable glass bottles at the tap; table service only, they cannot buy them to take out.

“It requires some sort of cognitive change,” said Bailey Apon, bartender at Dottir. “It’s moving away from these preconceived ideas about what high-end wine is.

Apon said many guests had never seen wine on tap before. Others have never seen some high-end varieties of Dottir offered by the glass.

“You can find these really beautiful and surprising things and affordable and it’s fun to walk [customers] through this, ”Apon said. “I hope they will be looking forward to getting more wines on tap at different establishments.”

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Sandy A. Greer

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