Pay Attention to Proper Hotel Beverage Storage Practices
Don't ruin valuable reserves of wine and beer.
There’s nothing better than enjoying a fine wine with a well-prepared meal. The anticipation of savoring the subtle tannins with complex and layered flavors, carefully selected to match the meal perfectly, creating a new level of epicurean nirvana. The waiter appears with the wine, and the excitement mounts. The cork is carefully removed and presented, the first taste is poured. And the wine is the temperature of a tepid cup of tea. All the unique characteristics have been lost. The wine has aged dog years because of poor storage and been reduced to a disastrous disappointment, simply because no one had the mind to care for the wine after it was received.
Sound familiar? Unfortunately, it’s more common than we would like to admit. Many times hotels and restaurants have interesting and well balanced wine lists with many secret treasures and hard-to-find vintages. Although many operations have very thoughtful inventory and storage procedures to care for the wine, with controlled temperature and limited light exposure, there’s a vast majority that simply stack the wine in the storeroom. I vividly remember speaking with a purchaser about their wine list, in particular the several vintages of Opus One they had, and asked to see how they are storing this gem of a wine. I was a bit taken back to find the wine on the top shelf of a very warm storeroom getting a lovely fluorescent light tan, just six inches below the light fixture, which remained on 24/7.
Of course, no one is deliberately doing anything that would cause harm to the wine. The sad fact is that in many hotels, beverage storage is often missed or undervalued in the design phase. The hotel operators are doing the best with the space that they got. That said, it is critically important to correctly store and safeguard all alcohol, from wine to spirits to beer. In many cases, these are high-cost items that are regulated, with serious legal ramifications if not secured and served responsibly.
First and foremost is security. Regardless if it is the main storeroom, banquet operations, or a pool bar, all alcohol must be stored in a secure location and meticulously managed. If not, bad things will happen. Don’t underestimate the associate or guest who sees a bottle of tequila sitting on an accessible shelf and decides it’s time for a party. The tequila is gone, and the operation is liable for any poor decisions that may result.
In all cases, access to alcohol needs to be secured and monitored. Only specific people should have access the storage area. Any area that stores a large amount of alcohol should have a locked room or “cage.” Secure, locked rolling cages or carts can be used for liquor storage during operations. In any operation, control processes ideally paired with a liquor monitoring technology should be implemented to align what’s being sold and consumed.
Similarly, attention needs to be focused on how the alcohol is being stored. Wine and beer especially are not particularly fond of warm temperatures and light. As you know, both wine and beer continue to evolve once bottled. If stored correctly, wine and even some beers such as imperial stouts and barleywines can continue to age and change over time, becoming more complex and enjoyable.
On the other hand, poor storage can cause great harm. It’s not uncommon to have the wine, spirits, and extra beer stored in a secure area as part of the storeroom. What is flawed about this practice is the warmer temperature and constant exposure to light. Most storerooms are in the 70F to 72F range, and any temperatures above 70F will greatly contribute to the wine aging rapidly and beer deteriorating. The wine will bring on a flabby or flat taste, while the beer will be skunky. The ideal temperature range for storage of wine is between 45F and 65F. Beer should stay between 45F and 60F.
With this in mind it’s also important to understand the impact of light. It’s best that wine and beer be stored in a “dark” place that does not have constant exposure to light, especially sunlight. Even though spirits are more resilient, continued exposure to direct sunlight can start to have an adverse effect on whiskeys and other spirits.
Along with temperature and light exposure, it’s important to store the products correctly. All wine and spirits should be immediately removed from their boxes and placed on shelves, unless being delivered directly to events or restaurants, where they should be removed at that point. Wine should be placed on racks, laying the bottle on its side to keep the cork wet and prevent oxidation, and liquor bottles should be standing straight up. The reason we want to discard the boxes immediately is that cardboard boxes are a favorite mode of transportation for little critters, and we don’t want any crawlies in the storeroom.
Equally important in beverage storage is managing the inventory itself. It’s one of the most capital-intensive inventories as well as a notorious area of F&B, where inventory can quickly and silently get out of control. Let’s keep in mind that many of today’s wines are meant to be consumed immediately and require very little aging, if any. Beers are made to be consumed in three to six months before product quality starts to fall.
Beware of the “Curse of the Curious Sommelier” scenario. We have all experienced it and have probably contributed to it. A new sommelier or director of restaurants starts at your property. He or she looks at the wine program and professes that it is not relevant and doesn’t meet their area of focus. A new wine program is developed that is on-point and all is great. Then, a few years later, the sommelier leaves, and a new one arrives, and the cycle begins again. The storeroom is full with wine; many are not even listed on the current wine list, while many more are hanging on, as they have seen their ideal date for consumption pass by. I would recommend you do an inventory of your wines in storage and compare to how many are actually listed. This is not only a wine issue but also occurs with spirits and beer (which has an even shorter shelf life).
This is a great time to be in food and beverage, with so many new and exciting products, so enjoy with care and oversight.
Member, Hotel F&B Editorial Advisory Board President, LJ Trope & Co. LLC