A homage to the goon bag (aka cask wine or wine in a box)
I felt slightly sick while researching this article. There is obviously some part of my brain that, despite not drinking out of a goon bag for 18 years, still remembers the hangovers. Now, this is more likely due to the sheer amount consumed in my uni days than the fault of the goon bag itself, but even looking at a photo of a cask of Fruity Lexia is enough to make my stomach roll.
My own poor choices aside, the goon bag is one of Australia’s greatest inventions – up with wifi, the hills hoist and spray on skin. Or at least with Vegemite and pavlova. (Wait – the pavlova was invented where?! WTF? Next you’ll be telling me Russell Crowe isn’t Australian either…)
So let’s spend a few minutes appreciating this Aussie icon.
What is a goon bag?
Goon is an Australian slang word for cheap wine. So, a goon bag is cheap wine in a bag inside a cask, or box. It’s also one of my husband’s (affectionate) nicknames for me when I drink wine. Yes, I hear it a lot.
History of the goon bag
The goon bag was invented in 1965 in Australia by Thomas Angove, winemaker and one time managing director of Angove Estate in South Australia. With the original design, you would cut the corner off the inner wine bladder, pour out your wine and then reseal it with a special peg. The design was based on a product already on the market – a bag in a box used to hold and transport battery acid. The genius here is that encasing the wine in a plastic bladder that collapses around the liquid as it’s used stops air from causing oxidisation and contaminating the wine. This extends the shelf life up to several weeks and means wine can be sold in much larger quantities. Thomas was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia in 1994 for coming up with such a fucking great idea.
A massive high five also goes to Charles Malta who, in 1967, invented the plastic air-tight tap that was welded to the inner wine bladder and allowed for much more convenient access to your wine. Let’s not forget this idea also means it’s possible to blow up the empty bladder and kick it around as a footy, and then use as a lovely little silver pillows to rest our noggins.
Australian Goon Bags
Warning! The following statement may cause distress to some readers:
The goon bag is facing extinction on Australian shelves.
Goon bag sales in Australia are falling. We are a country with a focus on “premiumisation” (i.e. we like expensive shit) and apparently we have decided the goon bag is not for us.
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, cask wine sales fell 30% between 2004 and 2014 while bottle sales increased by around 40% during that same period. Wine Australia reports a decrease of 5% in the past 12 months alone.
International Goon Bags
Other countries are, however, recognising the genius of cask wine and there is strong support for Aussie goon overseas. In the last five years, the volume of Australian exports has increased by 21 per cent. Scandinavian countries in particular are embracing the goon bag as it has less of an environmental impact than wine sold in glass bottles (also, if I lived in a Scandinavian country I would also buy wine in large litreages. Their bottle shops are never bloody open!). Sales are also well up in the United Kingdom, USA and Canada, more due to the convenience factor of being able to pick up your goon bag and go.
So while the goon bag may be on the critical list in Australia, the overseas market is on the up. Thank the wine gods for that!
Why no love, Australia?
We asked some of our faithful readers (thanks, mum) why they no longer bought goon bags. In general, it seems to be that when we were younger, we had no money, we cared more about getting drunk than the taste of our wine, and it was more acceptable within our peer groups to drink out of a cask. It seems that now we are older and more classy (and bent on “premiumisation”), the goon bag doesn’t quite represent the “look” that we are going for. There were also comments about wine in a goon bag not aging like it does in a bottle, thus not developing the depth and complexity of flavour the wine aficionado is looking for.
Interestingly, when I did some on-location research (I spoke to Dave at my local bottle-o) he said goon bag sales were actually pretty strong in his store. I have to admit I was amazed by the range they stocked and Dave said that’s because there is the demand for it. I do live in an area with a high proportion of students so maybe I just bought a house in the socio-economic equivalent of a goon bag hotspot?
I couldn’t write this article without at least trying some goon. Dave recommended the Yalumba range as it was the most popular in his store (and then he dropped this little truth bomb: apparently many local restaurants are serving Yalumba cask wine as their house red and white. So I have probably been drinking cask wine for years without evening realising it! This completely fucking shocked me. And then I was shocked that I was that shocked, like am I actually a closet wine snob?)
When I got my goon bags home (I bought the Yalumba Shiraz and Cab Sav) and started drinking, I found them to be completely… non-offensive. I tried them with my dad, and as he said: they were fine. (You may be able to tell my dad also doesn’t work in the wine industry). The wine didn’t have the complexity and depth of flavour that I normally look for in a red but they certainly weren’t the abomination I had made them out to be in my mind for the last 18 years.
Would I drink out of a goon bag again? Probably.
Would I keep some in my kitchen for cooking and the odd sneaky mouthful while preparing a family meal? Definitely!
What are your thoughts on cask wine? Do you ever drink it? Would you again? Let us know in the comments or join in the conversation on Facebook or Instagram…
Further your Goon experience
In researching this article I found a great resource – the Good Goon Guide website. Informative with a wit like a cask of Yalumba Classic Dry White. Read more here.