We recently did a post on craft beer bars. Well I have a few more thoughts to get off my chest.
You know when you walk into a bar and you see this guy:
Instead of this guy:
behind the bar?
I don't feel overwhelmingly one way or the other if I'm honest, but I will say that I like the idea of tap handles more than I used to. When I sold beer for a living, I was frankly tired of looking at them. I didn't need to see any more art, or marketing, in the form of a tap handle.
But now that I have the privilege and delight of writing about them instead of selling the beer they represent, I'll say that I lament the use of a standard set of black tap handles over the unique, and arguably beautiful, tap handles that breweries are working so hard to create. I mean...look at the Rogue Dead Guy tap handle in the picture above. It's a skeleton man perched precariously on top of a barrel. It's a classic in the craft beer world and it's sweeeeeet.
The bars that eschew tap handles for the homogenous black set of nubs pictured above are generally doing it to maintain a certain aesthetic. I 100% understand why they might do this. It could be a space issue, or it could impede the functionality of the draft system, or it could be more garish then the ambiance permits, or whatever. I also understand that they might want to sell the beer on draft for its flavor, aroma, and deliciousness, versus it's clever tap handle shaped like a giant squid taking down a pirate ship. I'll admit that there is marketing involved there.
That being said, this presents a problem for bar owners/managers. If you don't run a tight ship around updating your draft list, then it becomes a nightmare for your patrons to order a beer from a clipboarded list.
Me - "Yeah can I get the Slobbering Salamander Triple IPA please"?
Friendly Bartender - "Oh sorry we just kicked that man. It was great though."
Me - "Ok no worries...how's the Bumbling Bullfrog Stout?"
Friendly Bartender - "That's not on at the moment. It kicked last night"
Me - "Ok..."
I know this conversation has happened to you and it becomes tiresome very quickly. The artsy tap handle represents an easy alternative. Not sure what's on tap? Look at the draft tower. Discussion over.
This clearly doesn't take into account restaurant patrons who can't see the draft tower, or the proletariat who might not know the beer from simply looking at the tap handle. Lots of factors, to be sure.
In any event, I think tap handles are fun and inviting and interesting and worth having around. Most bars use them, and most breweries pay way more than they should to have them manufactured for their accounts. Now if only there was an international tap handle contest...