As contract brewers, our plans are to begin with "Draft-Only". That means no bottles in the Liquor Control Board of Ontario (Known simply as the LCBO, or as the "Lick-Bo" to hip Ontarians) and no cans in the Beer Store. (Simply BS to those in the know)
Without beer labels, shiny printed cans, or nice big graphics on beer cases to describe and draw attention to our brews, we knew that we would need a great tap handle! We were going to have to rely on just a little length of ceramic, metal, or wood to make our whole introduction, to make that so-stressed-about, all-important, one-chance-only-no-take-backsies first impression. We knew that we needed a tap handle that would boldly proclaim the existence of both Garden Brewers and the beer itself, stand out amoungst all the other tap handles beside it, and give some idea as to what the beer is actually like. A tall order for a short stick!
We began brainstorming, and came up with a few ideas that we thought were pretty good, but we decided to run these ideas past beer drinkers, bar owners, and bartenders before we committed to them. We asked them all about what they liked, and what they didn't like in a tap handle. It turned out that our original idea to use a gardening tool as a tap handle (such as a small spade) was not a popular one.
As a brewery, this idea had a lot of appeal to us. We get 2 out of 3; a tap handle that is instantly recognizable and loudly stands out- if sadly silent on what the beer actually is. But the downside of this approach was also its big bonus: a tap handle lacking any specific information about the beer being poured can be used for any brew by that brewery. Tap handles are expensive, provided for free, and are frequently lost, stolen, or misplaced. So having only one generic tap handle holds a lot of appeal to breweries. Having only one generic tap handle that is easily, quickly, and cheaply built out of a common object like a spade is even more appealing to small start-up brewers like ourselves! But it is not so appealing to bars, neither is it to their customers. The problem with these unbranded objects is that bartenders/barpatrons are constantly having to ask/answer the questions “Who's that brewery? The one with the thing as a tap?” and then immediately after that is resolved “OK- which beer of theirs is on tap now?" and then finally "OK- What is that beer like?”
Clearly, this information (the "3B's"; brewer, brand, and beer tasting notes) ought to be as front and center on the tap handle as possible. But the current climate of constantly rotating brew styles, seasonal brews, special one-offs, and collaboration brews makes it harder than ever for brewers to keep up with the demand for new tap handles. The high cost and long turnaround time associated with producing custom tap handles is driving more brewers towards stocking and providing a generic handle only. This solution works best for brewers, but often fails their fans.
To solve these problems, we turned once again towards the world of gardening for inspiration. And we found our solution!
Gardeners had already solved the problem of clearly marking many different varieties that rotate and change with the seasons: seed packet holders! Genius! A standard holder that can be used again and again- and which takes packaging waste and gives it a second life as perfectly appropriate signage! We thought that we could adapt this idea for brewing, and that it would be a much better solution than the expensive (and wasteful!) practice of producing a custom handle for every different brew.
Thus, we decided to commission a "seed packet holder" style tap handle, custom fabricated to meet our needs. We went right to the source; a manufacturer of garden seed packet holders! They were a little surprised to hear from us- they had never been asked to produce a beer tap handle before- but they loved challenges... and beer!
And boy, did they come through!
Our tap handles are sure to stick out from the crowd thanks to the ingenuity and skill of our supplier! The handles are aluminium, with the threaded portion custom fabricated on a lathe in order to make a tight connection. Because it is aluminum, it will not corrode over time. The seed packet holders themselves are made from galvanized steel, just the same as they are in the standard models, but our tap handles have two holders, back-to-back. This way, we can print "Seed Packet" style labels for display on the front...
...AND we can also print tasting and style information about the brew for display on the reverse side, for the bartenders use!
This is a great way to communicate about our beers- right at the point of sale! Bartenders nowadays usually have to contend with both more beer tap lines and a never-ending parade of constantly changing beers. That's alot of different beers to be knowledgeable about! The best bartenders do a great job at staying on top of this, earning the trust and respect of their regulars- you may even know one by name! And several training and certification programs have been developed to help ensure that beer service just continues to get better and better. But there are many gaps, and communication about new beers from brewer-to-bartender remains spotty. Information about a new beer is often in short supply, and what is available has been passed along to the bartender though a telephone game.
Bartenders want good information at their fingertips, but we found that very few bars keep- or even read- the “sell sheets” which are provided along with beer by breweries. These sell sheets contain all that precious information, often direct from the brewers brain, and they go, more often than not, straight into the recycling bin. Yet all bars, bartenders, beer drinkers, and brewers want quality and comprehensive communication about the beer to be readily available! We think we've solved that problem for our brews.
In this tap handle, we have a generic handle for all our brews, we can print "seed packet" labels to customize for each style (with minimal cost, turnaround, and waste) and we have created an interesting and (If we can say so ourselves) super-neato tap handle that works to meet the needs of everyone better; the brewer, the bar, the bartender, and, perhaps most importantly, the beer drinker!
Cheers to that!
We have two models, our standard "Tall Poppy" which is 12" tall, and our "Short Sprout" which is 8"tall.
These tap handles are also ideal for homebrewers- as homebrewers typically have continuously changing beer styles on tap! If you'd like a Garden Brewers Tap Handle for home, they are availible in our webstore.