Distilled: Do tap handles sell more beer?

  • Photo by Meghan Ralston
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From the July 11, 2013 edition

While I was chatting with a friendly couple at The Crest Gastropub a while back, the wife said her husband will often choose a beer based on the tap handle. He is a designer (and avid comic book fan) so he clearly has an eye for aesthetics. He remembered liking an Ommegang beer. Well, not so much the beer as the ornately checkered handle.

How often do people choose a beer based solely on the tap handle? Does the handle alone sell beer? Obviously there’s a branding aspect for a brewery, but what effect does it have in enticing drinkers?

“People do order based on tap handles, more than you’d expect,” said Collin Castore, co-owner of Seventh Son Brewing Co and Bodega. “With all the handles at Bodega … I always encourage people to order from the list, but there are still the people who go, ‘What’s that one?’”

I didn’t expect this to be the case. Most craft beer aficionados will find the beer list before the emergency exits. Did you see the hottie sitting at the corner of the bar? Nope, but it looks like the Kitka milk stout from Brew Kettle is on tap.

After my conversation with the aforementioned couple I noticed more and more people asking about handles. Then I even did it. Apparently it’s influential consumer; therefore ’s imperative to breweries. Which is why Seventh Son employs an atypical handle — a small, wooden version with the logo etched in it.

“If you’re looking at a big row of all these gaudy, ostentatious tap handles people will go, ‘What’s that little one there?’ That’ll force the bartender to say, ‘That’s a new brewery in town called Seventh Son,’” Castore said.

The quality of the beer is obviously still the most important component, but tap handles are essential in getting customers to notice said quality. It’s like the tree falling in the words proverb. If someone produces the greatest beer in the world and no one is drinking it, what’s the point?