Formerly relegated to beer alone, tap handles are now home to a myriad of drinks, from coffee to kombucha.
Raleigh, North Carolina’s newly opened Beer Garden has 366 taps in its two-story space—more than any other place on earth. There are old domestic favorites, imported novelties, and local brews all on draft, and the restaurant is courting a crowd that would be overwhelming to even the most prepared new concept by banking on a trend that has gone from zero to sixty in recent years. The face of taps is changing—and not just by switching out low-end brews for craft offerings, but also by throwing some beverages into the mix that have heretofore been reserved for mugs, bottles, or shakers.
Even for beer—the quintessential tap drink—changes have been coming down the pipeline. At Dog Haus, a gourmet fast-casual hot dog concept based in Pasadena, California, the iPourIt system has turned tap beer around, letting customers pour their own selections at the drink station.
The 10-unit chain has been testing the idea at its Santa Ana store, where customers can show their ID when they order their food at the register to receive a pre-paid beer card.
For Dog Haus co-founder, Quasim Riaz, taking bar service out from behind the counter improved operations in a myriad of ways, not the least of which was maximizing space behind the counter. “We wanted taps, but the problem was real estate in the kitchen,” he says. “So we decided to pull this out into the dining room, and that added a cool factor as well in that [customers] get to play with the gadgets and can sample drinks before committing to 16 ounces.”
The system, which offers four different beers at any one time, also saves time that would be lost to training by providing a screen with detailed descriptions of each drink, from its ABV to its flavor profile, which Quasim says gives customers the experience of informed selection that’s normally provided by a bartender, but without the inherent inefficiencies (For more on iPourIt and new tech in beverages, turn to p.10).
Riaz, who has been happy with the system’s success thus far, says he has plans to feature it even more prominently when he implements it in Dog Haus’s next location.
Beer’s second cousin, cider, has had catapulting sales in recent years (not without thanks to the gluten-free movement). According to the Washington, D.C.–based Beer Institute, production tripled between 2011 and 2013 (the most recent year for which figures are available) from 9.4 to 32 million gallons.
Jeff Smith opened what he says was the first cider pub in the U.S.—Bushwhacker Cider in Portland, Oregon—five years ago, with eight taps of the beverage.
Five months ago he opened a second location of Bushwhacker, in the Woodlawn neighborhood, with 12 cider taps and a full kitchen. The two locations go through 40 kegs of cider per week between them.
Smith says the tap system was implemented to allow customers to sample a greater variety of the local, national, and international ciders the pub offers without bringing up cost concerns. For instance, to serve up some of the more expensive international offerings, Bushwacker offers smaller sips at the same price point.