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Tap this

Want to know what beer to try at the local pub? Look for the most interesting tap handles.

Breweries have tried for decades to attract attention by making tap handles larger and more colorful, but the microbrewery movement has brought a proliferation of artsy and exotic ones. Some are full-fledged artwork, a small brewery’s main advertising and a way to entice beer drinkers to sample a specific brand in the competitive craft market – specialty brews typically made in small regional or local breweries – that grew 11 percent in the first six months of this year.

You name it and it’s been fashioned into a tap handle: Orca. Saxophone. Bloody hatchet. Pelican. Lightning bolt. Rocket ship. Hockey glove. A turtle floating on a raft. Frog leg. Lighthouse with working light. Lobster claw.

With so many craft beers available, breweries are designing the tap handles to distinguish themselves from their peers in some bars that can feature 20, 50 and even 100 or more different beers on draft.

About 10 percent of all beer sold in the United States is on draft, including kegs sold retail.

“When I sit at the bar and watch people come in, the first thing they look at are what taps you have,” said John Lane, a partner with the Cleveland-based Winking Lizard Tavern, which has 12 locations in Ohio. “The tap handle is like a trophy.”


[T]ap handles really got inventive with the craft beer movement in the late 1980s and 1990s when microbreweries and brew pubs popped up across the country. Knowing they didn’t have the advertising budgets of major brewers that produce Budweiser, Miller and Coors, the craft brewers tried to attract attention anyway they could, including making unusual tap handles.

Today 1,371 craft breweries are operating in the country, with annual retail sales of craft beer hitting $4.3 billion last year, according to the Brewers Association in Boulder, Colo.

I usually just look for the tap handle that resembles this guy, but checking to see what stands out is a good strategy when one feels adventurous. Some of these things could probably be sold separately as souvenirs – they really are cool looking. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m feeling thirsty.

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One Comment

  1. Jeb says:

    Ah, you virtuous supporter of local breweries.

    Any chance we are going to see the Legislature revisit the disastorous brewpub law prohibiting off-premises sales that has driven almost all of the brewpubs out of business?