They say not to judge a book by its cover, but we think it’s okay to judge a beer by its tap.
In honor of International Beer Day, August 7, we’re celebrating the unsung hero of draft beer – the humble tap. But first, a quick history lesson on the device that’s been serving up our favorite brews for hundreds of years.
For centuries, beer was traditionally served directly from a cask or wooden barrel, but that all changed in 1785, when Joseph Bramah patented the first modern tap, ‘the beer engine,’ a hand pump that carried beer from the keg to the glass. This system was used to until the early twentieth century, when pressurized ales began to make their appearance, replacing cask ales and Bramah's beer engine dramatically.
Since that first tap, our family of more than 500 brands has crafted thousands of unique handles, one-of-a-kind delivery systems and developed serving rituals that have been capturing people’s attention and creating a memorable draft experience for fellow beer-lovers everywhere.
Getting a handle on it
For decades tap handles have come to represent a beer’s personality and to tell a story. In a crowded bar, it’s the tap handle that grabs people’s attention first, and these days some of our craft breweries are creating them unlike anyone else.
Our Wicked Weed brewery in Asheville North Carolina, has its very own shop that’s home to a group of talented wood and metal artists handcrafting every one of the brand’s tap handles. They are made from repurposed wine and bourbon barrel staves used for their sour and barrel-aging programs and can be seen at any location serving Wicked Weed on tap.
“We’ve always had a strong do-it-yourself ethos and have gone on to build all of our customer-facing materials, including our bars and furniture,” explained Kyle Pederson of Wicked Weed.
About 650 miles north, our iconic Chicago-based Goose Island brewery is known for creating unique, attention-grabbing, and widely recognized tap handles. Rumor has it their classic ‘Goose Heads’ are among the most stolen tap handles in the United States (don’t get any ideas!).
Recently Goose launched a new Chicago-style ale available locally and only on draft, called, Born + Raised, honoring its hometown roots. The colorful taps are created by Chicago-based artists who hand paint each one from a single wood “canvas."
“Each tap handle is unique and has a numbered plate, in the same way every Chicagoan is part of our city and every neighborhood is part of our hometown,” said Erika Wojno, senior brand manager at Goose Island.
Systems that make memories
Brewing the perfect beer is an art, and tap systems can be a big part of creating an experience where beer-lovers can better appreciate the full aroma and flavor of each one.
In the UK, Corona is making waves with its stunning new draught system. It’s a first for the brand, which has historically been served exclusively in bottles (and of course, a lime). Given that 69% of beer consumed in the UK is on tap, Corona stepped onto the scene with a system like no other.
True to Corona’s commitment to reduce plastic waste, the tower is made of wood, glass and metal. Its sleek design even features a glass viewing pane giving bar-goers a peek at the effervescing Corona inside. To recreate the famous lime ritual, the tower holds limes that are precisely cut and placed on bespoke glassware that looks like the classic Corona bottle with an inward-folding lip to allow the lime segment to sit on the edge.
“Draught beer has been starved of innovation – until now,” said the global director of dispense development at AB InBev, Richard Corker. “The very first Corona draught system stands out from the crowd, reflects our quality product and is changing things forever when it comes to serving beer at the tap.”
Like our classic Mexican lager, our Brazilian brand, Brahma Chopp, is also best served ice cold. Inspired by the Brazilian tradition of creating a memorable food experience, the Brahma Chopp draft tower is surrounded by a mountain of ice and the beer, close to the freezing point, is continuously served in small glasses, about 200ml (6 oz), until the consumer places a red coaster on top of their glass – just like a Brazilian steakhouse.
And while most parts of the world now use a pressurized keg and line system, we can’t forget that the age-old tradition of hand-tapping barrels is still alive and well, especially in Germany. For this, there is only one tap for the job – the ‘Bavarian Spigot.’ The spigot is effectively a beer faucet, that acts as a valve to dispense fresh beer on demand. Tapping the barrel requires a unique technique using one’s thumb to ensure proper grip on the ‘value ring’ for a successful pour each time.
“Unlike modern day taps, there’s no extra cooling or use of gas or pressure to push the beer through the tap with the Bavarian Spigot,” said Charles Nouwen, global head of passion for beer at AB InBev, pictured above. “It’s old-school, authentic and very fun.”
And if that weren’t enough, it’s worth mentioning that the biggest beer-tapping moment of the year includes none other than the Bavarian Spigot. Every year the Mayor of Munich uses the tap to open a barrel to kickstart Oktoberfest, the largest celebration of beer in the world. Prost!