It's Thursday evening and SoBro's Twenty Tap has begun to fill up as many look to unwind in the bar's warm and inviting interior. Thirty-eight taps of carefully crafted beers sit behind the bar, fostering interest through their aesthetically branded tap handles. Often speaking to the spirit of their brewery, these varying handles not only serve as the passage to tasty craft brew goodness, but as a means of artistic expression for the breweries they represent.
Fountain Square Brewing Co. co-owner Bill Webster has successfully tapped into the branding potential that an artistically appealing tap handle can harness. Staying true to a mission of "bringing science to the art of brewing," Walsh embraces the local arts community that his brewery is surrounded by, while also holding tightly to his microbiology background.
"I believe people know our real commitment to the art community here, and they respect that," Webster explained. "When they respect what you do and they feel part of what you do, then you have loyal customers. We don't do it for the loyalty. We do it because it's just the right thing to do -- and it happens to translate into success."
Webster gives local artists a canvas for showcasing their work. He displays it in the brewery's Barth Avenue location and even enlisted area talent to design the establishment's custom tap handles and logo.
Having worked nine years as a bartender, Webster thoroughly understands all that goes into a well-made tap handle, from its fanciful design to its functionality. He knows firsthand why its ease of use is important, as well as its ability to communicate the brewery's appreciation for the arts.
"When we put together our tap handles, we looked at it from the perspective of having some kind of artistic nature to it, but also something that brought forward our logo and made it prominent," Webster said.
Bartending at Twenty Tap, Drew Avery is constantly interacting with intriguing tap handle designs, with the bar's ever-changing, expansive beer selection. An artist in his own right, Avery can fully appreciate the elaborate approaches that many breweries take with their taps.
"When you have a really consistent brand identity and aesthetic, it creates a good expectation and a good customer response," Avery said.
Working at the Twenty Tap to help put money into his own artwork and graphic design projects, Avery is aware of the advantageous connection many microbreweries have to their surrounding arts communities.
"Generally, craft breweries do a pretty good job of featuring local artists. I mean, those two kind of go hand-in-hand," he said. "They're all in the neighborhood. It's an awesome new way for artists to showcase their talent and for designers to get noticed."
Serving only Indiana beer at its location upstairs in the Indianapolis City Market, Tomlinson Tap Room bar manager Benjamin Hunt has a firm grasp on what breweries attempt to communicate with their unique taps. Often, he believes local breweries brand themselves in a way that speaks to their overall mission and personality.
For example, Hunt referenced Valparaiso's Figure Eight Brewing. With tap handles shaped like mountain climbing gear, these northwest Indiana brewers are simply shedding light on a shared pastime.
"There's not a lot of mountains in Valparaiso, but I'm sure they've done their share of traveling," Hunt said. "It says something -- not only 'Hey, we make beer, but, this is what we like to do when we're not making beer.'"
Tap handles at Brugge Brasserie speak specifically to the unique beers they unleash according to Kelly O'Hara, a manager at the Belgian gastropub. O'Hara's brother, Brendan, was recruited to craft the handles there. Keeping in mind the pub's overall feel and décor, he made a collection of metal handles to be used at the bar, each of which says something about the beer they are connected to. For instance, the Continental Pilsner handle was shaped in the likeness of a griffin's tail.
Having worked at the pub for almost nine years now, O'Hara is regularly reminded of his brother's artistic contribution to Brugge when customers ask him about the handles.
"They ask about them all the time, and it tickles me to death because it's my brother who made them," he said.
While consistency in design, simplicity and complete branding are all factors that Hunt believes make a tap handle effective in its artistic appeal, he also appreciates when breweries enlist ones that make his job easier.
"As a bartender, you like the ones that have a little weight but not too much weight, that have a good feel to them and you don't feel like you're going to break them," he said.
No matter how ornately designed microbrewery handles may be, they still all fulfill the same obligation: serving up tasty craft brews to the masses.
"All we want them [consumers] to do is to try the beer," Webster said. "I think once they try it, the art and the science of what we do comes through in the beer."