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OUGD601 — Tap Handles And Their Importance

"After a long day of writing about craft beer, the Craft Brewing Business crew walked over to one of its favorite Happy Hour bars to start drinking some craft beer. I surveyed the taps and noticed one that really stood out – it looked like a can actually. I asked what it was – it was the Gubna from Oskar Blues, an Imperial IPA. I was not in the mood for a 10-percenter, but I was already too interested to turn back. I ordered it, and it was just outstanding. Who knows what I would have ordered if that tap handle didn’t stand out. Thanks, tap handle!

For some brewers, the tap handle becomes their calling card. For others, the tap handle is a traveling sales man. An intriguing, unique, descriptive or clever tap handle could mean a couple more pulls a week, which when spread out over the year, and in each of your locations, could be the spring board that changes the scope of your brewery or allows you to hit the numbers you hoped. Conversely, that dull, nondescript or unattractive handle could send your numbers in the other direction.

Let’s do a quick dive into the ins and outs of tap handle ordering and cover a couple trends that are out there in the market right now, competing with your tiny traveling sales team.

I’m ready to ship some beer, how long is this going to take?

Whoa, whoa, whoa – hold on there, guys and gals. Ordering a set of tap handles can take a bit of time, especially if you are looking to fancy it up. Take Alexander Global Promotions (AGP), for example, which specializes in three-dimensional handles. Malcolm Alexander, president of AGP, lays it out like this:

“A picture can say 1,000 words, and 3-D designs can communicate at a greater multiple than a decal. Keep the ‘craft’ top of mind – show innovation and not conformity.” — Malcolm Alexander, Global Alexander PromotionsAlexander assigns a design team to work with you, and then you have to work through that process – either by giving exact details of what you are looking for by workshopping some concepts out with the team (that’s what they are there for, after all). After that idea is tweaked and OK’d, a 3-D Mud Mold is created. Once that Mud Mold is created and approved, the team provides a final painted sample. After approval of THAT sample, production starts.
“There is a stage where we communicate regularly and adjust the mold to meet your needs,” he said. “Three-D work requires the contact and feedback to generate the piece you want. There is no canned solution – it is all creative design.”

All told, Alexander says to provide 110 to 120 days from the start of the process until delivery to the brewery.  AGP typically works with medium to larger scale brewers and generally starts orders at the 200 tap handle mark on up to 5,000-plus per order.

Andy Bauer, national sales for AJS Tap Handles reported a similar timeline, saying the production run itself can take anywhere from six to eight weeks, and a lot of that varies depending on the complexity of the order. That order complexity also changes the minimum order quantity at AJS, which ranges from 20 to 100, depending on the customization of the final design.

What do we mean by complex? What are my options here?

Tap handle suppliers all differ in the materials they use, and you’ll want to take all of those decisions into consideration when creating the overall look and message of your final product. AJS, for example, primarily uses wood, urethane and metal but does allow for the use of other materials if necessary, like using acrylic parts for shields and top caps. Bauer breaks them down:

Wood is versatile and can be used for a lot of different applications (handles, signs, taster trays, chalkboards). Cost is usually a little lower; it is lighter weight. If stained then the beauty of the wood stands out. Limitations would be a very ornate design or a figural piece. You also can have issues if the end-user does not maintain properly.

Urethane is great for very detailed pieces that can be done with a mold, especially figural pieces or something that cannot be turned from wood. Strength is a positive of the overall material that can last a very long time. Limitations can be the cost, and if the piece has small thin pieces sticking out, there can be breakage when mishandling.

Metal is a very appealing right now because people love the industrial look. Strength of the material is a positive as well as the magnetic property which customers like so they can use an interchangeable magnetic decal. Limitations are usually the weight and sometimes cost depending on the design.

Because it specializes in 3-D molds, AGP sticks with poly stone, which Alexander says is malleable in design and is able to provide great detail in 3-D – including the look of wood grain or texture. The handles are up to 14 in. and will generally be less than 1 lb in weight.

Wrap this all up for me

Think back on my personal tale in the lead. Science, creativity and market know-how went into that handle and, in turn, drove my decision to buy a product of which I had no prior knowledge. That’s one small anecdote of a curious and satisfied customer, but it’s a universal story that repeats every day across the country. The value of the tap handle is built by these seemingly arbitrary transactions over its lifetime. Add all of them up and the final tally looks a little less arbitrary. Be sure your tap handle decision-making isn’t either."


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