AMAZING TAP HANDLES!!!

About This Site

Welcome to Amazing Tap Handles - The Tap Handle Museum. Here you will find photos of the Museum's collection of beer taps, along with brewery info. Have a look around the Museum, and use the contact form in sidebar to leave me feedback about the site, talk about taps, or if you have a rare tap handle you'd like to sell to the Museum. I'd love to hear from you! Please, no inquires about buying taps - they're not for sale.

Copyright Legalities

Photos or tap descriptions used in this blog may not be misrepresented as your own. Photos may not be used for financial gain whatsoever, as the uniqueness of the photo would unfairly associate a seller's product and reputation with this site. Tap descriptions may be used word for word as long as this blog is cited as the source, and a link is provided to this site.

Brewery history may not be used for any reason without citing the blog post or original source from which it was taken, and providing a link to such.

Failure to follow the guidelines above is a violation of Copyright Law, which protects original works of ownership.

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Friday, October 21, 2011

Welcome to Amazing Tap Handles - The Tap Handles Museum




A BRIEF HISTORY OF TAP HANDLES


Beer taps have been around for several centuries. They were first used to dispense beer directly from wood barrels and consisted of primitive designs, being made of wood and called bungs (see photo to left). After Prohibition, Federal regulations required taps to be clearly marked with a beer brand. Some of the most sought-after beer taps are from this period, known as "ball taps" due to their shape, and they were made of metal, resin, or both, some with decals fired on to a ceramic insert (see photo to right). For more about ball taps, see this great site by Barry the Beer Guy.

Over the years, beer taps have evolved as the market has grown, especially as marketing became important during the 1960s and 1970s, when many breweries were swallowed up or went out of business after failing to market on a national level. With the use of metal barrels, improved transportation methods, pressurized delivery systems from the barrel to the tap, and the explosion of microbreweries thanks to changes in regulations regarding brewing and distributing, branding on a tap is seen as a way to distinguish one beer/ale/microbrew from another when a customer walks up to the bar.

Taps come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Some, while attractive in their own way, are very simple in design, with long handles made of colored wood or resin. Often these "simple" taps will have printed writing on them that identify the brewer and/or the beer, or they may have a label/decal with printing or artwork. The photo to the right is an example of a "simple" tap by Genesee.

Some breweries, however, really want their tap to stand out from the crowd. They hire artists to come up with a sculpted, three-dimensional design that represents their beer or ale, or the brewery itself. For instance, Blue Point Brewery's Blueberry Ale incorporates a blue "she-devil" and a basket of blueberries in the design (see photo to the left). One bar owner told me that when she switched one brand of beer's tap from simple to figural, sales of that beer increased by 3x. I don't know if that's typical, but it makes sense from a marketing standpoint. Beer gurus know what they want and aren't as influenced by a tap, but the average beer drinker needs a way to distinguish one beer from another, and an intriguing tap is seen as a way to gravitate them towards a specific brand.

The brewery either contacts a contractor to have the taps manufactured in China, or they hire a local artist to sculpt and paint them by hand. Older taps were made of wood or metal (individually crafted) or plastic (through a molding process), while most modern taps are made of ceramic or resin (also known as urethane), which are easily molded and accept paint well. Typically, unless we are talking about one of the major breweries, taps are produced in small runs, just enough to cover distribution accounts, since smaller breweries have smaller distributions of their product and don't have the capital to invest in large runs. In fact, sometimes breweries move from figural taps back to simpler taps as a cost-saving measure.

How does a tap become scarce? There are multiple reasons:
  • Hand made wood or metal taps, as described above, have a throughput that is limited by manpower. Simple wood taps can be turned on a lathe fairly quickly, but carved wood taps had to be done by hand, which is not a fast process and limited the amount that could effectively be produced. Metal taps with any kind of detail are limited for the same reason.
  • Likewise, resin or ceramic taps that were molded and painted by hand rather than on an assembly line were also limited by manpower issues.
  • Resin or ceramic taps are fragile. They don't like being dropped or hit, which results in chipping, cracking, and breaking. The more detailed a piece, the more likely it was to receive damage when used. Others took a beating due to improper packing and rough handling when shipping, especially on the secondary market. Often these damaged taps were simply thrown away.
  • Resin, ceramic, and plastic taps are created through a molding process. A prototype is made through sculpting, and then a mold is made by pouring liquid around the sculpted piece. The problem with this process is that the original mold degrades over time, resulting in loss of detail and eventually breaking apart. Once the mold is gone, the tap can no longer be produced.
  • Low order numbers, whether planned (small contract brewery, limited release beer, brewing contests, handcrafted taps) or not (low beer sales, lack of brewery funds, tap production problems) might mean less than 100 were produced. In some cases, only a few prototypes (or one) were produced.
  • Natural disasters and other accidents might be the least likely to occur, but every now and then taps perish in fires, tornadoes, floods, and other such disasters. One person told me that they had a tap in the backseat of their car and when they were involved in a car accident, the tap flew across the car, hit a door and broke! 

THE MUSEUM'S ORIGINS

I started collecting taps several years ago in the mid-1990s. It began innocently enough at a garage sale. My buddy Kelly and I would look for garage and estate sales during the summer, as he loved to collect antiques. I was in my late 20s at the time, and didn't collect anything. Kelly told me that I needed to be collecting something. I just didn't know what that something was yet.

It was very rare for me to visit a garage or estate sale and walk away with something I liked...maybe an old oil can here, or an old radio there...most of the time I would leave empty-handed, with nothing catching my interest, although it was clear I had an attraction to "mancave" items long before that term became popular. At one garage sale, however, the seller had a box containing a few tap handles. Back then, the microbrew explosion had not yet begun, so most tap handles were made by the big breweries. Almost all of these tap handles were very plain, and I didn't like them. At this garage sale, however, in that box of taps was one that I thought was really amazing. Kelly encouraged me to buy it, and a collection was born. So what was the tap that started it all? That would be the Coors Beer Wolf, wearing a baseball cap, as pictured to the right.

Over time, the collection has evolved from a personal hobby with an occasional acquisition to what I consider a private museum. This transition has required a heavy financial commitment, with a constant eye towards acquiring more taps and spending a great deal of my time to research, photograph, and edit profiles of each tap and brewery. Since Beer Wolf was obtained, I have obtained well over 200 300 400 500 600 700 800 900 tap handles, thanks to the explosion of microbreweries across the country that sent the number of figural tap handles in circulation skyrocketing. How do I decide what to buy? The answer is that the tap must be sculpted and three-dimensional, but most importantly it has to be appealing to me, either visually or because of the history behind the the tap or brewery. I don't collect these as an investment - I collect them because I like them. Taps that I collect also have to be an actual product produced by an actual brewery. Although there are some really cool-looking home-made taps, I want something that an actual brewery designed, paid for, or produced.

For museum entries, taps need not be pristine in a box...nicked, dinged, and scratched taps still find their way into the museum. The reality is that many of these taps were used in a bar or restaurant, and have a history and character to them. I generally stay away from broken or chipped taps unless they are rare - in which case I may try to restore them back to near-original conditions. Serious flaws in a tap handle are a distraction that draws the observer's focus away from the beauty of the tap, so in those cases I will try to remove the distraction and return attention back to the tap itself. The museum features a restoration expert, none other than Kelly, my best friend for the last 25 years. Kelly has brought many a damaged and extremely rare tap back to life. In some cases his finished product surpasses the original.

In a way, this site has become a virtual tour of the museum through photos and written profiles. Early on, I noticed that information on many breweries (especially those breweries which had closed) was scattered, and in some cases buried in obscurity. I try to seek out that information to present a coherent picture and timeline of the history about the brewery behind the tap, as well as any information on the tap itself or what inspired it. And who knows...maybe someday I will have a public tap handle museum, a place where people can walk in and examine all the taps in person. Now that would be incredible!

I also sponsor tap handle giveaways on a periodic basis. This allows people to enter a contest in which one entry is chosen at random to win a free tap handle. It's my way of paying respect to the hobby for all the great moments it has given me, and to give back to the community that has helped to make this site what it is today. I've met many great people in this hobby, from collectors and brewery owners and employees, to media people and support organizations, and established friendships that I never expected to make when I started this journey many years ago. Plus, free stuff is good, right?


SITE FORMAT

I decided to use Blogger instead of my own website domain for one simple reason: if for some reason I was unable to pay for my domain, all of this information would be lost. I believe Blogger will be around as long as Google is around, and that's probably going to be a long time. I already had experience blogging about other subjects, so my father, Guy (who loves the collection) suggested I share the collection in a blog format. As a result, this site is dedicated to him, and also to my friend Kelly, who started me down this road several years ago, and is responsible for not only getting me started on collecting and lending his skills to repair taps, but also for finding and procuring many of the early taps in the collection, in the days when the internet was in its infancy and locating taps was a real challenge.
There are several different ways to navigate the site:
  • Clicking on the blog header takes you to the most recent entry first, and clicking on "Older Posts" at the bottom of the page will take you backwards in time, eventually to this first post.
  • In the Sidebar you will see a section called "Labels", an alphabetical list of links. Clicking on one of these links will display all posts relating to the specific brewery or topic chosen.
  • Also in the Sidebar you will find "Blog Archive", a time-based list of links. Selecting the triangle symbol will expand out the list of links. Clicking on a year will display all posts from that year; clicking on a month will display all posts for that month. Choosing a specific post for the month will display only that post.
  • At the top of the page is a search bar that searches through the text of every post on the site for the keyword that you enter.
I hope you enjoy the journey through the museum. Check back often for new posts of amazing tap handles...