A Quick Intro to Tap Handles
When you head into a bar or brewery you’ll most likely see a metal fixture with a bunch of handles sticking up. Those are what you’d call a tap handle, while you’ll traditionally you’ll have beer tap handles it’s also common to have cider tap handles. In the past couple of years cold brew coffee companies and kombucha makers have started offering their products on draft so guess what… yep there are now cold brew coffee tap handles and kombucha tap handles!
Types of Tap Handles
Tap handles can range anywhere from small generic taps to large complex figural taps.
There are plenty of bars that don’t use branded tap handles. When you walk in you’ll just see a row of matching, non-descript handles all lined up. This makes it easier and harder for the customer and the bar. There’s no swapping of handles, nothing to update when you’re switching out a beer, but you also don’t know which tap matches a particular beer. The customer also can’t identify the options without reading off a menu or sign.
These taps can be updated for whatever beer is on tap. They’re often made using chalkboard or chalkboard paint. While it makes it easier to identify the beer that’s on tap they still need to be updated and from a distance a customer may not be able to distinguish the beer.
Branded taps match a specific brewery. They have colors, logos, and designs that have been created by the brewery or the tap handle company and are unique, or have elements that are unique to the particular brewery or beer. These taps need to be swapped out whenever a line or beer is being updated and because they are unique it makes it so a customer can distinguish between different beers and breweries.
National/International Beer Tap Makers
There are a number of national and international companies that make generic and custom tap handles Many of them can help brewers design complex tap handles and may even have manufacturing plants overseas to assist with large-scale production.
Here are a few national and international custom beer tap handle manufacturers:
AJS Tap Handles – https://www.beer-taphandles.com/ – United States
Taphandles – https://www.taphandles.com/ – United States
Custom Beer Handles – https://custombeerhandles.com/ – United States
Chrislan Ceramics – http://www.chrislanceramics.com/ – Canada
Regional Beer Tap Makers
There are a few business that create tap handles for their local breweries. Some of these may still take national and international orders but they primarily do business locally with breweries in their region.
Here are a few regional and smaller national companies that make custom tap handles:
Green Mountain Taps – http://www.greenmountaintaps.com/ – Northeast
Hoptown Handles – https://www.hoptownhandles.com/ – Pacific Northwest
Local Crafters/In House Beer Tap Makers
There are a few breweries that work with local crafters to produce their tap handles. Some will even have the production or the crafters as part of an internal team. In this case the production is limited to an single or very few breweries and depending on the the crafter they may not have bandwidth for additional clients.
Here are a few local crafters that make custom tap handles:
Joe Benson (Benson 9 Design) – firstname.lastname@example.org – Massachusetts
Better Wheel Workshops – https://www.betterwheelvt.com/ – Vermont
Scene 3 Designs – http://www.scene3designs.com/ – Virginia
Illgetonespun – https://www.instagram.com/illgetonespun/
RainTaps – I also take on occasional projects to produce custom tap handles – for info send me an email at email@example.com
About Tap Handle Collecting
Now with all the incredible things that breweries have been doing with their beer taps (and cider taps) it’s no surprise that people have started collecting tap handles.
Buying Tap Handles From Breweries
The most common way of getting tap handles is directly through the brewery. If a brewery offers their tap handles for sale can be a bit of a toss-up, some will only sell their tap handles online, others will only sell them at the brewery, there are a few that have them online and in their brewery and there are plenty that don’t sell them at all.
I’m working on compiling a comprehensive list of breweries and the tap handles they sell to make it easier to buy tap handles directly from them. I’ll also occasionally have tap handles available from brewery partners.
Check out the list of the US Top 50 Craft Breweries and Where to Buy Their Tap Handles for some quick information on buying new tap handles from those breweries.
Buying Tap Handles From Other Collectors*
Another great way to get tap handles is through other collectors. You can check in local forums to see if there are other collectors in your area or you can join one of the local groups for tap or beer memorabilia collecting. Contacting other collectors can be a great way to get taps from breweries that you don’t have a chance to visit in person.
Buying Tap Handles On Ebay*
You’ll find a lot of cider and beer tap handles on Ebay. While the person selling them should have received them from a reputable source you can’t always tell. I recommend checking to see if the taps are widely available on the market and see if they mention where the tap handle(s) came from. If they bought them from the brewery you’ll be fine, depending on local law you may also be ok if they the taps are being cleared out as abandoned property from a bar that’s closing, if you have any concerns about a listing on ebay don’t buy the items and check with the brewery for guidance.
Buying Tap Handles On Craigslist*
I don’t recommend buying tap handles on Craigslist or other local seller sites unless you’re specifically picking up vintage beer taps from breweries that have closed. It’s a lot harder to know where they’ve gotten the taps from and it’ll be difficult to follow up with the seller if you have any questions.
A Quick Note
Remember not all taps are available for sale! If a brewery doesn’t provide taps for sale it’s most likely because they’re needed to pour beer. If they let you know that please respect their decision.
*this is not legal advice. please consult with a local lawyer if you need legal advice on these topics.