Tap handles are a bit unique to design in that they are very dimensional, can have any number of materials on them, reflect your branding and beer and can be placed in all sorts of tap rooms outside of your own brewery. They can ultimately be a deciding factor when patrons of another tap room are making a decision on what beer to savor. They’re also just really cool things to hold and use, especially one that is yours and that you’re proud of.
There are a number of questions to look at when designing a new tap handle for your brewery.
- Do I have a brand design system in place that will easily translate to a tap handle? If not, we’ll cover this below.
- How will the look of the tap handles fit in at my brewery?
- How will the tap handle fit inside a row of competitors’ tap handles?
- What materials or finishes should I have on it?
We could likely list out another 10+ questions, but let’s just get into this…
Tap handle creation case study
Here is a design process for creating Lyndhurst, Ohio-based Granite City Food and Brewery’s tap handle. The ideas used in this process are easily translated to any other brewery. This tap handle was manufactured by tag! tap handles (The Alison Group).
A great place to start with a tap handle design is by looking at elements of your brewery’s interior. What are the themes inside your brewery? What are the most visually present materials? What are the most dominant colors? What is the backdrop behind the tap handle? It is important to have the handle match your branding, but you also want to make sure it fits in well with the brewery. If you don’t already have a strong visual brand system in place, matching and complementing the look of the brewery interior is an especially great way to get you started.
A good majority of the brewery interior for Granite City was dark colors, but the bar stools have these rich red seat tops. These stools were a strong visual element from inside the brewery that really stood out. The red label on the tap handle was a good way to implement this interior accent color that was also a core brand color.
Besides the brewery’s name being “Granite,” the inside of the brewery has various stone finishes and textures. Using these stone textures on the tap handles was a bit of a no-brainer since it not only fits with the brand but with the interior design.
If you don’t have a branding system in place, it is really important that all visual elements are cohesive and have a consistent look. This is kind of a DIY approach to maintaining a visual brand if you do not have a branding design system. (Invest in a strong brand design at first opportunity!) If you do have a brand design established, make sure to work with your designer or reference your brand standards manual when creating a handle. Any established brand design should be considered first when designing your handle, and then you can look at integrating brewery interior elements if it will enhance the overall tap design.
Elements to go on a tap handle
Many tap handles are produced using resins that are poured into custom-made molds. This manufacturing method creates a much lighter and more affordable tap handle than using real materials. At first this might sound strange, but you can create some great textures and finishes that look real with this resin. Think: metals, wood, stone, etc. When it comes time to conceptualizing your tap handle design, don’t feel held back by material cost or availability because resin handle production can help solve those problems.
Another crafty way you can look to save money is by designing a “generic” base handle design and then add removable name plates or physical elements. For instance, you can have multiple magnetic beer name plates that can be swapped out on a single handle. You can also do a similar thing with other parts of the tap handle, like having a dimensional topper that can be pulled off and replaced with another topper. This works great for when you release a new beer or decide to drop an existing one. No need to worry about the costs of an entire tap handle with this strategy — you can just get new name plates.
While the brewery logo is a crucial element on a tap handle, the style or name of the beer is arguably more important. Be aware of how your logo plays off of the beer name plate on the handle; most of the time you don’t want those two elements to compete with each other. Placing the brewery name down the sides of a handle is a great option because from an angle you can read the brewery name and still clearly read the beer name on the front. Logos can be printed flat on a handle or also be made dimensional. For example, you can place a logo on a round sphere or use other objects from your logo as strong visual elements in your tap handle design.
Slogans or other brewery information
Slogans or fun taglines can be a nice addition to your handles and can add a bit of character. Other information like your brewery location or established on dates (est. 2008) would add some personalized detail. The trick is to not let the design get too cluttered and have the important information prominently presented.
Beer name and style
The name of your beer and the style of brew (amber, lager, etc.) are probably the most important elements on your tap handle, especially for beers being poured outside your own brewery. One of the first things people look for on a tap lineup is the beer style. The beer name on a handle is another great branding opportunity, but the style should be very easy to read.
A tap handle is a great extension of your brewery’s brand. Get creative and have fun with it!
Craft Brew Creative, led by Ryan Wheaton, offers beer focused branding and design services, backed by over 14 years of experience. Wheaton is also the beer branding and design instructor for the Craft Brewery Startup Workshop hosted by Oregon State University. From startups to established breweries, from the infancy of your brand story up to package design, Craft Brew Creative likes to dive deep into a brand while creating beneficial and lasting partnerships. Design and brewing are both a finely tuned craft and Craft Brew Creative has the passion and skills ready to help elevate your brewery brand.