Taking On Tap Takeovers | Food Newsfeed
Ryan Dorchak

Tap takeovers play a significant role at the Cloverleaf Tavern in Caldwell, New Jersey, including about 24 “mini” events throughout the year.

Taking On Tap Takeovers

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By Ken Weaver October 2015 Beer

Even for Green Flash Brewing Co. out of San Diego, a brewery that’s broadened its distribution territory from around a dozen states to all 50 in the past three years, tap takeovers remain a great way to captivate new customers, an engagement that benefits the restaurant hosting the tap takeover as much as it does the brewery.

“It’s probably the most critical thing we do. It helps get the word out,” says Jim Kenny, vice president of sales, adding that Green Flash will generally try to offer both core beers and specialty/seasonal offerings for takeover events when available.

The significance Green Flash assigns to these tap takeover events is not unusual in the growing craft beer industry. As breweries continue to expand their distribution networks and restaurants look to add brands, tap takeovers and other similar opportunities are becoming more and more common.

These tap takeover events, by many definitions, can be as simple as a restaurant dedicating a few taps to a small brewery on a given night.

Or they can scale up to beer dinners or ticketed events, while switching out every one of the restaurant’s draft lines.

Regardless of size, Kenny emphasizes, “If you can tie it into a lifestyle event, that makes it even better.” He also notes that it’s important to allow the restaurant’s staff proper time to become educated on the product.

Kenny ensures his representatives speak with the restaurant’s servers and bartenders about their beer. The goal: “Make it an experience for the consumer, so they look forward to the next event,” he adds.

Better Practices

Pizzeria Paradiso operates three locations—two in Washington, D.C., and one in Alexandria, Virginia.

It has incorporated tap takeovers into the beverage programs since around 2004.

When we spoke, Josh Fernands, Pizzeria Paradiso’s executive beverage director, was in the process of finishing up its “JulyPA” event. “It’s probably the biggest tap takeover that we do,” he says, “because it takes up all of our lines at all of the locations.” Limited by style more than brewery, the event includes session IPAs, imperial IPAs, and even a habanero IPA.

Pizzeria Paradiso generally will host one brewery-based tap takeover a month, rotating between its three locations. In most cases for these events, it aims to have at least 10 draft handles occupied by a specific brewery, or by a particular style group. For breweries with only a small number of beers, Pizzeria Paradiso arranges specialty releases in advance. Happy hour pricing still applies during tap takeovers, and it will even schedule events to coincide with a location’s hours.

One of its notable tap takeovers is the Red vs. White event, which sees the Georgetown location pouring beers aged in red wine barrels, while the Dupont Circle location features a selection of beers aged in white wine and clear spirits barrels. “It brought out a lot of people who actually went to both locations,” Fernands reflects. “It becomes relatively, surprisingly complicated. Even when it just comes to doing the keg shuffle at the end of the night.”

For restaurants just looking into this type of event, Fernands suggests the following: “Keep it simple, work with local brewers, put them on half of your lines at first.”

Like Pizzeria Paradiso, Taps Restaurants and Tasting Room in Petaluma, California, has been perfecting its approach to takeovers for years. “We’ve been doing Thursday night brewery nights for easily five of the six years that we’ve been open,” Taps owner Eric Lafranchi says. The weekly tap takeover events highlight a specific brewery, and generally will feature four to six beers. These beers are given a bold listing on the day’s beverage menu as well as having branded tap handles.

“We work with a local beer blogger [Mario Rubio],” Lafranchi says, “and he does a good job getting the message out that we have these Thursday night programs.” They’ll both work with brewery reps to decide upon a beer list. Beers are tapped on Wednesdays, giving the Taps’ chef sufficient time to come up with brewery-night pairings to feature on the menu.

Given the frequency of the Thursday night events, four to six beers are manageable for both the restaurant and the breweries involved. This way, they only have to educate staff on several beers, rather than trying to accommodate 16 different kegs—as they will for some larger events. “Our brewery nights don’t have a blueprint other than something different and unique,” he says.

Proud Graduate of Cloverleaf

Ryan Dorchak serves as the general manager and operating partner at Cloverleaf Tavern in Caldwell, New Jersey. Originally, Cloverleaf was opened by Dorchak’s grandfather as a small bar back in 1933, with a restaurant added by his father in 1976. The establishment currently seats about 250 patrons, and non-mainstream beer has been a part of its operation for decades.

After having a service issue with Budweiser back in 1978, Dorchak’s father vowed never to serve Anheuser-Busch products again. “When I look back on it now,” Dorchak reflects, “the decision kind of shaped what we would become. Because, with people coming in and asking for the brand, he wanted to ensure that he had everything else he could possibly get his hands on.”

Currently, tap takeovers play a significant part of the tavern’s beverage program and often revolve around two restaurant programs that Dorchak introduced in 2006. The Masters of Beer Appreciation (MBA) program lets participants gradually check off a set list of 45 beers, with graduates earning perks like shirts and having their names added to a plaque of fellow graduates. Similar benefits await those with a PhD (Professor of Hops and Drafts), as these advanced graduates sample through beer lists that update seasonally and never repeat.

Cloverleaf Tavern hosts monthly MBA/PhD Appreciation Nights that include a “mini” tap takeover, as Dorchak refers to it, featuring half a dozen to a dozen beers from a specific brewery. MBA/PhD graduates receive a buy-one-get-one special, half-priced appetizers, and raffle tickets for brewery giveaways. Those wearing their shirts often get a brewery glass.

Overall, the tavern will hold about 24 of the “mini” tap takeovers throughout the year, as well as three complete events that encompass all 24 of the restaurant’s tap handles. Dorchak says the logistics of such larger events are a challenge. “We have very limited space here,” he explains. It helps to order sixtels rather than half-barrel kegs. “Nowadays the distributors and breweries have gotten really good at being able to hold the beer for us until we need it,” he adds.

Events will often be held on Mondays and Tuesdays, “what would have been slower evenings in the past,” Dorchak notes. Non-MBA nights aren’t discounted. The weekly specials menu includes a beer-pairing suggestion for each of the specials.

For tap takeovers, the restaurant incorporates promotional efforts via emails sent to program graduates with signups easily accessible on the website. Text reminders are sent to VIP lists, and additional communications are broadcast via social media, with an emphasis on Facebook and Instagram. Often, the tavern’s featured food pairings will sell out upon opening. “It’s pretty cool just to see how that social media reach, just by posting a couple of pictures and saying what the pairing is, kind of yields some amazing results,” Dorchak says.