Fashions in beer change faster than hemlines and Justin Bieber’s hair: Those youthful beer geeks are a fickle, trend-conscious bunch. One year, it’s super-bitter “hop bombs,” the next, it’s puckery pale sours. Then microbrews, nanobrews, and, right now, the one-off creations of traveling Danish gypsy brewer/rockstars. Until now, only one thing remained a constant in the trend-driven beer world: Beer lovers were devoted to their taps. Over the last decade, we’ve seen the size of new beer systems grow from a moderate six or 12 handles, to 20, 30, and—at the Yard House—more than 130 taps. Neighborhood bars have begun to look less like cozy places in which to enjoy a drink and more like epic feats of plumbing whose elaborate piping mimicks the boiler room of the Titanic.
Until now. Just as tapmania is reaching its zenith, we’ve begun to see beer taps disappear (or become de-emphasized) at trendy new restaurants. Chef David DiBari’s provocative new restaurant, The Parlor, actually holds no beer taps at all. In fact, only The Parlor’s wine is poured from taps; all of its beer is served in bottles and cans. While many of the beers that DiBari offers under the heading “American Classics” (Old Milwaukee, Pabst Blue Ribbon, Colt 45, and Schaefer Beer) cost all of $3, in the category under “Beers for the Beer Geek,” the price of the bottles can soar to as high as $20 (this, for a 25-ounce bottle of Brewery Ommegang Rare Vos Amber Ale). At Fortina, the mile-long bar could easily afford room for multiple tap towers, but its “tap system” includes a single pull devoted to Captain Lawrence Brewing Company’s Kölsch. Says Co-Owner John Nealon, “Christian [Petroni] and I spent a lot of time in Spain and Italy—and in those restaurants, usually, there’s only one tap.”
Nealon continues, “Another reason is that one tap is easier to keep clean. When you get into multiple lines, you’re talking about a lot of beer sitting in those lines.” Cleanliness aside, there is also the time pressure that goes along with trying to sell through a keg while its beer is still fresh. The beer in a keg, once it’s tapped, will not last indefinitely or until it is drunk. Each time you pierce the seal on a keg, the clock starts ticking on that beer. However, within the sanitary universe of a bottle or can, time moves at a comparably glacial pace.
Then there is the freedom from the need for popular appeal that bottles and cans offer. Because the beer in bottles and cans will last longer, restaurants are able to offer more elite, oddball, or expensive beers than you’ll find on tap. Says Nealon of Fortina (who offers a bottle of Nebraska Brewing Company’s Hop God IPA for $40), “We have [Avery Brewing Company’s] Maharaja. We don’t sell a lot of it, but those who are looking for it can find it here. We also sell Elysian [that brewery’s Avatar Jasmine IPA; 22-ounce bottle for $22]. There is just one guy who orders it. He and his wife share the bottle.” The new thinking seems to be that restaurants don’t need a tap system to prove their devotion to great beers. All they need are lowboy refrigerators, and the ability to curate a great list.