At the beginning of 2017, there were over 5,300 craft breweries vying for the attention of beer drinkers around the U.S. The explosion of the craft beer industry creates a diverse market for consumers, who can experience flavors far beyond traditional wheat and hops.

The challenge for craft breweries is gaining the attention and loyalty of new customers. One of the main places for consumers to discover new beers is from the tap handles at the local bar or pub.

According to research from Anglia Ruskin University, beer tap handles which receive the most visual attention from consumers were chosen more often than their less-conspicuous competitors. Using eye-tracking technology, researchers discovered a truth we all know: tap handles that are eye-catching or emotionally appealing to us make us want to know more about the beer itself. And this process occurs in split-second judgments.

Beer tap handles are, thus, one of the most important marketing pieces when it comes to attracting new customers. They have a lot of work to do in very little time and space. Whereas a beer bottle or case can carry much more visual and written information, tap handles have to convey the brand name, beer name, and brew style at a minimum. Other details like flavor notes and ABV can also be conveyed.

So how do you stand out from the pack? We’ve got some thoughts on what makes a good tap handle.

    • Craft Beers Deserve Craft Tap Handles
      Craft beers are made with an artist’s touch, and tap handles should reflect that. Invest in high quality materials and a strong graphic designer to develop the design of your tap handle. It may be more expensive, but tap handles built to last and stand out will pay dividends in the long run.
    • Visually Represent the Character of the Beer
      A color, an image, or a motif can go a long way to attracting a consumer’s attention. There are many different ways to stand out. Bright, citrusy beers warrant bright colors. Unique fruity notes in your IPA can be represented visually with images of those fruit on your tap handle. Or, if you’re Brewery Ommegang, you can use a popular show like Game of Thrones to convey the dark complexity of your ales.However you choose to represent your craft beer, the important part is that it grabs the attention of consumers. This can lead to some crazy designs…but before delving to deep down the design rabbit hole, consider the last two following elements.
    • Legible from a Distance and in Bad Lighting
      Bars are great places to drink and socialize, but often terrible places for merchandising and marketing because they’re crowded and have poor lighting. Beer tap handles are just as susceptible to these conditions. Techniques like laser-etching can help you create highly legible designs that everyone will be able to appreciate.
    • Function Before Form
      Sometimes the best laid tap handle plans can be undone by the reality of the bar that it lives in. Bars often have limited space for the taps. Thus, wider handles can sometimes fall victim to this lack of space and get turned sideways. This, of course, makes all of the hard work that went into the design a moot point. Don’t let your design get away from you–keep the overall footprint tall and skinny to ensure your brand is putting its best face forward.

According to an article from Paste Magazine, tap handles should “stay under one pound or it will pull a tap line open on its own

[…and…] a good tap should be no more than three inches wide and between 10 and 12 inches tall.” Keep these restrictions in mind as you craft your tap handles.

There’s a lot that goes into designing a stand-out tap handle. But, as this article from All About Beer argues, consistency from handle to handle is critical. You want consumers to identify your brand as you release new and seasonal craft brews.

These points are the foundation for designing a great handle. What are some of your favorite beer tap handles? Send us a picture of it on our Instagram @hoppybeergear and tell us why you love it!