As we continue to trudge through life in the midst of a pandemic, it’s hard not to wonder when it will get back to normal. When will we be able to travel internationally again?
When will music venues get the green light to open their doors? When will we be able to squeeze our way through the throngs of people crowding the bar to hopefully make eye contact with the bartender to order a drink?
While it does sound liberating to be able to toss back a few brews at the local pub, spending more time trying to get a beer than actually drinking it doesn’t sound all that great. Fortunately, there’s a fairly new method for imbibing that might be the perfect cure for a public that’s itching to go out, but still timid from months of being told to socially distance and avoid crowds.
Pour your own beer (PYOB) is a concept that’s been popping up around the country – and it’s exactly what it sounds like. It’s a way for customers to circumvent the lines at the bar and go straight to the source: the taps that are usually out of reach behind a bartender who’s inundated with thirsty patrons.
Navigating the new norm
For Tim Enarson, co-owner of Navigator Taproom in Chicago, PYOB is much more than just getting a beer in short order. He describes the concept as a European beer festival every day of the week where customers can try new styles of beer and wine without breaking the bank. No longer are patrons forced to pay for a full pint if they’re not even sure they’ll like it. Drinks are paid for by the ounce.
“The beauty of PYOB is that you can get a great selection of beers and wines from around the city, country and world without spending a lot of time or a lot of money,” Enarson says. “In an hour, you could try 20 different beers for not much cost. At its heart, it’s a tasting room with no wait. You just set up a tab, walk up to the tap wall and start pouring.”
Navigator Taproom opened in 2017 in Chicago’s trendy Logan Square neighborhood, boasting a sprawling wall with 48 taps to offer something for everyone. For beer drinkers, there are lagers, sours, pilsners, IPAs, brown ales, porters and stouts – and that’s just the short list. For those that prefer wine, whites and reds and rosés are offered. Ciders, seltzers and kombucha are available, as well.
If a customer is frozen in their tracks by the slew of choices, digital screens above each tap provide a brief
description of where the drink was made, tasting notes, alcohol content and bitterness units. Customers can even sign up for a service that alerts them when new beer kegs are tapped.
During the pandemic, Navigator Taproom has thankfully been able to continue to operate. And it’s been able to do so in a safe way in part due to the bar’s unique self-serve system.
Clean, disinfected glassware is stored below the taps for customers to grab, and a hand sanitizing station replete with tap condoms to limit exposure to surfaces flanks the tap wall. In addition to an outdoor patio, Navigator Taproom was given access to a commercial loading and unloading dock in its building with a large garage door that can be opened up for additional outdoor seating.
Wall of fame
Navigator Taproom’s tap wall is a 30-ft.-long stainless steel showstopper designed by Erik Swanson, the business’s other co-founder. Swanson has always been able to navigate his way around a CAD/CAM program, but he and Enarson needed help bringing the design of the bar’s tap wall to life. That need led the two gentlemen to Micro Matic, a powerhouse in the draft beverage industry.
Supplying the globe with draft beverage equipment and more than 80 percent of the world’s keg valves, Micro Matic has partnered with nearly every major beer maker – from Anheuser-Busch and Molson Coors to Stella Artois, Heineken and Modelo. But it’s not just the big boys; Micro Matic also supplies top-quality equipment to microbreweries, bars and restaurants worldwide.
“They are definitely the industry leader in terms of draft systems,” Enarson says, “and our system and install are absolute perfection because it’s from Micro Matic.”
Micro Matic produces an extensive line of standard catalog components to service the draft beverage industry, but the company also makes build-to-order systems specifically designed for customers, like the one at Navigator Taproom.
According to Jeffrey Crowell, Micro Matic USA’s engineering manager, metals fabrication has always been at the heart of the company. In 1953, when its doors first opened for business, it functioned primarily as a custom fab shop.
“Micro Matic was founded in Denmark nearly 70 years ago, starting out as a job shop making parts for local OEMs,” Crowell says. “Around that same time, breweries were building all of their kegs and valves themselves, but they wanted to get away from that. They didn’t want to be keg manufacturers; they just wanted to brew beer. That’s when Micro Matic offered to standardize the keg valves. Thanks to their efforts, there are now only six types of keg valves used throughout the world. Today, we produce a large portion of them – up to 80 percent, in fact.”
With fabrication shops located around the world, Micro Matic is able to service customers on almost every continent with decent proximity. Its U.S. headquarters in Brooksville, Fla., serves as home to the bulk of its North American fabrication. In regard to the company’s build-to-order systems, 95 percent of what is fabricated is made of stainless steel, cut on a Prima Power CO2 laser, formed with an Allsteel press brake and TIG welded with Miller Electric welders. The company’s fab shops also feature various types of finishing and polishing equipment.
“Once the systems have been built in our facility, we pass the baton to certified Micro Matic installers to place the systems in restaurants and bars around the country,” Crowell says. “We contract installations in Chicago, New York and South Dakota – we have certified partners in every corner of the nation.”
Cheers to accuracy
Prior to opening in 2017, Enarson and Swanson were working around the clock to open their doors. And when they did, thirsty drinkers from around Chicago flooded in. Humbly, Enarson is quick to share credit with his partners along the way, including Micro Matic as well as PourMyBeer, the Chicago-based PYOB tech company on which Navigator Taproom relies.
PourMyBeer was founded in 2014 by Josh Goodman out of his garage and on a shoe-string budget. Since then, Goodman has seen his business gain significant traction and sales, eventually getting a key round of funding from Coca-Cola, which took a 25 percent stake in the company. Enarson says that PourMyBeer is a perfect partner based on several factors, including proximity, the company’s Austrian-engineered high-velocity tap screens and, of course, its standing in the industry. Today, PourMyBeer has more than 7,000 taps in 24 countries.
“We couldn’t have started a self-pour taproom without the early assistance and support of Josh Goodman and the PourMyBeer team and system,” Enarson says.
Stuever & Sons, the installer that made sure everything was ready for opening day, is also on Enarson’s list of those he owes gratitude. The company, a certified Micro Matic equipment installer that specializes in professional beer and wine equipment services, installed Navigator Taproom’s tap wall and was also responsible for the cooler that houses the dozens of kegs required for the variety of beverages that are available onsite.
“The tap wall is great, but that’s just the outward facing customer experience,” Enarson explains. “The cooler behind it that Stuever & Sons installed is incredibly impressive, too. That’s where a lot of the PourMyBeer technology lies, like the components that let customers know exactly how much they’re pouring.”
Truly, there’s something to like for both the purveyors of PYOB establishments and their customers. By tracking the amount of beer poured down to the ounce, little is wasted, keeping bar and restaurant owners’ costs down. And for customers that might not have time for a full pint, no problem. They can pour and pay for half a glass, which, as a pro tip, is a great cost-saving strategy at last call.