Saturday, December 23, 2017

☸️ Draft Taproom, Charlottesville

A row of self-serve beer tapsI’ve never been to, or heard of, a craft beer bar like this one. Leave it to a college town like C’ville to show me something new. This article details our visit to Draft Taproom in Charlottesville, Virginia. In a phrase, it was self-serve-beer-oh-my-god.

Kelly and I took a drive down to Charlottesville to meet up with friends last weekend. Kathy was in town for a company Christmas party, and her husband Mike spent the weekend with her. They live nearby us, so it was a weekend not far from home for both.

Our first stop was a local Mexican restaurant, Mono Loco, which has been a regular dining experience for us for years. Their shrimp burritos and jalapeño Margaritas were a magnet for repeat visits.

Let’s just say that something has changed – owner or kitchen staff – and we were unimpressed with our visit this time. Perhaps it’s the universe’s way of telling us to move on.

No matter. Our second stop was the highlight of the evening. We spent more time at Draft Taproom than we did eating dinner, and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. Our friends have developed palates for Belgian ales, and they were happy with the experience. I was delirious at the prospect of sixty taps of self-serve beer, and not just any beer, but craft selections from local breweries as well as from around the US and Europe.

The visit began with a stop at the cashier. He opened a tab for each couple with a credit card, then associated a credit card-sized RFID card with the appropriate tab for each person. After that we were on our own.

The space is practically all taproom. Beer storage and delivery are concealed behind the two walls of taps, and a small food service bar and water tap are tucked near the back. Restrooms are at the rear. The bulk of the space is given over to long, cocktail-height tables and bar stools. Widescreen televisions display sports and news channels, while a sound system plays a soundtrack very similar to what I play for myself on Pandora.

The ambience is collegial and relaxed, and not overly loud. The place is a testament to what my brother-in-law refers to as “the power of beer.” People are friendly here.

Getting beer at Draft Taproom is straightforward: pour it yourself, as much or as little as you like. Paper tap lists are scattered around the room, and each tap bears a small (5”x4”, approximately) LCD displaying the name of the beer, its maker, and its ABV rating. Grab a glass from under the taps, pick a beer, place the RFID card against the LCD screen, and pour. The beer is metered by the ounce, and ounces accumulate against your tab as identified by your card. The taps won’t open without a card.

There are a half-dozen nitro taps. Nitro taps are those attached to a keg charged with nitrogen. Nitrogen bubbles are smaller than CO2 bubbles, and produce a creamier beer in the glass. Anyone who’s enjoyed a Bodington’s Pub Ale (it was on tap here) or a Guinness draft style beer knows the effect.

The array of beer is diverse and changes regularly. They had only three lagers when we visited, but a wide variety of amber ales, pale ales, IPAs, porters and stouts were on tap. They even had three sours and a Flanders red ale that night. Hard cider and wine are also available.

Glassware was available in sizes ranging from a four-ounce sampler to a ten-ounce snifter to a pint glass.

We spent a couple of hours sampling and talking before wandering up to the cashier to settle up. He scanned the RFID cards and totaled each tab. Payment is completed with the ubiquitous Square register, and a tip can be added to the beer and food total. Tables are bussed by employees, and there’s a crew working the food service bar in the back, so tips are both earned and welcome.

Draft Taproom is located right on the pedestrian mall in Charlottesville, so if you’re in the neighborhood and looking for a beer place, this is a terrific stop.


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