ANDERSON TOWNSHIP, Ohio – When Big Ash Brewing Co.'s taproom opens this summer the new craft brewery will put tap handles directly into the hands of customers.
"We really like the idea of a self-serving taproom for a number of reasons," said Dave Emery, the future brewery's managing partner.
Big Ash will have the first taproom in Greater Cincinnati to open with a system of touch screens and radio frequency identification devices that allow visitors to pour their own draft beer. Big Ash's "tap wall" will feature six to eight of the brewery's beers, guest brews and wine for non-beer drinkers across 24 taps when it opens.
Emery hopes to open Big Ash Brewing inside the former Los Portales Mexican restaurant at 5230 Beechmont Ave. in Anderson Township by late August.
"There aren't a lot of them out there," he said of self-serving bars and breweries. "There aren't thousands of them in the U.S. There are only hundreds."
Three companies manufacture the self-serve tap systems in the United States, according to fellow Big Ash Brewing partner Doug Chase. The business partners are currently deciding which system to install in Big Ash's taproom.
Chase said each system operates in basically the same way. First time customers to Big Ash's taproom will set up a digital tab linked to a credit card or other method of payment. They will then receive a "digital key card" used to unlock the tap of their chosen beer before they pour. Chase said one system offers customers a plastic card to keep while another gives them a radio-frequency fob or wristband.
"That card or device then communicates electronically with the point of sale system," he said. "It either bills your credit card or you can wait to check out if you want to leave a tip at the end of the evening."
Each system Big Ash is considering will automatically charge a customer's credit card the balance of their tab if they leave the taproom's "electronic umbrella."
"But this is not a walk in the place and you are all on your own experience," Emery added. "We will have beermeisters there to explain how the tap wall works, how to pour beer and educate customers on the different types of beer. They'll be there helping costumers with their experience."
He said that customer experience is what made a self-serving taproom so appealing to himself and his partners.
"We've all been at the bar five-ten-fifteen minutes waiting to get the bartender's attention," Emery said. "You've got your staff then doing this zero-experience added activity of running around taking orders and filling pint glasses."
Big Ash is also partnering with Zablong Peculiar Pizza. The fast-casual pizzeria's space within the brewery will be its second location in Greater Cincinnati. The Charlotte-based Zablong began serving custom-made, fast-served Neapolitan-style pizzas at 23 E. Sixth St., Downtown in August 2017.
"Part of the reason the brewery is so exciting for me is I grew up in the area," said Steven Young, Zablong's founder. "I want to see more awesome places for people in Anderson to visit."
The brewery will also be selling Servatii soft pretzels and beer cheese.
"We're just going to offer a limited menu focused on quality food and pizza," Emery said.
The brewery will open with a seven-barrel brew house, plenty of seating and an outdoor patio as well.
Emery said Big Ash Brewing's taproom is an outgrowth of a now more than 50-member home brewers co-operative that he and a few friends started in his home in 2011.
"We set up the Big Ash Brewing Co. co-op and everyone (about 25 members initially) kicked in $200," he said. "We went out and bought equipment and built a nice brewery in my basement. Now we have a one-barrel brew system that's the rival of any brewery in town. It's a ton of fun."
He said discussions in the co-op about opening a public taproom began years ago. The co-op launched a Kick Starter-style community fundraising campaign in November 2017. The campaign raised about half the necessary capital to fund the taproom, with the rest secured through traditional financing.
Emery said there are more than 80 individuals invested in some way in the taproom project. He added, physical work on Big Ash's taproom should begins soon. The partners have secured the necessary permits and are currently finalizing the brewery's engineering and design plans.
"Our ultimate objective is when someone walks in the door they find the best beer that will making them happy within two minutes," Emery said.