Ohio craft beers to go mobile via taps in bed of truck

Tim Feran, The Columbus Dispatch

May 6, 2014

The booming craft-brewery sector will take its suds on the road, thanks to a teaming of disparate local business owners.

Ohio Taproom, a Grandview Heights company that sells Ohio brews and other products made in-state, will roll out its mobile taproom at a variety of events this year. Those include, appropriately, the Grandview Digfest, a June 14 celebration of local craft beer, wine and liquor, and the Tour de Grandview bicycling event on June 27.

The mobile taproom is just what it sounds like. Mounted on the bed of a pickup truck, the taproom consists of barrels of brew hooked up to taps that are mounted so they can be dispensed from the rear of the vehicle. A chalkboard, allowing the offerings to be updated, completes the setup.

The mobile taproom is a product of the kind of "happy accidents" that often occur at a new-business incubator, the Columbus Idea Foundry, said its CEO, Alex Bandar. The incubator is about to open at its new location at 421 W. State St., in the Franklinton neighborhood.

The mobile taproom started with Greg Solt, founder of AriesGate, an incubator company that is developing an aftermarket pickup tailgate workbench.

Solt decided to take a break and headed over to Grandview for a cold beer at the Ohio Taproom. As Solt chatted with Taproom owner John Evans, he explained the device he was developing, and the two quickly realized that it could be adapted to the needs of festival beer purveyors.

"We had a back-of-napkin discussion and sketched in how we could build it," Solt said.

"Greg's company produces these unique tailgates that have inserts that can be used for customer needs," Evans said. "In very simplistic terms, we're going to turn my Dodge 1500 pickup truck into a mobile taproom."

To make the idea a reality, the Idea Foundry linked them up with developers and designers and provided needed tools, Bandar said.

The design is so new, in fact, that the taproom is still being fabricated. It should be ready just in time for its first gig, the ribbon-cutting on the Idea Foundry's new digs near COSI Columbus, scheduled for May 30.

The final price of the mobile setup isn't certain, Solt said. The customizing work will cost between $5,000 and $7,000, depending on how many taps and how much beer Evans decides he wants to serve.

The idea is "phenomenal," said Mary MacDonald, executive director of the Ohio Craft Beer Association, "especially given the increasing number of beer festivals."

"It will make consumers happy. They get to sample some beers that might not be available in their part of the state. And the breweries get to expand their audience."

The mobile taproom is one more way in which Evans proselytizes for Ohio beers, said Kevin Atkinson of Homestead Beer Co., a craft brewer in Heath.

"He's really been a tremendous advocate for a lot of Ohio beers, both local and around the state," Atkinson said. "The Ohio Taproom was our first draft account in Columbus. We have 50 now. He's played a key role in getting us out there, and he's done that for a lot of breweries.

"This mobile taproom is taking it a step further - to festivals, private events, brick-and-mortar restaurants that have outdoor space."

Evans is "also clearly a shrewd businessman, always thinking of the next thing," MacDonald said.

Ironically, the rollout for the Columbus Idea Foundry ribbon-cutting won't include the kind of beer that contains alcohol because the organization doesn't have a beer license.

So Evans came up with "a brilliant idea," Bandar said. "Craft root beer. In fact, we're hoping to have some ice cream, too, so we can have root-beer floats."