Creating a Pour Your Own Beer Experience at Chicago’s Navigator Taproom
How A Chicago bar features a showstopping 48-tap beverage wall that is like none other
“What’ll it be?” takes on new meaning at Navigator Taproom in Chicago, where patrons are able to pour their own beer – straight from the tap. Pour your own beer (PYOB) is a concept that’s been popping up around the country, allowing customers to skip the lines at the bar and serve themselves, using the taps that are usually out of reach behind the bar.
“It’s like a European beer festival every day of the week where customers can try new styles of beer and wine without breaking the bank,” says Tim Enarson, co-owner of Navigator Taproom. “Customers don’t even have to pay for a full pint if they’re not even sure they’ll like it. Drinks are paid for by the ounce.”
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. For those that prefer wine, whites, reds, and rosés are offered. Ciders, seltzers, and kombucha are also available.
“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 anhour, 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.”
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.
Building the taproom wall with Micro Matic
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 led the two gentlemen to Micro Matic.
A powerhouse in the draft beverage industry, Micro Matic has been supplying the globe with draft beverage equipment and most of the world’s keg valves. Having partnered with nearly every major beer maker, including Anheuser-Busch, Molson Coors, Stella Artois, Heineken, and Modelo, Micro Matic was the clear choice for procuring top-quality equipment. “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.”
Although Micro Matic produces an extensive line of standard catalog components to service the draft beverage industry, 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, metal fabrication has always been at the heart of the company. “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%, in fact.”
With fabrication shops located around the world, Micro Matic is able to service customers on almost every continent. Its U.S. headquarters in Brooksville, FL serves as home to the bulk of its North American fabrication. In regard to the company’s build-to-order systems, 95% 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.”
A look behind the wall
PourMyBeer was founded in 2014 by Josh Goodman out of his garage and on a shoestring 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% 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, it's standing in the industry. Today, PourMyBeer has more than 12,000 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 to. 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 keys 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 PourMyBeertechnology lies, like the components that let customers know exactly how much they’re pouring.”
The benefits of a PYOB System
There’s something to love for both purveyors of PYOB establishments and their customers. Here are a handful of benefits a PYOB beer system offers:
- Less Waste. 23% of inventory is lost to waste. By tracking the amount of beer poured down to the ounce, self-pour waste is less than 3%. In addition, customers who don’t have time for a full pint can pour and pay for half a glass (which happens to be a great cost-saving strategy at last call).
- Greater Efficiency. Self-pour systems are four times more efficient than any other method of dispensing. Customers can get drinks right when they want them on their own, decreasing labor by 20% and allowing existing staff to focus on providing more attentive service elsewhere.
- More Consistent Quality. Kegs are vacuum sealed and cooled, so drinks stay fresh for several weeks after being stored. This means customers get the same fresh taste on Day 60 as they did on Day 1, which helps keep them coming back.
By reducing waste and labor and improving efficiency and quality, self-pour systems increase profits by 45% or more! Plus, kegs reduce the use of bottles, making inventory easier, more economical, and more eco-friendly.
Today's "wall of fame"
The success of Navigator Taproom and others like it depends on operators, manufacturers, technicians, and installation companies working together. When Enarson and Swanson decided to open Navigator Taproom in 2017, they had a blank slate to work with. By calling on strategic partners Micro Matic and PYOB, they were able to create an operation and draft system that’s highly profitable – and very popular.
Today, Navigator Taproom is a rousing success. Thirsty beer and wine connoisseurs throughout Chicago and the world have been flooding in, proving that Navigator Taproom is not just a bar, but an experience.
EVERYTHING ON TAP
For over 60 years, Micro Matic has been recognized as one of the world’s leading suppliers of draft beverage equipment. Specializing in keg-to-glass technology, we offer a total solution for meeting beverage equipment needs. Our dedication to customer service is supported by four regional sales and distribution centers, the Micro Matic Dispense Institute for training and education, and a Certified Installer Network for installations. Want to speak with a “perfect pour” expert? Contact Micro Matic today.