Make no mistake: Bakersfield craft beer lovers are a dedicated crew. And that passion was in full force on Wednesday when neither rain nor rush hour traffic could keep them from Craft Tap House, the newest addition to the local imbibing landscape.
The patio of the Truxtun Avenue beer pub was vacant amid the steady drizzle but inside business was hopping as older professionals and millennials alike pulled up a stool and sampled beers.
Opened last Friday, Craft is one of a trio of new local craft beer players (along with Temblor Brewing Co., which opened in September, and Dionysus Brewing Co., set to bow later this year). But unlike the other two, Craft is not producing its beer but rather offering a vast lineup from breweries in the area (Kern River Brewing and Lengthwise) and beyond (Modern Times, Allagash and Dogfish Head).
Craft’s signature feature is in its beer distribution, utilizing the “pour your own” design that Imbibe Wine and Spirits Merchant, its neighbor down the street, is doing with wine.
And that’s no coincidence since Imbibe owner David Dobbs is one of four partners in the business. He’s teamed with Mike Miller, owner of Amestoy’s on the Hill; Collin Reimer, co-owner of Prime Cut, J&M’s and Village Grill; and Jeff Hentges, previous owner and operator of Cambria Ale House.
Dobbs said after he saw this type of self-pour system about three years ago in San Diego, he started brainstorming how to bring that to Bakersfield.
“It’s a genius concept,” Dobbs said. “The beauty of the system is you don’t have to buy a pint. You don’t have to wait for a server. There is no waiting for a beer.”
Incoming customers head to the front counter to open a tab and obtain a card, which can be taken to any of the taps. The taps’ touch screens offer details about the beer along with how much it is per ounce, with a range of 35 cents to 75 cents. People can then pour the desired amount with the screen noting how much has been tallied on the card.
The cards stop when the person hits 32 ounces (24 on the higher-alcohol content brews), requiring a check-in at the counter before the card is reactivated to continue sampling.
Down the line, customers will have the option to purchase pre-paid cards, allowing them to bypass the counter line.
In a robust opening week, Dobbs said he has gained a newfound respect for restaurateurs and “the energy it takes to get a plate in front of somebody.”
He is assisting in daily operations, which are run by general manager Staci Nicholison and the staff of 27.
Joking there aren’t enough hours in the day, Dobbs said he has been shooting back and forth along Truxtun between Craft and Imbibe.
“Without that (proximity), I don’t know how I’d do it. It was a factor in choosing that location.”
Dobbs scouted sites in the southwest and further downtown before picking the former home of the healthy buffet Garden Spot, which closed in late 2014.
After finalizing plans, it took about nine months to bring Craft to life. Other than a dividing wall, the space has completely changed with renovated bathrooms, railed-in patio and an open industrial design featuring high tables with stool seating.
Flat-screen TVs, against one wall displaying whatever games are being played, share real estate with a digital jukebox. Satellite radio playing a stream of drinking music — including ELO — provides background noise when the jukebox is not in use.
The right-angled bank of 50 taps is front and center when customers walk in, with monitors above the taps displaying the list of available beers. The list is also available as a paper menu and via the TapHunter app (and website taphunter.com), which alerts users to craft beers located at partnering businesses.
Popular in larger cities with a robust craft beer presence, the app has already helped draw people from Los Angeles in Craft’s opening week.
Another unique feature at Craft is its four nitro taps. The method of using nitrogen gas, developed by Guinness brewers in the 1950s, helps produce a super-rich, creamy foam on draft beer. (This week, North Coast Old Rasputin, King Harbor IPA, Moylan’s Dragoons Dry Irish Stout and Modern Times Black House Stout were on nitro.)
There are 13 categories of beer from ales of every shade to porters, ciders and sour beers, which Dobbs notes are very hot right now.
Eventually the taps may be arranged grouping similar beers together but Dobbs said he likes some variety to encourage people to explore their options.
Based on a good working relationship, a number of breweries set aside kegs specifically for Craft’s opening. Being able to offer a selection of limited-edition brews remains one of Dobbs’ goals.
“There are a lot you read about but you don’t see them. You certainly don’t see them in Bakersfield,” he said of featured beers.
Of the 50 taps, Dobbs said 20 will remain staple selections while the other 30 will rotate based on availability. By Wednesday night — the sixth since opening — Craft had rotated out seven kegs.
By next week, the pub will be serving wine and a full bar with specialty cocktails is in the works in the next month.
Of course, Craft is not all about the beer. The extensive menu of appetizers, sandwiches, brats and sausages (from Prime Cut, served on Pyrenees bread), salads, flat-bread pizzas and entrees offers diners plenty of choices.
Dobbs said they offer some of the best burgers ($10-$14) in town, including braised short rib stuffed and lamb options.
Starters such as the tacho (tater tot nachos with bacon and Hefeweizen cheese sauce, $8), tempura-battered zucchini spears ($8) and Hawaiian ahi poke stack ($13) have been popular from the start. For lighter fare, Dobbs recommends the tossed cobb salad with salmon ($12 for salad, $5 to add fish).
And he hopes with time that more diners will explore the entrees, including a maple whiskey-glazed salmon ($21) and seared ahi ($24).
“We test-drove all of them. They’re wonderful.”