Tapping in: The Twelve Taps
‘cene’s resident drinks disciple Tom Ingoldby heads to the 12 Taps in Whitstable to find out why craft remains casual despite the national notoriety
Craft beer has very much gone mainstream. In a big way. Once the domain of hipsters and craft nerds, beers with weird names and strange flavours are now appearing on supermarket shelves, sitting alongside old stalwarts Stella and Becks. And even the big breweries are getting involved. Guinness, under their St James’ Gate guise have Hop House 13 designed to target the craft beer market, Heineken have bought shares in Beavertown (one of the legends of the craft beer world) and BrewDog is now so popular that everyone you know has a few cans of Punk IPA in the fridge.
The Twelve Taps in Whitstable, though, is fighting the good fight when it comes to the true meaning of craft beer. That is, small independent breweries making interesting beer because...well because they bloody love beer. Good beer.
Craft beer is at the very centre of what the Twelve Tap stands for. Libby, the co-owner alongside partner Becca, laughs when I suggest that they have a philosophy but that’s what they have. The “board”, that lists the 12 beers on offer reflects that. So how do you go about picking the beers, when there is now so much out there? Especially, when it came to that important opening night board, two years ago.
“They were our favourites at the time to be honest,” explains Becca. “We wanted some good locals up there, we wanted something cool up there.”
“So we had Beavertown - Magic Rock. We had lots of Time and Tide because we had worked so closely with them,” Libby remembers. “They’ve been around roughly the same amount of time as us and helped us with the equipment, so we learnt a lot from them and they took six places on our first board.”
While the bar opened at a time when craft beer was becoming more well known, this doesn’t mean it’s a haven for hipsters. When you first walk into the Twelve Taps you notice what a diverse crowd it attracts. Couples, locals, holiday makers and yes, the occasional hipster – beard in tow. That diverse crowd is reflected by the choice of drinks. There is something for everyone, making it unique to other watering holes in the town. Though there are somethings that they cannot cater for!
“There was this one guy who came in and was looking around,” Becca laughs. “And I caught his eye and asked ‘What are you looking for?’ ‘Fosters?’ I’d never be rude but we aren’t going to stock that here. But people like what they like and there are plenty of other places to get that.”
They have certainly cut out a niche in the town which, due to its close proximity to Faversham, is dominated by Shepherd Neame pubs.
“We were inspired by the American tap rooms,” explains Libby. “They don’t have taps on the bar so there is no big barrier between the bartender and the customer. We noticed that women are much more likely to sit at the bar there. We never call ourselves a pub, because we’re not. We’re a bar and we don’t want to create expectations around calling it a pub.”
This is true for a lot of places that serve craft beer. They aren’t going to compete with the more traditional boozer mainly because they offer something entirely different. You walk into most pubs in the country and you are likely to get the same drinks. Guinness, Fosters, Stella, or bottles of Peroni behind the bar. You get the same experience and, all too often, the same kind of decor (mainly those swirly grim carpets that hide the sick when Big Dave has one too many lagers).
On the other hand, every tap room you go into is unique. And despite their reputation as a haven for the cool kids and beer geeks, places like the Twelve Taps are incredibly warm and welcoming to new people, always looking to pass on their passion for new beer.
In fact that’s what craft beer culture is all about, introducing new and interesting beers to new people. Becca sums up it up by saying that “it’s not quite as stuffy as the traditional”. And it’s true. During the 90s and early 00s, lager and white wine were the King and Queen of the drinks world. Everything else was seen as something your Dad would sip in an old man pub that smelt of socks and toilet cleaner. Craft beer changed that. Suddenly it was cool to drink other beers apart from lager; like IPAs and bitters.
“It’s more inventive, more creative and there are more different things for people to try.” Becca continues.
Libby picks up the theme: “A lot of the time you will come in and not recognise something,” “And that’s not because you’re not cool enough, it’s because a lot of this stuff is brand new. And we’ll always give them a taste and the story of where it came from. We don’t want to serve stuff that you could get everywhere else Whitstable.
“That’s what we said on our opening line-up. There’s a beer for everyone. There’s a lot of people who would probably have said that they didn’t like beer but they hadn’t just tried enough different styles.”
That’s not to say that the occasional beer buff doesn’t come in.
“You get some people who are really nerdy about it,” Becca chuckles. “They won’t drink something that they have drunk before. It’s like a sticker book to them.”