RANDOM LAKE, Wis. — If a tap handle behind the bar ever catches your eye, there is a very good chance it came from Hankscraft AJS in Sheboygan County.
Art director Cole Krueger says friends constantly ask him to confirm if he or his coworkers designed a specific handle.
“Sometimes it’s the first experience a customer has with that beer,” Krueger said. “They see a cool tap handle, pick that out and try a new beer.”
AJS is the country’s largest manufacturer of tap handles, producing thousands per week to send to breweries, who distribute them with their kegs. The vast majority of AJS tap handles are produced on site for clients in all 50 states and abroad.
When the pandemic halted production last spring, Hankscraft AJS president Eric Gruener knew his company could help. In April, AJS employees made thousands of face masks and shields for frontline workers.
By summer, it was time for AJS to pivot again.
“We launched a whole reopening series,” Gruener said. “We were still focused on the handles and those things, but what were the breweries and those taprooms going to need?”
One staple of any safe taproom these days is hand sanitizing stations. Parent company Hankscraft manufactured the dispensers, which AJS fills up and attaches to customized signage printed on an ultraviolet printer. AJS also used its high-tech printing capabilities to produce menu boards to cut down on contact between staff and customers. And with bar patios busier than ever, AJS designed custom cornhole boards with brewery logos to entertain drinkers who prefer to keep their distance outdoors.
“Anything that’s going to make their customers feel more comfortable coming back in and enjoying their great beer is what we’re trying to do,” Gruener said.
The last year has led many manufacturers to rethink the way they operate. Hankscraft AJS used every tool and technology at its disposal to make sure clients can do a lot more than “stand out at the tap.”