In true Wisconsin fashion, the largest manufacturer of beer tap handles in the country is located in Sheboygan County. That company now is competing for the title of the 'Coolest Thing Made in Wisconsin'.
Hankscraft AJS Tap Handles in Random Lake, Sheboygan County makes tap handles for hyper-local microbreweries all the way up to companies like the publicly traded Molson Coors.
“So we do roughly half a million tap handles a year, so it’s large," Eric Gruener, the president of Hankscraft AJS said.
Their conference room has a display for all the taps they've made. Hundreds of taps are arranged like trophies. In fact, they have three taps that have won national and international awards for tap handle design.
"It's fun, right? It's an extension of their marketing. They put so much into you know the beer, into the creation of that beer, into the marketing for it, and the labeling, and the packaging, and all that. The last thing the consumers going to see before they order one of those beers is the tap handle," Gruener said.
That's why Gruener wants to make sure his taps stand out among his competitors. And it all starts with dominating the local market. Being that Hanksraft AJS is from Wisconsin, they have worked with many of Wisconsin's breweries from Mob Craft to Miller to Badger State and just about any other brewery you could think of.
“Those draft lines have a lot of competition, right? And, you know, what can we do to build a handle that’s going to help them stand out among all those competitors that are out there?" Gruener said.
Hankscraft AJS is part of an annual competition called the Coolest Thing Made in Wisconsin. It's designed to promote the manufacturing industry in the state.
“We absolutely feel like this is the coolest thing made in Wisconsin, right? How much more Wisconsin do you want to be than beer tap handles in a beer state," Gruener said.
According to the Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce organization, which runs the competition, manufacturing is a $70 billion business in the state. One in six Wisconsinites works in the industry.
“Cause it’s all different beer companies, and they compete against each other, and we love doing it. So it’s an awesome thing to do," Lashaun Chandler, who works in the woodshop at Hankscraft AJS said.
There are more than 100 companies in the competition from frozen pizza to industrial warehouse machines to beer tape handles.
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