Being the first to do anything craft beer related in Kalamazoo these days is a tough proposition, but Aaron VanArsdale is pioneering an untapped market in the city with Craft Draft 2 Go, a tap room focused on packaging beer to go in either 64-ounce glass growlers or 32-ounce aluminum Crowlers.
Taking home a growler has long been a staple part of microbreweries, but prior to a state law passed in 2013 it wasn’t legal for bars in Michigan to fill growlers. When the law changed, many venues throughout the state started offering draft beer to-go, but Craft Draft 2 Go will be the first in Kalamazoo to offer a wide variety of craft beer on draft with to-go sales being the cornerstone when it opens the first week of August.
“In Cincinnati you can get a growler filled at a gas station,” said VanArsdale, who owns the bar with his business partner Shayne Sherman. “In Oregon it’s booming. In Arizona it’s booming. You can get a growler filled just about anywhere. So Kalamazoo, why not? Why has nobody done this?”
Craft Draft 2 Go will serve craft beer with a side of some serious technology. The bar uses a digital pour system so people can see in real time how much is left of each keg on their website and Facebook page. If your favorite is in the red, you should probably ask the boss to leave early that day. New tappings are announced on their Twitter feed as well.
Another innovation Craft Draft 2 Go will focus on is Crowlers, a 32-ounce can that is filled directly from the tap and sealed right at the bar, introduced by Oscar Blues Brewery in late 2013. A CO2 nozzle purges the can of oxygen immediately prior to filling and the seal prevents air penetration, keeping the beer inside fresh for longer. Currently, Rupert’s Brew House is the only other Kalamazoo establishment offering Crowlers.
“To me it was a no brainer,” VanArsdale said. “The convenience of the can is you don’t have to remember to bring it back with you and it’s recyclable. It’s up to you to recycle it, but the can is convenient to take to the golf course, take it on the boat, take it to the race track. And then when you’re done with it you don’t have to worry about breaking it.”
VanArsdale said he’s been working on the idea for Craft Draft 2 Go for about three years, but it started becoming reality last October when he took possession of the space at 4520 Stadium Drive in the University Commons retail center formerly housing a Radio Shack.
Inside, it’s impossible to tell Craft Draft 2 Go was a defunct electronics store less than a year ago. The black and red walls are broken up by expanses of reclaimed barnwood and sections of whiskey barrels form the bases of pendant light fixtures hanging above the bar. More reclaimed barn wood went into building the tap room’s tables, and Michigan-themed art is prevalent. Bottle caps from Michigan breweries even cover the screws securing the drink rail to the bar’s outer walls. VanArsdale, a Navy veteran, is especially proud of the prominently displayed U.S., Michigan, and Kalamazoo flags.
“You want to do it right and go big,” he said. “But sometimes when you go big you lose the little details. I wanted to focus on making sure we didn’t miss any of the little details.”
Craft Draft 2 Go seats about 50, but the bar stools stop about two-thirds of the way down the 36-foot, poured concrete-topped bar so patrons who come in for growler and Crowler fills have plenty of room and a clear view of the 50 taps, 35 to 40 of which featuring Michigan beer, VanArsdale said. He’s committed six taps to Bell’s Brewery and another four to Latitude 42 Brewing Company. Two taps are nitro capable, one of which is used to serve Michigan-sourced cold-brewed coffee, and another tap is dedicated to serving root beer from Tibbs Brewing Company.
“We’re going to have Tibbs and One Well,” VanArsdale said. “We’re always going to have some of the other proven breweries in the state of Michigan—Dark Horse, Founders, New Holland. Besides that there’s a lot of other great beer out there in different parts of America we want to bring in. People doing good beer that you don’t always see.”
While the tap room’s focus is on giving craft beer lovers the biggest selection of to-go craft beer in Kalamazoo, it also will feature some compelling reasons to stick around and sample a few brews before selecting a couple to take home. A staffed private suite with two additional dedicated taps, bringing the bar’s overall total to 52, is available. The bar will have Kill the Keg Mondays, offering discounts on tap room pours for kegs that have been going the longest, and New Tap Tuesdays celebrating whatever went on tap to replace the previous night’s casualties. They plan to spin records on monthly vinyl nights and also have a monthly Bells night.
“We want people to feel like this is their local watering hole,” VanArsdale said. “Somewhere they can come in and have a beer, have a decent conversation and forget about life for a while.”
Photography: Steph Harding