By Andrea Busche
The Self-Pour Revolution Arrives in Superior With a Long List of Brews to Choose From
Imagine a world where rather than having to pay for a full pint of beer you aren’t sure you’ll enjoy, you can sample as little as a single ounce. In this same unique setting, you don’t even wait for a busy bartender; you simply scan a wristband and pour the beer yourself – as much or as little as you’d like.
Add in the fact that there are a whopping 40 options to choose from (including beer, cider, hard iced tea, seltzer, wine and even premixed cocktails) and many would agree – you’ve found yourself smack-dab in a beverage utopia.
This self-pour revolution now exists right here in Superior at The Tap on Tower. Owner Jordan DeCaro discovered the technology being used elsewhere and knew he wanted to bring it to the Twin Ports.
“Superior is evolving and changing, and they really care about their small businesses. I want to thank
the community of Superior for a warm welcome.”
– Owner Jordan DeCaro
“I did a lot of research on the self-pour concept,” he said. “I looked at videos to see what was trending and saw this new way of how things were being done. I found a company called iPourIt, based in California, and realized the technology was already being used in Minneapolis at a taproom called First Draft Minnesota. I visited and was amazed at what a cool concept it was and how people reacted to it. I said, ‘We have to bring this back to Duluth.’”
The Duluth Tap Exchange
DeCaro began his new venture by launching Duluth Tap Exchange, located at 1905 W. Superior St. in Duluth’s Lincoln Park neighborhood. The business opened January 18, 2020.
After experiencing much success in Duluth, DeCaro decided to expand his business to the other side of the bridge and opened The Tap on Tower at 1106 Tower Ave. on November 1, 2021. This concept of expansion applies to the actual space, too. While Duluth Tap Exchange measures in at a cozy 1,700 square feet, The Tap on Tower is a much roomier 2,700 square feet.
Both locations also feature a full bar to provide even more options. Food is available for purchase from The Tap on Tower, and both establishments also welcome patrons bringing in their own food.
A Born Entrepreneur
DeCaro is one busy guy, since he is also in the real estate business. He’s the team lead for the RE/MAX affiliate Jordan DeCaro Real Estate Team, which is based in Duluth. He shared a bit about his professional ambitions, which only continue to grow with time.
“The style is very clean … The brick gives it a rustic feel. It’s a little bit more stylish and elegant.”
– Bartender Sarah Etchison
“I believe the entrepreneurial spirit is ingrained in you,” he noted. “When you achieve success with a project, it feels so good. And once you open one business, it becomes easier to open another. I believe you miss any shots you don’t take. And hopefully, I’m also setting an example for other young adults who want to start their own business.”
The Superior Location
The Tap on Tower is housed at the site of the former Sclavi’s Italian Restaurant. DeCaro was able to purchase the building rather than leasing it – a savvy business move for this real estate pro. “If we do end up growing again, we will continue looking toward long-term investments,” he noted.
When it came to renovating the building, much was done to convert the former restaurant to a taproom. A vestibule and temporary walls were removed, and windows, which were located in the former commercial kitchen area, were unblocked. This also added some much-needed natural light to the space.
The walls were deconstructed enough to expose the vintage brick, which adds to the space’s rustic, industrial vibe. Pendant lights were hung and wood paneling was added – much of which was reused and repurposed from the demolition.
In fact, The Tap on Tower employee Devin Garrett, who also owns Lake Wood Designs in Duluth, milled some of the old wood and used it to construct tables, bar tops and wall paneling. A mix of regular and high-top tables can accommodate roughly 70 patrons. There are also 12 TVs, so patrons can enjoy the “big game” (featuring primarily Wisconsin teams, but the staff also takes requests).
“We’ve paired with PJ’s Rescue… we’ve done dog pictures with Santa, we’ve done a toy drive for animals, where customers received 20 percent off with a donation.”
– Manager Jenna Bettschen
“The style is very clean,” noted bartender Sarah Etchison. “The chairs are black metal, and the color scheme includes gold on the signs, navy blue walls and a white accent wall. The brick gives it a rustic feel. It’s a little bit more stylish and elegant.”
And The Tap on Tower offers two bars, where customers can order non-tap drinks and food. A popular drink option is the mimosa, including bottomless mimosas, mimosa towers and mimosa flights, featuring different mix options such as cranberry, strawberry-kiwi, tropical punch, pink grapefruit and more.
A separate nook offers a place for ordering food. Choices include: frozen Shelton’s Pizzas, which come from Saginaw, Minnesota; German pretzels (served with either nacho cheese or mustard), sourced from Duluth’s Best Bread; popcorn from Duluth Candy Company; and ice cream from Duluth-based Love Creamery. Similar to the Duluth location, patrons are also welcome to bring in outside foods, preferably from a locally-owned restaurant.
Fun Events Also Support Good Causes
Jenna Bettschen, who is the manager for both locations, noted that special events are also held at the taprooms. “We’ve paired with PJ’s Rescue [a cat and dog rescue organization in Cloquet], we’ve done dog pictures with Santa, we’ve done a toy drive for animals, where customers received 20 percent off with a donation, and we’ve held costume contests for dogs. We’ve also done a plant-and-sip with Engwall Florist and a paint-and-sip with Grace Interiors.
“We’re trying to do a few events a month,” she added, also noting that trivia is available once a week at the Duluth location and is being planned for Superior, too. The Tap on Tower can also be reserved for private events.
What’s On Tap
When it comes to what’s on tap, there is a 40-beverage rotation that changes often – sometimes daily. Options include beer, seltzer, cider, hard tea, premixed cocktails and wine. DeCaro and his team like to keep it local whenever possible, featuring beverages from Wisconsin (such as Untitled Art and New Glarus Brewing Co.) and Minnesota (including Bent Paddle Brewing Co., Ursa Minor Brewing, Castle Danger Brewing and more).
“We carry a lot of local beers on tap, so people feel like they don’t need to visit every brewery,” said Andi Murphy, The Tap on Tower’s bartender and weekend supervisor. “People just love the varieties. And we also have a suggestion box.”
Cloquet, Minnesota resident Travis Rousse has been visiting the Duluth Tap Exchange since it opened and was excited about going to The Tap on Tower, too, because he enjoys the self-pour experience. “I love to try a lot of different types of beer,” he said. “Something new always pops up, and you never have to wait for a bartender.”
“People just love the varieties. And we also have a suggestion box.”
– Bartender and Weekend Supervisor Andi Murphy
His favorite selections are typically of the IPA (India Pale Ale) variety. “The hoppier, the better,” he said. “I really like WarPigs Foggy Geezer, but Ursa Minor always has good stuff, too.”
Rousse, who typically visits with a friend, has also ordered food from both OMC Smokehouse and Corktown Deli & Brews and brought it right in to enjoy. And he’s certainly a loyal customer; he possesses the unique distinction of the most ounces poured – currently over 3,000. It’s an easy statistic to track, as everything is monitored with trackable, wristband technology.
How the Self-Pour Experience Works
Using self-pour technology is surprisingly easy. DeCaro provided these helpful step-by-step instructions.
“You walk in and will be greeted by a host at the front. You provide your ID and credit card and receive a wristband, which is considered your ‘tab.’ There are 40 tablets – one for each beer,” he explained. “You select your beverage, scan the logo on the tablet with your wristband, the light turns green, and then you pull the tap handle. Patrons are asked to select a fresh glass for every beverage. When you’re done, you simply ‘tab out’ by meeting the host at the front or back before you leave.”
Choose Your Brews
The Tap on Tower offers a 40-beverage rotation that changes often. Here’s a recent example:
• Wollersheim Winery Prairie Fume
• Archer Roose Bubbly
• Bent Paddle Brewing Co. Cold Press Black
• Ursa Minor Brewing Dulutherweisse
• Warpigs Brewing Foggy Geezer
• Revelation Ale Works Cherry Sour
• New Glarus Brewing Co. Moon Man
• 3 Sheeps Brewing – The Wolf Pistachio, Cocoa Nibs, and Vanilla
• Bent Paddle Brewing Co. Wilderness Tuxedo: Papaya and Blood Orange
• Surly Darkness Blueberry Crumble
• Coors Brewing Co. Coors Light
• Dos Equis Lager Especial
• Pabst Brewing Co. Heileman’s Old Style
• Surly Brewing Co. Darkness
• August Schell Brewing Co. Schell’s Dark
• Untitled Art Florida Seltzer Blood Orange and Pomegranate
• Founders Brewing Co. Mas Agave Premium Lim
• Ursa Minor Brewing Constellation Cream
• Wild Mind Artisan Ales Wild Water Cranberry Pomegranate
• Third Space Brewing Mocha Java Porter
• Castle Danger Brewery Castle Cream Ale
• 3 Sheeps Brewing Chaos Pattern
• Half Acre Beer Co. Daisy Cutter
• Lagunitas Brewing Co. Little Sumpin’
• Surly Brewing Co. AxeMan
• Lexington Brewery and Distilling Co. Kentucky Vanilla Barrel Cream Ale
• Anheuser- Busch Busch Light
• Bell’s Brewery Two Hearted Ale
• August Schell Brewing Co. Grain Belt Premium
• Pabst Brewing Co. Hamms Genuine Draft
• O’so Brewing Co. Night Rain
• South Shore Brewery Nut Brown Ale
• New Glarus Brewing Co. Spotted CowTwisted Tea Brewing Co.
• Twisted Tea Hard Iced Tea
• Untitled Art Pixie Mix: Mystic Ice
• Blake’s Hard Cider Co. Berry Cranders
• 3 Sheeps Brewing Armchair Quarterback
• Sailor Jerry’s Spiced Rum Sailor Jerry and Coke
• Tito’s Handmade Vodka Moscow Mule
• Tito’s Handmade Vodka Screw Up
Both establishments offer a money-saving rewards program, too. “The rewards program is transferable to both locations,” Etchison said. “If you spend $100, you get $10 off, but there are occasional surprises, too – such as buy-one, get-one free pizza – and other coupons.”
DeCaro said that his customers have been enthusiastically enjoying the self-pour experience. “It’s really changing the market,” he said. “The older crowd loves the variety, and the younger crowd loves the control [of pouring your own]. I love our local breweries and cideries, but we can offer both options, along with spirits. It’s a great option for someone who wants to try different things.”
Staff and Hours
Between both locations, the business has 12 employees who work as bartenders, hosts and managers. Most team members are cross-trained to be able to work at both establishments.
The Tap on Tower is open Tuesday through Thursday from 4 to 10 p.m., Friday from 2 p.m. to midnight, Saturday from 11 a.m. to midnight, and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. The business is closed on Monday.
Grateful for Superior’s Warm Welcome and Support
The success of his two self-pour establishments has been a thrill for DeCaro. Speaking specifically of The Tap on Tower, he emphasized that getting his business off the ground was helped immensely by both his dedicated staff and Superior leadership, along with the city’s wide array of entrepreneurs.
“I’m proud of all of the support we’ve gotten and proud of our staff for making this business what it is today,” DeCaro said. “I’m also glad to be able to support local breweries, cideries and eateries who have fought so hard to succeed.
“Superior is evolving and changing, and they really care about their small businesses,” he added. “I want to thank the community of Superior for a warm welcome. We’re excited to be here and appreciative of everyone’s support.”
“At the insurance agency, we have 24 employees – and we have really loyal, talented employees,” he said. “I’m 52 now and will be in insurance for a while yet, but I want something to be tied to when I’m older. We want our employees in the insurance business to grow and have opportunities. So bowling might be my future – though I’m a really terrible bowler.” PS
Andrea Busche is a Twin Ports-based freelance writer.