In my experience, the craft beer scene seems to run on two different but parallel tracks: tap rooms that look like charming, happy barns or garages and the distinctly modern. PizzaRev, which opened the other week next to International Paper, is the latter. It isn't being overly stylish. It's just really clever.
PizzaRev is a chain out of California where you can create your own pie — from the crust to sauce, cheese, and toppings, or you can choose a pizza from the menu. And it's good pizza, but what caught my eye was the self-pour beer system, which co-owner Robby Stewart told me isn't a PizzaRev thing at all. "I don't mean to make myself seem smarter than I am, but I was looking for a unique way to deliver beer."
So you pony up to the counter and order. They swipe your card and give you a little fob on a wristband which looks like a watch you'd get out of a Cracker Jack box. Mosey on over to a wall of 16 gleaming taps, each with a screen telling you about the brew. After you make a decision and a pour, the fob and the tap "chat" and keep track of what you've had. Usually, a 16-ounce pint glass measures 13 or 14 ounces of beer, plus gas and foam. Here you only pay for the beer.
- An “all-day, every-day flight”
"We sell pizza. It's a pizza place," says Stewart. But he's quick to admit that he also wanted to create a conversational draw. "In our first week, I saw people who didn't know each other striking up conversations about what they like and have tried. And that's what I wanted to do." The beauty of the self-pour system is that you aren't committing to a full pint. You can pour eight ounces. Or less. Or more. "It's an all-day, every-day flight," says Stewart.
The key to the experiment was developing relationships with local breweries. To do that, Stewart recruited Ryan Guess — mortgage banker by day, host of 600 WREG's The Beer Show, and president of Memphiscraftbeer.com. Guess poured me a pint (13.5 oz, actually) and explained that his mission with the wall was two-fold: providing local favorites, as well as introducing new flavors to the Memphis palate. Of the 16 beers on tap, eight are local brews — some standards, some short runs — and eight are carefully chosen craft beers from elsewhere. "There will never be a beer on that wall I haven't tasted," he says.
Macro-brews are available too, but the taps are for craft beers. Like Stewart, Guess is excited about the sampling for the simple reason that it promotes trying new things. And he's also excited about the beers Memphis doesn't know about yet. Guess changes the beers out with an eye to the seasons and because ... why not? Current selections can be tracked with the iPour app, which lets you rate favorites and take notes. It also will track how much you've had, which sounds like a bizzaro-world Fitbit to me, but to each their own.
The taps put on the brakes after you've had 32 ounces. If you've been there for more than an hour or so and have eaten a pizza, you can get cleared to have another. But, frankly, if you've quaffed 32 ounces of high-gravity double IPA, you've probably had enough. "We are a pizza place," said Stewart. "We've got families coming in here."
Why stop at one futuristic gizmo? The PizzaRev app lets you order from your phone while in the restaurant. Stewart told me about a customer who was sitting with friends, got hungry, and ordered a pie from his phone. They delivered it to his table.
"Wow," I said, "We've reached a tipping point in laziness."
"No," Stewart said, "We've reached a tipping point in convenience."
And so we have.