When you walk into Draft & Vessel, a beer bar in Shorewood at 4147 N. Oakland Ave., the first thing you notice is its size. The intimate space, reminiscent of small basement bars in Europe, houses a beautiful, rustic wooden bar and a few tables. Yet the 16 taps are so thoughtfully curated that you may think you were in Portland if you didn't know better.
Draft & Vessel's Nat Davauer isn't your typical bar owner. He says he wanted to create a space that was part tasting room to share a pint with friends and part retail to take a growler to go. Draft & Vessel, which opened in October 2014, does not serve liquor and shies away from typical tap handles like New Glarus' Spotted Cow. Draft & Vessel also sells beer gifts and bottles of select beers.
"I call it a boutique liquor store, tasting room, tap room or beer cafe," Davauer says. "I try not to use the word 'bar' because it sets a certain expectation for people when they walk in."
Over the first few months that Draft & Vessel was open, Davauer says they averaged 100 beers per month, or about three per day. He says the reason Draft & Vessel can get more expensive beers like Belgian imports on tap is because they know the kegs will run dry quickly, partially from growler fills and partially from the crowd that shows up willing to pay for rare beers.
"Even if you have 100 on your tap list, you aren't moving those 100 beers very fast," Davauer says. "The big variety up front doesn't necessarily mean variety."
Davauer says the person behind the bar is a part of the experience. That person is bar manager Eric Gutbrod. Gutbrod talks to all of the beer distributors in Milwaukee to find a balance between local and national, light and heavy, and hoppy and mellow.
Despite an intimidating beer list for even the most avid beer geeks, Davauer says that Draft & Vessel welcomes all types of beer drinkers by having a variety of beer styles available.
"Conversation is a huge part of what people come here for," Davauer says. "We're looking to talk about beer. We're looking to answer questions and expand your horizons and enrich your beer world."
Draft & Vessel strives to be a destination, yet keeps its locals comfortable. Many of the bar's visitors live in the neighborhood.
"I usually ask, 'Where are you from?' and they point out the window and say, 'Right there!' They walk over from a few blocks away," Davauer says.
Somewhat crowded on weekends, Draft & Vessel may expand to the neighboring space that currently houses Waxwing, which Davauer also owns. However, Waxwing worked with Draft & Vessel in January to renew their lease for another year so, for the time being, Davauer is content to deal with space constraints and experiment with outdoor seating during the summer.
"In the end, it's really just two local businesses who are both more successful than either had anticipated," Davauer says. "I think Shorewood can be proud that they support local businesses to the point where there's not enough room for them all to fit."
One of the main reasons for wanting to expand the space is that Draft & Vessel hosts beer events and tap takeovers like the upcoming "Around the World" tap takeover that will feature 16 beers from 16 countries on March 30.