Central Florida Homebrewers March Madness Beer Pong Tournament 2 p.m. Saturday, March 23 | Taps From Scratch, 1809 E. Winter Park Road | 407-637-0553 | tapsfromscratch.com | $5 entry fee per teammate, $10 total per team; $20 tournament-day tasting room tour – includes sampling glass and sealed beer to go ($15 for returning members) Trophies and prizes for 1st place and runners-up
Picture this: A skunky college apartment on a Saturday afternoon, a co-ed's card table sticky with fizzed-out Natty Lite, a nonchalant round of beer pong percolating between roommates. It's a familiar scene – one we recognize and accept as a rite of passage for many bored, thirsty, broke 20-somethings who play the game to kill time and get wasted. It has its time and place – one would never conflate afternoon beer pong with the more cultured, sniftered regalia of craft beer.
Unless you're David Brunson, vice president of lagers at Central Florida Homebrewers and owner of keg service company/beer school Taps From Scratch in Audubon Park. Where others might see a culture clash, Brunson sees synergy. Beer pong is just a fun game, and beer drinkers – craft lovers, homebrewers and even college kids accustomed to drinking whatever's on sale – can bond over the beer pong table.
"Beer pong is the perfect way to … reach out to casual beer drinkers," says Brunson, whose business model is to sell kegs and "pub hubs" (custom kegerators) for people who want to have craft beer on tap in their homes.
Brunson is young and fit with a gray cap perched askew over his brow. He wouldn't look out of place in a fraternity house behind a pyramid of red plastic cups on a beer pong table. But instead he's relaxed on a sofa at Taps From Scratch, Brunson's multi-chambered beer studio on East Winter Park Road. When a fellow Central Florida Homebrewers member casually proposed a beer pong tournament to coincide with the 2013 NCAA Men's College Basketball Tournament in March, Brunson immediately offered Taps From Scratch to host the event. Thus the Central Florida Homebrewers March Madness Beer Pong Tournament was born.
"This is also just a great way to get a bunch of people together and have fun," Brunson says. "We're going to have a huge bracket board in the front lounge, so everyone can check and see who's won and lost – really create that 'madness' you get with college hoops. There's gonna be a band playing in the lounge, too. It'll be awesome."
Brunson says he thinks the event can be a boon for both his business and local craft beer drinkers. He says he thinks this beer pong tournament could be the thing that bridges the gap between the casual Bud Light drinker and the serious craft-beer connoisseur. Brunson talks about this goal as he sips a lowball of banana rye IPA, a homebrew gifted to him by a friend. He tops off his glass with a hazy pour, then moves to refill my glass – but not before asking me one very important question: "Is this a taproom? Are you paying for this beer?"
"No, and no," I reply. "This is a beer school."
"That's right," he smiles.
See, Brunson's company is not a bar, and it needs to be 100 percent in compliance with Florida law – in this case, he's got to abide by a regulation that permits the service of 3-ounce pours of alcoholic beverages only, the same rule that art galleries that give out wine at art openings must follow. Brunson is not allowed to sell beer inside Taps From Scratch, but samples are free with a paid tour of the premises. Most of Taps From Scratch's revenue comes from its keg-delivery program.
"When I started this, I realized that good beer – craft and homebrew – needed to be made easily available for people," Brunson says. "I have friends that were Budweiser, Shock Top guys. They tried craft beer, some of the stuff I've tapped here, and now they're Bell's Two Hearted guys, getting on me about what to try next."
Brunson has since taken on the role of craft-beer evangelist – he's made Taps From Scratch a comfortable place to hang out, with couches, chairs, video-game towers and local art on the walls. His next goal is to open a brewing school on premises, with classes each Wednesday and Saturday, in a converted break room that has walls decorated with empty malt bags. For $10 a month, he says, people will be able to learn to brew using Brunson's in-house kits and supplies. So whether you're into homebrew or just loafing around on a comfy sofa in a cool, social space, he wants Taps From Scratch to feel like home.
And again, Brunson wants the beer pong tournament to be like a beacon to people who have yet to believe that Taps From Scratch – or craft beer – has anything to offer them. Brunson says he hopes that beer drinkers of all stripes – traditional, craft and anyone who falls in between – will take part in the event. Come for the ambience and the tournament, come back again for the beer.