Editor’s note: One of our first articles was on the Badassness of the guys at Liquid Glass Co blowing beer tap handles out in Ramona. This weekend they are opening up their shop so anyone can go check out the process. It’s worth the effort to get there and support local business. Go check it out if you can.Plus Dan shaved his beard recently, and is starting it fresh. If he wouldn’t have done it for charity I’d call him an ass for doing it, but he almost raised $1000 for a good cause. Way to go Dan. Now grow that thing back so I can respect you again.
Previously published December 29th, 2014.
Liquid Glass Co’s main base of operations is out there. Off the main highway through Ramona, CA a few twists and turns, over hills and bends you leave blacktop for dirt. You’ll roll up to a large metal shed with open garage doors on two sides. Classic rock will be floating along the breeze. Inside you’ll find Dan and Justin (and Greg-who was not around that day), along with a few rotating assistants working with molten glass that gets up to 2200 degrees.
Dan invited us out to talk about making beer tap handles out of glass, and watch a cow skull vase be made. It was pretty badass. We started with a tour of the shop. One end was devoted to the craft of working with glass. There was fire, blowtorches and tools that wouldn’t look out of place in a torture chamber. Justin was working on creating a lemur out of glass based on a photo he had seen in an animal book, and a few locals were helping with the process.
Stay to the right of the small brick wall and go past the house, studio is located down below. The road will drop down and come to an end at a house, take a right at the last driveway and you will see our big metal shed with 2 roll up doors.
The first thing we saw was the “Glory Hole” which is the technical term for the front of the oven containing a ceramic bowl of molten glass. They pull heated glass from the rear of the oven and then reheat it as needed through the glory hole in the front where it is a little bit cooler. The hole is cut into doors that can be opened if a piece is bigger.
The glass inside is completely clear. They add color later by using various powders of metal and mineral. They were using glass that has formerly at the Westin Hotel in San Diego. They were repurposing it into tap handles, vases and art pieces. I spoke with Dan about how he got started working with glass and making tap handles for local bars.
SoCal Sessions: How did you get started glass blowing?
Dan: Palomar college. I saw there was program there and took it. And just got stuck on it. I’ve been doing it like 10 years. (Justin has been doing it like 15 years)
And you do it as art or?
It’s a side gig, a hobby. If it ever pays more than Stone (He is the San Diego sales manager at Stone Brewing) maybe I’ll think about it as a living. The tap handles are what really push the business.
The tap handles are what really got me. I just didn’t realize there was a person making those tap handles. I thought they just arrived from some mythical factory somewhere.
So after we blow them, we still have to cut them and drill them. And we mount the hardware to them. We don’t just glue that on (the connecting base) because that’s “chincy” We use a drill press with a water feed.
And you can just drill into glass?
You can drill into anything. These are the beginnings of some future ones we are going to do. So we have a feather, we have a revolver so this one will be a tap handle.
We have other ones we’ve already sold. Where we ‘diamond polished’ the tips so it looks like a diamond up on top. These are some we are working on for a bar up in Oceanside. The owner wanted a tap handle of our (Stone’s) salesman’s face, and my rep up there, Dave, has a beard so we did this with his beard. That will be their tap handle. We just have to drill it and mount it.
So you just blow it, drill it, mount it and you’re ready to go?
It took us forever to figure all that out. It took years.
Where can we see your tap handles?
They are at Iron Pig Alehouse, Churchhills, Main Tap Tavern in El Cahon, The Blue Point and then across the country. Out in Maine, Ebenezer’s Pub and Lion’s Pride Pub [have them]. Those two are consistently rated as the top beer bars in the country and they have all of our handles.
What does a tap handle cost?
Anywhere from $50 for just a bargain basement up to like 150-200 if it’s all like diamond tipped and polished. Mostly around 80-100$
With all these different tap handles and different colors, you must have to go into it with a plan, a goal of what the outcome is going to be. So if a bar owner comes to you and wants a specific look you know you can do that.
We take custom orders, but a lot of times we just do runs. I’ll make like 100 handles and just do different stuff and see what sells well. When something sells well we do runs of those. Like Chargers colored tap handles. They sell like crazy. We can never keep those in stock. Anything blue and yellow sells.
For just being a side gig Dan is committed to glass blowing. Taking sculptural classes and spending summers at the Pilchuck Glass School. Learning new skills that will enable them to expand the sculptural-styled offerings of their tap handles. Advancing beyond shapes into artistically designed taps like the feather, revolver or bearded salesman they are already working on.
I’ve never been an artist. I’m not an artist. I can’t draw I can’t paint my handwriting is like chicken scratch. I’ve never been an artist at all, but I kind of fell into this. -Dan McStocker
We finished the tour. Dan and Justin began to work on the cow skull. They had made flowers for eyes and horns the day before to help speed up the process. The next two hours were like watching an action thriller. The creation of the skull was intensive and required a lot of teamwork and collaboration. Both glass-blowers reiterated several times that they couldn’t have done this alone. If you’re going to go beyond simple vases or bowls you need a team.
This was Dan’s project so he was the lead, but that didn’t stop Justin from making sure the work was on point. In addition to shaping the glass using all variations of pullers, pushers, crimpers and shapers the glass needed to be kept at a high temperature to prevent it from cracking. That meant constantly shoving it into the glory hole to be reheated or spot heating with blowtorches.
Often when rotating the skull in the oven the shape would start shifting, and I’d start panicking that it was going to fall. At the last possible second it would all seem to work out, and Dan would start shaping again. At any point if they let the glass connecting the piece to the rod get too cool it could crack, and the whole thing would crash to the floor costing them a days work. Glass blowing is not for the faint of heart. They added color by rolling the glass through powdered minerals & metals, or by sifting colors over the top letting it settle down like light snowflakes.
The process requires a toughness to survive, but also a deft touch to know when to apply pressure, when to go slow and when to reheat. They also had to work in concert with each other, direct helpers for the moments when they both work working with 2000 degree glass and needed a door opened, and be able to handle the stress of not knowing for sure the outcome. When the assembly was finished Justin covered his body in oven gloves and towels and manually put the piece in a kiln to cool overnight. It would reduce in temperature about 100 degrees per hour until it was cool enough to be exposed to the air without cracking. Again, the whole thing is pretty badass. And did I mention, blowtorches?
Contact Liquid Glass Co if you are interested in purchasing a tap handle or art piece, commissioning a specific piece. They host two open house demo days a year. Just before Christmas and again before Mother’s Day. Stay tuned to their website and SoCal Sessions for updates on events.