Editor’s note: We kicked off our first annual Food Loves Tech event last summer in Chelsea—here’s a recap. We’re bringing a taste of the food and farming future back this year, but just across the East River at Industry City. This story is part of an ongoing series about technology’s effects on our food supply.
The Red Hook brewery is selling small-batch specialty beers exclusively via its new platform, and it’s easy as pie to use. After signing up and entering their credit card information, customers can order and pay for the cans when they go on sale and then pick them up from the brewery on the release date, usually a few days later, during an assigned time window—no lines and no waiting. The app also lets people find other Sixpoint beers nearby and read their descriptions.
The release aims to disrupt the nationwide trend of beer enthusiasts queuing up outside breweries for new releases of IPAs—in particular, a New England style that is wildly and widely loved for its hazy appearance, citrus and tropical-fruit flavors and minimal bitterness. (Simply put, it’s #juice.)
A significant paradigm shift in the industry, craft beer’s Cronut has created a new revenue stream for breweries that produce and sell them on site, increasing profits by circumventing middleman distributors while also ensuring customers get the beers at their freshest. But the waiting lines for these limited-edition ales, praised by some for their community-building aspects, have become increasingly unwieldy, forcing many brewers to adopt methods to contain or manage.
To limit crowds and increase efficiency, Tree House Brewing Company in Monson, Massachusetts, posts up-to-the-minute availability and wait estimates on Twitter (according to the New York Times, more than 2,000 people visit the brewery on most days), while Threes Brewing in Gowanus presells cans online and gives time windows for pickup.
A few miles west of Threes, Sixpoint is the first to administer on-premises sales with an app. Shane Welch, the founder and brewmaster, who has been vocal about the inefficiency of waiting lines on popular Internet forums like Reddit, offers a common tech world analogy to explain the decision:
“Before there was car culture there was horse and buggy culture, and that required taking an entire afternoon to travel back and forth to Manhattan on streets covered in manure. And it was a bumpy ride. Only the rich or those with an excess of leisure time could afford to house horses and take long, leisurely rides. But yes, there was a culture,” Welch begins. “Now before there was beer-app culture, there was beer-line culture. People would have to queue up and wait for hours to pick up beer, and sometimes waste one of their entire weekend days to make a simple transaction. And you could risk waiting for hours only to find out they’re all sold out. Our app is the start of a wave of innovation, and we believe we’re on the right side of history.”
Whether or not Welch will be recognized in future industry literature as a visionary of beer sales for this technology, Sixpoint’s new mobile payment system takes a step—or perhaps a tap of the finger—toward eliminating the long lines that have come to characterize these new releases. And as more people use a smartphone as the remote control for their finances, waving it or pushing a button on it to pay for things, the service could entice other breweries to develop similar products and make mobile payments for beer more widespread.
Welch says the aim is to offer two brews via mobile payment each month, coming in six-packs of 12-ounce cans. The app was launched late last month selling Toppin-ish, an IPA highlighting hops grown at Cornerstone Ranches in Toppenish, Washington, and Lil’ Raspy, a Berliner weisse brewed with raspberries that was previously only available on draft. (With each case purchase of the latter, customers also received a bottle of Raspy Sauce, a raspberry-jalapeño sauce designed to pour directly into the beer. The sauce was created in conjunction with the Jam Stand, a Brooklyn-based company.)
Notably, the release marked the first time that Sixpoint had opened its brewery in Red Hook to the public in over seven years. Tours of the facility on Van Dyke Street were stopped in 2010, and it has since been used for tinkering with existing offerings and devising new brews made in limited quantities. (The majority of the company’s production is done off site.) The special-edition cans continues this experimental verve.
But while Sixpoint has always billed itself as an innovator, it hasn’t been immune to catering to the current IPA frenzy. Recently, a new hire was made that got beer fans buzzing: Eric Bachli, formerly the head brewer at Massachusetts’ Trillium Brewing Company, perhaps the nation’s most highly regarded hops specialist today.
With the arrival of Bachli as chief product officer, it’s little surprise that Sixpoint’s second app release over the weekend included the first New England–style IPA called Smoothie. The ale debuted alongside Galacto, a Galaxy-dry-hopped sour beer, and both sold out in under 24 hours. Time will tell the app’s full effect, but so far, so good.