Editor’s note: We’re chronicling how tech is changing the way we eat and drink as we lead up to this fall’s Food Loves Tech. Our annual deep dive into appropriate food and ag technologies returns to Industry City on November 2–3, 2018—stay tuned for updates and watch last year’s highlights here.
The Red Hook brewery is selling small-batch specialty beers exclusively via its updated 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 scores of beer enthusiasts queuing up outside breweries (as many as 2,000 people a day at Tree House Brewing Company in Monson, MA) for new releases of IPAs, particularly a New England style that is wildly and widely loved for its hazy appearance, citrus and tropical-fruit flavors and minimal bitterness. “It’s a bona fide homegrown style … one of the great organic and grassroots growth stories in [American craft beer],” says Sixpoint founder and brewmaster Shane Welch.
What’s essentially craft beer’s Cronut has created a new revenue stream, if not significant industry-wide paradigm shift, for breweries that produce and sell on-site, increasing profits by circumventing middleman distributors while also ensuring customers get the beers at their freshest. But waiting lines for these limited-edition ales, praised by some for their fanatic loyalty and community-building aspects, has become increasingly unwieldy.
Welch has been vocal about the inefficiency of waiting lines on popular Internet forums like Reddit. “Purchasing great beer should be seamless. Something is terribly awry when it’s the opposite,” he said in a recent interview. “We believe even the most hardcore beer fans agree with us,” he continued, and has previously offered a common tech world analogy to explain the app’s creation:
“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,” 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, 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 fall 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 continue 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 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 according to Welch “with all of the innovations we have in the pipeline, it is nothing but blue skies from here.”
An earlier version of this story ran on October 26, 2017. Niko Krommydas contributed reporting.