Sixpoint Brewery is bringing a little technological disruption to the industry in hopes of making the seemingly simple act of buying beer direct from the source more convenient for customers.
The first significant release from the brewery’s newly established product development team, the forthcoming Sixpoint app works by allowing users to purchase beer on their phones that they are then free to pick up at their leisure. The beta version of the app, which was developed in partnership with digital design studio Posse, will be available Friday. And on Monday at noon, Sixpoint beers Lil’ Raspy Raspberry Berlinner Weisse and Toppen-ish IPA will become available for purchase through the app for pickup on Sept. 30.
“There’s clearly a demand and desire to go directly to the brewery and get beer. That demand is very well documented and it’s visible,” says Sixpoint founder Shane Welch. “But there are certain elements of the transaction itself that are very clunky and exceedingly inefficient.”
Namely: long lines and wait times. In today’s craft beer climate, it’s not at all unheard of for customers to wait for hours at a time to pick up cans or bottles. For particularly special releases, people have even camped out overnight to ensure they get a taste. And this all says nothing of the reality of waiting for hours only to go home empty handed when a brewery sells out of beer, which happens more often than anyone would like, including brewers.
Welch believes this is unsustainable. He points to other industries by comparison and suggests if one had to wait three hours in a retail outlet to buy a pair of jeans, said retail outlet would go bankrupt. “But people do that all the time [for beer] and don’t even bat an eye.” As such, the company hopes this app will provide customers—as well as fellow brewers—with a new perspective on how sales can and should work.
“If you give someone an opportunity to recover three hours of their Saturday afternoon, to repurpose and reallocate toward some other productive purpose, they would gladly do that,” Welch tells GBH. “Once you give people an experience, and you show them they can have all of the benefits of having super-fresh beer right from the source without having all the inconvenience and inefficient nature of the way that retail is currently configured, once you give them that value proposition, they’re not going to want to go back.”
Welch envisions the app will eventually eliminate walkup sales at Sixpoint entirely, but the initial rollout will be limited while both the company and customers get acquainted with the process. Further, the beer sold through the app will only be available through the app to ensure purchased product isn’t also sold to walk-in customers.
“If you bought the beer online, you have it guaranteed,” he says.
As for the app itself, he says it will boast other features to help customers learn about the beer and track its process from tank to can. “Like you’re purchasing from Amazon or Dominos Pizza or whatever,” Welch says.
But more than an effort to streamline business at Sixpoint, Welch thinks such initiatives provide a necessary jolt to the industry at large. The technology is there for widespread adoption, he says, adding, like the crowler at Oskar Blues before it, Sixpoint’s proprietary programming would be made available to other brewers for a price.
He also says that, while innovation is happening everyday on the formulation side of things, little is being done in other sectors, like technology, where there is ample room for horizontal growth. “We think that’s where the most opportunities are,” Welch says. That’s something the company hinted at last month, when it announced the formation of its product development team, noting in the process that it was getting ready to release this app, coyly referred to as a “first of its kind sales interface” that would make buying Sixpoint beers “hella fun, hella seamless, and hella worth it.”
Though online sales have surged in recent years, beer and tech intersect in a bit of a legal gray area. Myriad online bottle shops have been forced out of business for operating outside the law, and even online retail giant Amazon has struggled to traverse this thin line deftly enough.
“State-by-state variations in regulations for interstate alcohol distribution have posed a key hurdle for the industry [of online alcohol sales],” according to Darshan Kalyani, an industry analyst with IBISWorld.
Eliminating long lines also serves to essentially wash away something of a status symbol. Brewers often highlight their lines in promotional videos and other ad campaigns for their brands to show off the perceived value of their beer, something that hasn’t been lost on even the mainstream press, which has covered the phenomenon of long beer lines, deeming whether they’ve been “earned” in the process.
And lastly, further easing the process by which fans buy beer from breweries may be controversial among other industry stakeholders in the three-tier system. All things considered, the ability to buy beer from where it was made is a new one, and one that retailers and distributors still aren’t entirely comfortable with as they continue lobbying for stricter limits on how brewers go to market.
Despite these possible hurdles, however, Welch is confident apps like the one his company is set to release this Friday are integral to the future of how beer is sold.
“I can’t wait to see how that develops,” he says.