Let’s Raise A (Smart) Glass of Real Ale to the Internet of Alcohol
Talk about the internet of things is often dominated by discussions of dull but worthy lightbulbs and home thermostats. So here is something a little more tasteful: the internet of beer.
Perhaps digitised drinking was an inevitable development, given the millennial-hipster crowd’s intersecting interests in technology and craft ale. There are, for example, machines such as Brewbot, a smart personal microbrewery the size of a small cabinet, that will create your own batch of beer. It is monitored by sensors, controllable from your smartphone and takes the guesswork out of home brewing.
The Brewie, currently available to pre-order in the US and UK, is similar: the hardware is small enough to fit on a kitchen work surface. Both were backed by enthusiastic crowdfunding campaigns.
But it is on the industry side that the internet of beer feels as if it is a solution to a real problem.
Beer is a “just-in-time” product. It is normally best drunk fresh — ideally a brewery barrel should be consumed within four days of opening before staleness starts creeping in.
Inventory management in the bar and pub industry, a key and sometimes contentious area in a cash-driven sector, is also being transformed.
Two years ago SteadyServ, a US company, introduced the iKeg, an internet-based beer monitoring system. Each keg in a bar was fitted with a radio-frequency identification tag that holds information about the brewery, the date the beer was brewed and the delivery location. Each keg sits on top of a sensor that monitors the rate at which the liquid inside decreases, giving bar managers a much more accurate picture of how quickly it will run out. This can help bars waste less and make more money by identifying the top-selling brands.
WeissBeerger, an Israeli company, is doing something similar in Europe and is finding that the process can yield interesting data. Pubs can now have dashboards that show them exactly what beers are being drunk at what time of day and in what combinations.
WeissBeerger found, for example, that lager tends to be drunk earlier in the day and that drinkers switch to darker and sweeter options later in the evening, says Hilton Young, the company’s managing director. Guinness is often bought as a single item, while lager is a more social drink and usually ordered in twos or threes.
“Heineken is a key partner, and it is keen to get this consumer information on how and when its beer is drunk,” says Mr Young.
WeissBeerger’s backers include Eric Schmidt, executive chairman of Alphabet, Google’s new holding company. The company plans to take its technology one step further by introducing the smart glass, which will have a near-field communication chip in it.
This device could provide even more granular information about consumption and customers. It could, for example, connect with a drinker’s smartphone and offer them exclusive clips of goals during a football match if they bought a certain beer — so perhaps in future beer brands could sponsor sport by the glassful rather than the tournament.
The Glassify smart glass, currently being tested in the US and Israel, could tell pubs and restaurants more about individual drinkers, such as if they are regulars, how long they tend to stay and how many drinks they have.
For customers the benefits are less clear, but faster service could be one. A smart glass could work, for example, with some of the self-service draft beer machines being introduced into pubs and bars, particularly in the US. These usually work with wristbands or smart cards, which customers tap on the machine to make purchases. A connected glass seems a logical progression.
It could also be used to encourage responsible drinking, as the system might notice if someone has had one too many and call them a taxi.