Barley Mowat 

Archive for June, 2011

High Tech Meets Beer

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I was over at St Augustine’s the other day and noticed that one of the TVs had a weird display of symbols instead of a sporting event. It looked something like this:

Huh. I was right.
The real world WAS blurry that night.

That, in case you can’t quite make it out, is a display of all the beers currently on tap, and what percentage of each is left. This is a very encouraging development for a few reasons. First, the days of making a drink list in your head and then progressing through it only to find out that James’ One-of-a-kind IPA What He Brewed When He Was 15 But Lost Then Refound is now a dead keg are now gone. Keg is low? Order it first.

Second, the video list is always perfectly up to date. Printed menus tend to become obsolete before they come back from the printer (or photocopier in Nigel’s case).

That’s about it, for now. There are a bunch of enticing possibilities that adoption of this tech allows. Once you have this information in a format that lets you display it here with a fancy graphical user interface, it means you have it in a database somewhere (unless you paid your software guy with beer which, let’s face it, is likely what happened here). Digital tap lists let you do a few cool things if you’d like:

  • Update your website tap list in real time.
  • Tweet new kegs as they are tapped automatically. Likewise tweet warnings at the X% mark before you run out. (Should likely create a new Twitter account for these to avoid drowning out non-beer tapping news)
  • Breweries can show you where to find their product, in real time.
  • How about an iPhone app (or web interface) that lets you pro-actively order your beer, or set a drink list in advance?
  • You can calculate most popular or least popular beers dynamically, and share that info.
  • Display Ratebeer rating, or Twitter ranking.

Yeah, I’m a bit of a software nerd (it’s what I do professionally… what? You think this blog makes me any money?). I’d be very curious to talk to whomever wrote this bit of code for St Augustine’s, as I once designed a very very similar system unbidden for the Alibi Room with hopes of convincing Nigel to give me free beer in exchange for it. The trick is how does one actually calculate the percentages? It’s not as easy as you’d think, since there are precious few good ways to figure out what’s left in a keg (or to account for different keg sizes). Here are the options:

  • Stick each keg on a digital scale and weigh the fucker. Current weight minus dry weight equals beer weight. Pros: Accurate. Cons: Crazy expensive.
  • Slap a digital flow meter in each line. Same pros/cons as above.
  • Note that there are approximately 100 16oz pints in a 50 litre keg, and subtract 1% for each pint pulled. Pros: Fairly accurate. Cons: Requires either perfect integration with your POS system or religious adherence to a pint-tracking app by your bar staff.
  • Do the above, but also determine a baseline time that each keg stays alive for, then predict the end based on reported pints, average lifetime, and good old fashioned statistics. Pros: Most accurate, adaptive to lazy staff. Cons: Statistics are essentially magic and hence the devil’s work.
  • Good, old-fashioned, dead reckoning, updated periodically by hand. Pros: Cheap and easy. Cons: Kind of defeats the purpose.

I figure they went for one of the last two, but who knows. Can someone from SA’s enlighten me?

Lastly, the display above, while appreciated, definitely needs a few tweaks. So if anyone is listening and/or taking notes, here’s my quick-hit gripe list. You knew it was coming, didn’t you? Well, prepare to be surprised. Since I do software professionally, this complaint list is a bit more put together than my normal stream of profanity-laced sub-coherency.

  • The beer pint pie chart, while very cute and likely smart looking on the desktop monitor you designed it on, is virtually unreadable and nigh-useless on the big screen. What’s the difference between 50% left and 25% left? Yeah, I can’t tell either. All it does is take up space, which leads me to…
  • The per-beer widget is too big. Too much space is spent on design, which would be okay if it was visually appealing. Look at this display. The bits of information you need are: Brewery, Beer, Remaining. Everything else is window dressing and can be cut.
  • Grids don’t work for presenting lots of information. Humans like to read lists, which means moving your eyes top to bottom. Use two columns of wide, short widgets instead. You’ll be able to fit many more items on the page AND it will be much more legible.
  • Again, the small number of items per page means lots of pages. This means cycling through the pages quickly and often to make sure all the information is available. That means customers will miss what they’re looking for, have to wait through all the other pages, and try again to find it. This can cause frustration and a tendency to give up and return to the printed menu after investing a few fruitless minutes. These folk are now slightly pissed off, and they haven’t even had a beer yet.
  • How are the beers organized? I’m going to bet by tap number, right? You know what’s useless to clients? Yeah, that. How about organizing them by colour. You have the info (note the pint glass).
  • How many other kegs are left? If we run out of house lager, I’m betting there’s a fresh one right next to it, but other beers might not have backups.

All in all, folks, it’s a first version so we need to give them time and patience. Feedback doesn’t hurt, though. Just remember how things were a few weeks ago before this system was rolled out. In a year or two we’ll wonder how those luddites of the dark ages even managed to order beer at all.

Written by chuck

June 30th, 2011 at 10:35 am

Posted in Beer and You

Tagged with

Where No Man Has Drunk Before

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Sharon saw this little guy come in over the wire and figured I’d be interested. She was right:

You see, in addition to being a massive beer geek, I am also a massive space geek (by both definitions of massive… bit of space geek humour there for ya… OK, I’ll stop that now). So does it follow that I’m a massive space beer geek?

Seems some guys down under (4 Pines Brewing Company) have set upon the crazy idea of brewing a beer specifically designed to be consumed in space. In additional to gaining a penchant for doing mid-air somersaults, there are also some unique physiological issues that come with spending loads of time in microgravity. Among other inconveniences, all that excess fluid that tends to pool at the bottom of your various internal cavities no longer has such good sense, and decides to go for a bit of a walk about.

That has some rather humorous side affects. For instance, this is why all International Space Station residents have a puffy face and sound like they have a perpetual head cold. With that comes a swollen tongue and a lack of taste sensitivity, which explains why the MRE packs up there come in “Spicy”, “Very Spicy”, and “Hell Fire” varieties: it’s the only way to actually taste something. Sorry guys, the CafĂ© De Low Orbit doesn’t actually have shit food; it’s just you.

Now that we have the background out of the way, I’ll put on my usual cranky demeanour and call this an absolutely crock of a publicity stunt. I highly doubt any of this “Space Beer” will ever make its way into space. For one, getting shit to the ISS is fucking expensive. The last number I heard was around $21,000 per pound. I mean, I love beer, but when a 20oz pint of stout breaks the $20,000 mark (just for delivery) I seriously start looking at fermenting my own urine instead. Of course, that assumes the ISS hadn’t already laid claim to it to run the fuel cells. Seriously, getting stuff up there is so expensive they’re reusing your PISS (and then reusing it again after that… and after that… and, well, you get the idea).

Getting stuff on a suborbital flight is a bit cheaper, as Virgin plans to exploit, but even then we’re looking at $100,000-150,000 per person, and I’ll bet the carry-on restrictions make TSA look like stoned college kids… uh… more? I guess? The second issue with suborbital flights is that they are short. Like 15 minutes short, and not all of that is weightless. In 15m the only liquid relocation issues you might have is a bit of vomit, so you’ll be tasting things exactly as you would with two feet planted solidly on terra firma.

Of course, all these silly “facts” have no place in a big PR stunt, so the brewers went to Florida and rented time on the commercial version of the “Vomit Comet” to test their product out. It makes for a great press release, but even in one flight the assembled press couldn’t help but notice the difficulties encountered in trying to actually consume their product. Here’s a hint guys, use a squeeze tube next time.

As a PR stunt this seems to have worked. Google helpfully suggests 4 Pines Brewing first when you search for Space Beer, and hell, here I am–a beer blog in Canada–talking about it. So, congrats to our visionary brewers. You’ve made a stout that very likely tastes gord-awful, and knowing what I do about amping up stout flavours, I’ll bet it’s in the direction of Caribbean Malta drinks. Seriously, has anyone had any of those things? Fuck me.

Written by chuck

June 28th, 2011 at 11:15 am

Posted in Beer and You,Beers

Tagged with

Casks and Hops

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There are two upcoming beer events of note. The first is Central City’s Summer Cask Festival. There are 26 confirmed breweries so far, including an intriguing entry from Coal Harbour Brewing. So far, we’ve only seen a very young saison from Daniel’s new endeavour, so I’m curious to see if this time around the beer will be, you know, finished.

Things kick off this Saturday at 11am, yet there are still tickets available. I rather suspect the reason that this festival has not been subject to the near instantaneous sellout status of other lower mainland festivals is largely due to Central City’s rather unfortunate placement in Surrey. Sure, it’s right across from the Central City Skytrain stop, making for a nice easy commute to and stumble from the event, but no amount of transit convenience can hide the… Surrey-ness… of it all. It’s the smell, if there is such a thing.

Alas, I will also be skipping this one, but because of prior commitments rather than any particular olfactory concerns (hell, you should smell my bathroom). All joking aside, tough it up, city folk, and get your asses to Surrey.

Second up is yet another CAMRA-initiated event, Fest of Ale: Too Hop to Handle. Hosted at St Augustine’s, this iteration of the Fest of Ale will focus on, well, hops. And lots of them. Personally, I just love the pendulum swing from the last event, which focused on light alcohol beers with subtle flavour. It’s as if the CAMRA exec said “fuck that shit, bring on the hops and boooooooze!” Unlike the last event, which had a 3.5% ABV max, there is no ABV minimum this time around, but I’d expect the average will easily top 6 or 7%.

Expect to see IPAs, IPAs and, just for something a bit different, perhaps an IPA or two. Lots of the participating breweries already produce IPAs, so I’m hoping they’ll create something a bit special for this fest (and don’t just dry-hopped your regular brews, please). In fact, I’ll pull out an oldie-but-a-goodie and promise to call out breweries that get lazy and just pour their production beers. I know I’ve threatened vehicular damage for such transgressions in the past, but that’s suddenly out of vogue these days.

Perhaps more interestingly some of the contributors are not known for their hoppy ales, so I’m very interested to see what they bring along. Specifically, Saltspring and Crannog, both of whom grow their own hops, incidentally. I’ll be keeping a sharp eye on you guys, so bring your A-game.

I will be at this one, assuming I can snag a ticket before they sell out.

All in all, summer is off to a good start. I rather suspect the CC event will be the better of the two, but who knows, I’ve been wrong many, many times before.

Written by chuck

June 22nd, 2011 at 2:56 pm