Eric Sterling, Andy Steinman and Lisa Marcus are the owners of DigitalPour, a digital beer board now installed in dozens of Oregon breweries, bars and this one, at Growlers Hawthorne in Portland.
Photo by Emma Browne
By Gail Oberst
You might mourn the old chalkboard that lists what’s on tap at your favorite bar, but not for long. Some taphouses and brewpubs are replacing the dusty bar feature with digital beer boards -- banks of flat screens that can enlighten you on everything from the color of the beer to the latest tweet about it.
DigitalPour – an Oregon company whose owners developed the software in 2011 – is not the only company providing these services. Although the San Diego-based TapHunter and other companies have some boards in Oregon, homegrown DigitalPour is elbowing its way onto the walls of your Oregon watering hole. Since the company opened, it has placed DigitalPour software in 120 locations – most in Oregon, but many across the U.S. and internationally.
Easy Beer Education
You don’t have to be a beer geek to appreciate the information DigitalPour’s software provides. Let’s say you are in the mood for a porter you haven’t tried before. On the screen, you would look for a dark brown glass or growler icon, read the info next to see if it’s a porter, and then ask for a taste to see if you like it. Viola! Pour power. Some drinkers don’t need much more than that little bit of help. Some digital feeds – especially those at brewery-based pubs – actually look like a chalkboard, listing just the beer, the international bittering units (IBUs) and the alcohol by volume (ABV) for visitors.
Want more? Of course you do. In addition to the basics listed above, your taphouse feed might include the name of the beer and brewery, the cost per unit, whether it’s on nitro or CO2, where it was brewed, and when the keg was tapped. If you need further info, you might watch the Twitter, Foursquare and Untappd feeds roll across the board as people check into the brew you are thinking of buying. Don’t want to stand around your local beer purveyor before you make your decision? Some of bars and growler filling station subscribers put their DigitalPour feeds right on their websites, including access to a mobile application.
Better Business Beer
Jim Hillman, owner of the relatively new 40-tap Growlers Hawthorne in Portland, said this sort of system was a logical choice for him. “First of all, we’re two Portland start-ups,” Hillman said. Second: “It’s easy to use.” Hillman can easily update his own tap information, which appears on the board, but his employees are also trained to do it as well. The software not only tells customers what’s on tap, but also inventories the back room – from beer levels in the kegs to suggesting price per pint or growler depending on mark-up rates. “I’m awestruck,” Hillman said. Analytics included in the software can track beer performance with up-to-the-minute profit reports on individual beers, breweries, styles and other trends.
Software subscriptions start at $99 per month with a $298 basic set-up fee. The downloadable software does not include the monitors, which are simply flat screen televisions hard-wired to a computer – all standard equipment that business owners can purchase on their own. Depending on the owner’s desires, equipment might cost around $1,800 for a bank of three monitors.
About the Owners
Lisa Marcus, CEO, Andy Steinman, COO, and Eric Sterling, CTO, at first glance, are unlikely partners. But as with all entrepreneurs, serendipity had a lot to do with their partnership. Lisa and Eric, for example, met on a dating website. “We quickly realized we were better at doing business together,” Lisa laughed. They both put some energy into WineSlingr software, a wine-based version of DigitalPour, but it was Eric’s favorite pub, Bailey’s, in Portland, that turned their attention to beer. Eric, a software developer who inherited the innovation bug from his dad, Jeff, was having a beer at Bailey’s, staring up at the pub’s hand-scribbled listings on the mirror, when the thought struck him. He could put the beer list on a television screen.
“I’d intended to put a one-off up for Bailey’s and that would be that,” Eric said. Instead, he took the idea to Lisa, who ran with it.
Andy Steinman, the company’s Chief Operations Officer, came into the business through Lisa’s wine and restaurant connections at Little Bird, a sister restaurant to LePigeon, and Walter Scott Wines. Steinman brings financial and business management experience to the mix. “This will always be a dynamic business,” Steinman said. Customers will decide the future of the business.
“I think it’s gonna get really weird,” said Lisa. New technology will be incorporated into the software. The bartender may be able to use his phone as a remote control, or expanding on menu items to answer customer questions.
Stories from the print edition of the Oregon Beer Growler.