It’s a good time to be a beer fan. In 2015 there were 4,144 breweries in the United States, more than before Prohibition.
Ordering flights of beer are increasingly popular as bars specializing in craft beers are constantly adding taps to showcase as many beers as possible. Instead of one pint, beer drinkers can order smaller servings of four to six beers.
But after you order and drink a few, it can difficult to keep track. Was this the imperial stout, or the bourbon barrel porter? The Des Moines company FliteBrite is looking to simplify the process for beer drinkers and brew pubs with its smart beer flight paddles.
How FliteBrite works
About two years ago, FliteBrite co-founders Ben McDougal and Ethan Davidson got together for beers, and the two started brainstorming ways to keep track of what beers they were consuming in their flights using technology. It was there that the idea of a smart beer flight paddle was born.
Once they brought on co-founder Ben Sinclair, the trio was able to start experimenting with a touch screen interface and wifi updates to the system. This week the first FliteBrite panels will be in use in the wild, serving flights of beer at Exile Brewing Co. in Des Moines.
“It allows servers to deliver the beers while showcasing each item with an interactive touch screen for the customers,” McDougal said. “Behind the scenes, it allows establishments the opportunity to tap into big data and has easy menu management to unlock a new level of customer connectivity.”
The big data aspect might be what is most appealing to bar owners. Instead of dedicating a tap line to a new beer based on gut feeling, they can use the data from FliteBrite to determine what types of beer would be the best addition based on sales across the system. The data can make it easier to decide what to dedicate tap lines or cooler space to.
The beer paddles pull their information about beers from Untappd, which many bars already use to host their beer menus online, and many beer fans use to rate and share beers they’ve tried. FliteBrite’s use of Untapped helps ensure drinkers are getting accurate info about the beer they’re drinking.
FliteBrite leases its paddles for $15-$25 per paddle per month. Initially the company considered selling the panels straight out, but decided leasing provided a lower barrier for entry to bars, and made it easier to push wifi updates to the paddles.
Roll out the paddles
After starting at Exile, the first 100 FliteBrite paddles will make their way into other bars and restaurants starting in November. That includes Iowa bars and breweries like Firetrucker Brewery, 300 Craft & Rooftop and Fong’s Pizza, as well as multiple Midwest locations for the Granite City chain.
“We’re approaching this like a beta test, initially,” Davidson said. “We want to get the first few hundred paddles out there and prepare for all-out production.”
The potential for more than just beer
FliteBrite is starting with paddles intended for beer, but they envision their product as being useful for other food products. Wine, cheese and Scotch are all things FliteBrite’s team sees as being products consumers would want more info on while they consume.
“We can scale outside of craft beer,” McDougal said. “That’s where we’re starting, but the way we’ve built this allows us to scale into almost any industry.”
What comes next
FliteBrite recently added a fourth team member, salesperson Jake Wilson, to help get the paddles into more locations. Earlier this year FliteBrite received a $25,000 grant from the Iowa Economic Development Authority, but the founders are largely bootstrapping their company.
The founders are hoping to start seeing FliteBrites nationwide next year. In April the company will have its nationwide unveiling at the Brewers Association Craft Brewers Conference in Washington DC.
“I truly believe we will come back as a different company,” McDougal said.
Joe Lawler is a freelance reporter based in Des Moines.