By ANDREW MOORE
Reporter with Silicon Hills News
How can a mobile app help small microbreweries become more profitable? After all, the practice of microbrewing today is not fundamentally different from the way monks brewed beer hundreds of years ago.
What has changed, however, is the way the beer is sold and regulated. Brewers are taxed per month on what they produce; not what they sell – something monks didn’t worry about. This means that a brewer must keep track of large amounts of data each month for both tax forms and general quality control. And while Budweiser can pay for expensive accounting software and numerous office staff to address this problem, microbreweries often have just a single accountant and are more or less on their own.
This is where San Antonio startup Monk’s Toolbox comes in. Founded by the small craft beer-loving team of Zac Harris, Jeremy Karney, and Adam Pryor in the 3 Day Startup San Antonio event last November; Monk’s Toolbox is working on a mobile app that largely automates data collection and back-office work for microbreweries. The startup just received the $25,000 Geekdom fund last April, which will allow them to finish building out the first versions of their app. The initial launch is set for May 27 and six brewers across the country are signed up to try it out. The company plans to have the full product on the market by last quarter of 2013.
“They’ve built tools that are more for the accountants and the executives instead of building tools for the brewers,” Technical Monk Jeremy Karney said. “What we want to do is build a tool for the brewer to give them the data that they need just by going through the brewing process.”
The Monk’s Toolbox Brewers app will help microbrewers by storing data for operating procedures, inventory management, and recipe databases. It will also automate the tax process monthly.
“If you are operating a brew house, there are a million things you do besides brewing beer. You are storing stuff, cleaning stuff, fixing stuff,” Chief Monk Zac Harris said. “All that stuff right now is done on pen and paper, and we are trying to put all that into our application.”
Brewer Larry Chase of the Standing Stone Brewery in Ashland, Ore., will be one of the first to test out the product.
“Spreadsheets are great, but when you end up having five spreadsheets – one that tracks your brewing, one that tracks your inventory, one that tracks your usage rates – none of them really combine together very well,” Chase said. “The hope is that someone like Monks Toolbox is going to pull all of that data together in one place and make it accessible.”
Trading out a mobile app for beer stained brewing forms and spreadsheets has several advantages. It keeps all the checklists for standard operating procedures and maintenance procedures in one place, saving the brewer time. The Brewers App will also keep track of inventory and will alert its user if the brewery is running low on ingredients or supplies.
When it comes to the actual brewing process, the app’s updatable recipe database will help brewers stay consistent with flavor. Craft breweries have unique processes that give their beer unique flavor. These processes can be affected by changes in the local temperature and humidity and changes in ingredients used – such as grain from a new supplier. Brewers must compensate for these changes by adjusting their brewing process. Having data on recipe changes in the past can help the brewer stay consistent in the future, but only if that data is accessible.
“Right now I’ve got a clipboard and I’ve got like 100 pages on the clipboard. I have to just kind of flip through them all if I need to reference something I did a couple months ago,” said Brewer Alex Rattray from the Granary in San Antonio, Texas. “It would be easier to reference just one thing where all the information is stored.”
The feature that Monk’s Toolbox touts most, however, is the tax portion. At the end of each month, brewers must fill out both state and federal tax forms. The Brewers app can use all data collected throughout that month to automatically populate these forms in PDF format, saving brewers several hours of accounting work.
“For me this is really a helpful step because I spend probably an average of four hours every month, at least, just filling out tax paperwork,” said Director of Brewing Operations Sebastian Wolfrum from Natty Greene’s Brewing Company in North Carolina. “This data based solution lets you print out a form based on your brew logs and packaging logs. The software essentially combines all this and I think a lot of people who are new could use the help to figure out what goes in the forms and what doesn’t.”
Monk’s Toolbox is working on other ways to help microbrewers as well. One example is the On Tap app, which is currently in its alpha version and in use at The Friendly Spot in San Antonio.
As its name suggests, the application displays what craft beers the bar has on tap at any given time. The monitors around the establishment show each beer’s style, name, brewery, and alcohol content, and can be customized to display additional information. The display can be quickly and easily changed via a laptop in the back.
“Customers in the craft brewing industry want to know where their beer came from,” Harris said. “It’s about the bar and the brewer interacting with the customer, on a level where the customer gets excited about the product.”
According to the National Brewers Association, the craft beer brewing industry increased its production volume by 15 percent in 2012 and is now worth $10.2 Billion in the U.S. There are about 2,347 craft brewers in the nation. Director of Brewing Operations Sebastian Wolfrum, who runs a mid-sized regional operation in North Carolina, believes that keeping up with data is essential to the continued growth of the industry.
“Why Monk’s Toolbox is a very good undertaking is that, making good quality beer over time is really important to this young industry with all these new brewers coming online,” Wolfrum said. “If this project really works well and we all come together with something that is a really nice online tool, it will allow people to make better beer.”