After graduating college and becoming a number-cruncher for a big bank, Charlie Mulligan realized that university had failed him on a pretty basic level.
His perception of decent beer, based on years of
chugging casually drinking cans of cheap domestic brews was, in fact, swill compared to the rich, complex world of craft beers. Shocked that beer could be so much more than flavorless, watery lagers, Mulligan soon became a self-proclaimed beer nerd and began to navigate the rapidly growing world craft breweries.
Mulligan got so into beer that he eventually left banking and partnered up with his buddy Zach Jamison, who had years of experience in the worlds of food and booze. Together they founded BREWPUBLIK, a company which takes the hassle out of the mind-numbing number of choices that beer-drinkers are faced with.
BREWPUBLIK uses a specific algorithm called "the Beergorithm" to make selections for customers, and even delivers the beer right to subscribers' doors. Though deliveries are currently limited to North Carolina, the company is planning on bringing craft beer to doorsteps across America.
We caught up with BREWPUBLIK co-founder and CEO Charlie Mulligan to discuss how statistical algorithms can overlap with good beer and good business.
MUNCHIES: Are you a big beer-drinker? Charlie Mulligan: Yes, for sure. For a long time I didn't like domestic beer, but it was all that my friends in college and I could afford. But then after college I started drinking craft beers and it was like, "Oh wow, this actually tastes like something!" Since then, I've been really into craft beer and so is my business partner, and co-founder Zach.
Is the craft beer market a difficult one for consumers to navigate? Yes. That's why BREWPUBLIK exists. There are some people who are craft beer obsessives, who are on message boards and spend a lot of time and money on exploring rare stuff. But that's a very small market, even though craft beer companies focus on those people. Then you have the other end of the spectrum, which is, like, your grandpa who only drinks Budweiser and will until the day he dies.
But that's not the average drinker, either. Exactly, everyone else is in the 80 percent in between. Some are closer to the connoisseur and some are closer to the Budweiser guy; most people want to try new things but also know what they like.
When did you realize that that you could help consumers deal with the insane amount of choices available on the beer market? Zach and I were at a local supermarket and we watched a guy pull a six-pack out of the fridge, look at it, and kind of talk himself into buying it. Then, he took it and walked down the aisle, turned around, walked all the way back, and took another one instead. We were like, "This is ridiculous, it's way too hard to choose beer." That was the moment. Everyone has kind of been there, and now, with BREWPUBLIK, we're helping solve that problem and we can get it delivered to your house.
How are you solving that problem? It's a real bummer if you go to the store and pick out a six-pack and pay $12 for it and then you come home and you think it's gross and the five other bottles just stay in your fridge and you try to pawn them off on your friends. BREWPUBLIK solves that because it helps you try new things, because it's great how many beers are out there right now. But you can do it in your comfort zone.
BREWPUBLIK uses an algorithm to do this, like Netflix or Amazon. Yes, we call it the Beergorithm.
What is the Beergorithm? My background is in banking and I also have experience with statistical algorithms. Basically, it works a lot like Pandora does to pick music for you. So it's actually not really like Netflix or Amazon, which base recommendations off of what other people buy. Personally, I find that Netflix makes shitty recommendations that I usually don't want to watch.
How does your algorithm make buying craft beer easier? Every beer is broken down into different characteristics which were chosen by an expert tasting panel to help describe what the beer tastes like. And then when our customers select their profile, they select one or more different beers. Eventually, we're going to have sliders on the website which will allow them to select the right level of hoppiness you want, malt floweriness you want, light or dark, or whatever. So all of those inputs go into the beergorithm and then get patched up based on how close these new beers are to the initial profile you created, and automatically it creates variety.
So if I like really intense IPAs, how will the algorithm input that? If you like piney, really hoppy IPAs, we'll give you a beer that fits that profile, but also one which is slightly different—like something which is a little bit maltier than your favorite, but still really hoppy. The algorithm also has a wild card and will give you something really seasonal, and different, so each case has a variety, but based on our customers' individual tastes.
This company sounds like a bit like a beer-fuelled conversation that turned into a reality. There were definitely a few beers involved! Zach and I had a few ideas kicking around for something we could do in the craft beer space. We realized that there are close to 4,500 breweries in the United States—that's three times more than 10 years ago. There's a new brewery opening every day, which is nuts. We're based out of Charlotte, North Carolina, which has a population of 1.5 million people, and there are 17 craft breweries. It's just nuts. So we realized it's not a good idea to start a brewery—there are plenty of people already doing that.
Is BREWPUBLIK a way of fighting against mass-produced beer and spreading the gospel of craft beer? A lot of people buy Blue Moon because they like it, they know what to expect, but with our site it's like, "OK, you like Blue Moon, made by a multi-billion dollar company without a soul, how about a similar beer made by a local craftsman who really cares about the craft who makes it better?"
Thanks for talking to us, Charlie. Thank you!