Oak Hill man’s phone app compares booze prices, value at Virginia ABC stores

The logo for the "VABC" mobile app, allowing you to compare prices and ratings of different types of booze in Virginia ABC stores, and find the nearest ABC store. (Ben Katz) The logo for the “VABC” mobile app, allowing you to compare prices and ratings of different types of booze in Virginia ABC stores, and find the nearest ABC store. (Ben Katz)

How many times have you wondered, just what is the difference in price AND quality between different types of tequila at the Virginia ABC store? And can you really get a straight answer from the ABC clerk? And where’s the closest ABC store to me RIGHT NOW? I know, many times.

These are the questions that Ben Katz, a recent Virginia Tech graduate from Oak Hill in Fairfax County, set out to solve for those with a smart phone and a thirst for immediate alcohol knowledge. So he created the “VABC” app for the iPhone and the Android, now available in their various stores for the low, low price of 99 cents on iOS, and free on Android. It does not allow you to compare prices between ABC stores, because ABC doesn’t reveal which specific types of alcohol are sold in which stores, but it does allow you to compare between 2,300 types of drinks, and it also incorporates review ratings of the various brands from both the Beverage Testing Institute and the Wine Enthusiast, which apparently has expanded its enthusiasms.

A screen on the iPhone "VABC" app allowing you to select type of booze, amount and other filters. (Ben Katz) A screen on the iPhone “VABC” app allowing you to select type of booze, amount and other filters. (Ben Katz)

The enthusiasm for this app, Katz said, came from party preparations at Virginia Tech, where organizers would wonder, “What has the most alcohol for the lowest price?” The listings on the VABC app conveniently list the percentage of alcohol by volume for each product, as well as its price, its volume, its review rating and its value. Katz extracts some of the data from a state ABC spread sheet and then adds in the ratings. The app also maps every ABC store with its hours and phone number. If a price has a red line through it and then another price above it, you know it’s on sale right now, Katz said.

Among the discoveries you can make on this app: “Moonshine” is sold in ABC stores, which would seem to defy the definition of “moonshine;” much liquor is sold by the “handle,” which is 1.75 liters; and there are some very expensive brands of scotch which do not provide good value, as defined by Katz’s algorithm, but are very highly rated by those who know about such things.

Katz said it took him about two to three weeks to develop the app, while still at Tech, and he released the first version of the Android app last April, then the first version of the iOS app in December. An updated version of the iOS app came out last week. Go to iTunes or the Google Play store to get it.

Tom Jackman is a native of Northern Virginia and has been covering the region for The Post since 1998.

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Tom Jackman · March 18, 2014