The Internet of beer: new venture senses how much is left in a keg

In technologists’ vision of the Internet of Things, every day objects, appliances, and mobile devices are connected through a wireless network.

A new venture is trying to add beer kegs to that network.

SteadyServ, an Indiana-based start-up, is piloting iKeg, a cloud-based software that tracks beer volume, alerting restaurant managers when they’re about to run out. The free app, available on iPhones and iPads, displays how much remains in each keg in real time. Radio-frequency identification tags (often used in animal tagging) installed under kegs detect weight and pressure changes as beer sells.

Backed by about $6.5 million in early-stage funding from investors mostly in the Midwest, iKeg aims to help bars manage beer supply, said Patrick Stewart, SteadyServ’s director of support services. Often bartenders check inventory by shaking kegs, which weigh about 170 pounds, he said. Without a precise record, they request too few kegs of popular beers and too many of unpopular ones from distributors.

Ryan Kellerman, director of beverage hospitality at Scotty’s Brewhouse, a chain of bar-restaurants in Indiana, has been testing iKeg for about a month.

“When I pick up a keg and I say ‘oh, that’s 70 percent full,’ but you might think it’s 50 percent full. There’s a lot of room for error,” he said. When the app notifies him he’s running out, Kellerman is quick to order new inventory from distributors in between delivery days. “Since the system has been in place, we’ve been able to pinpoint what products are moving. . .Before we always had an idea, but we weren’t sure.”

The system would be more useful if it integrated with the restaurant’s point-of-sale system, Kellerman added — a feature SteadyServ is developing.

“[If a] keg has 124 pints of beer, and that keg’s gone and I only sold 100, I’m going to be able to pinpoint those issues. In our business you’re going to have some theft, but it’s probably bad pouring by the bartenders, or the draft system the pressure’s too high, or too much foam.”

Mohana Ravindranath covers IT and small business for the Washington Post and its weekly Capital Business publication.
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