Each Bellingham beer drinker has a few favorite places to frequent for a pint, whether it’s the Wander Brew Hall or either Kulshan location to take advantage of the best parts of summer (patios and food trucks). But what happens when you just don’t feel like leaving your backyard and want to take a keg from your favorite brewery to go?
Keg sales are often a behind-the-scenes operation at many local breweries and tap houses, maybe because it’s not the most glamorous part of the job. When a customer wants a keg, the process of buying it is exponentially longer than a single-beer-transaction.
From deciding exactly which beer you want, to getting price comparisons and estimates, putting down refundable keg and hand-pump deposits, and finally filling out the carbon-paper information slip required to be displayed on your keg by the Liquor Control Board, keg sales can take a bartender away from the bar for 15 minutes or more.
Even then, breweries suffer from keg losses, whether the keg is never returned or returned six months after the rental. A common problem among many breweries is just not knowing who has their kegs and when they’re coming back.
This is where the KegMeisters come in.
KegMeisters is a start-up straight out of Bellingham, made up of four local beer drinkers who have the goal of helping breweries in town be the best they can be. By making keg sales and tracking of kegs easier, KegMeisters assist breweries in speed of service and the convenience in the keg rental process, as well as provides a check-in, check-out and reminder service for breweries and renters.
The idea began in July of 2016 when co-founder and sales lead, Dane Renkert, heard about his dad’s struggle to return kegs. A friend had returned the kegs to Kulshan and not collected the refundable deposit, so a few days later he went in for the deposit but encountered confusion among staff about the fact that the kegs had already been returned. Many breweries have a similar lack-of-system, and this issue wasn’t the first of its kind.
Renkert noticed a giant white binder always on Kulshan’s counter, with keg sale information. He knew there had to be an easier way for breweries to speed up this process without wondering where their own kegs were. After asking some questions at Kulshan, he realized this issue wasn’t isolated to one brewery, but was a problem across Bellingham and even Washington state.
“At the time, the four of us were working together. I knew I didn’t have nearly the knowledge or bandwidth to do this, but thought I had a pretty good idea and vision. I knew I needed to involve some other people, hence, a developer, a designer and a financial analyst,” Renkert said. “We all got together and started coming up with the concept of what Kegmeisters has become.”To say the least, KegMeisters has grown into much more than the four had ever anticipated.
Now, breweries download the KegMeisters app, use their credentials to log in, and allow customers to shop available kegs from their inventory, fill out their information regarding where the keg will be consumed, contact information and a credit card for keg deposits in the case of a keg not making its way back to the brewery.
When this step is finished from a phone or tablet, eliminating the need for the carbon paper information slip, the bartender scans the QR (quick response) code using the camera in the app. This links the person’s information with that specific keg, making it easy to see when a keg is supposed to be returned, and prompting reminder emails to the customer to return the keg.
The QR codes were recently redesigned to fit on hand-taps too, making it equally as convenient to rent a hand tap along with your keg.
KegMeisters is looking to become an alternative to the carbon paper, a requirement since the 1980’s for keg rentals.
“What we’re looking for is the Liquor Control Board to approve this digital replacement of the carbon copy paper they have to use today. Instead of filling out this sticky thing that’s hard to scrape off the keg, that could fall off if it gets wet, and is hard to read at the party if an enforcement officer comes, that they can digitize it,” said co-founder and financial analyst Bryce Waldron.
Instead of the sticky carbon paper, breweries place a small yellow sticker with their logo and the QR code, the same one they use to obtain customer contact information will hopefully also be used as a carbon paper alternative.
“We worked hand-in-hand with Kulshan actually, to see what their existing pain points in this process were and what they wanted to see if they could have any product,” Josiah Ubben, the KegMeisters co-founder and UI/UX designer said. “We partnered early on a beta version, got really good direct feedback from front-of-house and back-of-house staff. What was born out of that was KegMeisters.”
In an ideal world, as KegMeisters gains more traction, the consumer would go to their favorite brewery’s website to reserve a keg. At this point, the KegMeister reservation system is marketed as the brewery, no longer as KegMeisters, and operates as Kulshan, Aslan, or whoever the keg is being bought from.
The consumer has the option to pay ahead of time online, including the keg deposit most breweries require. In some cases, consumers are charged for the keg deposit then refunded when they return the keg. In the case of KegMeisters, they never actually take the money from your account, unless you don’t return the keg on time.
“We call it pre-authorization; we aren’t ever actually taking anything from your account,” co-founder and full-time software engineer Andrew Stuntz said. When your keg is returned beyond a certain window that you as a consumer are in charge of setting, that’s when your card is charged.
At the end of the day, instead of a giant white binder, Stuntz and the rest of the KegMeisters team has created an incredibly user-friendly app to make your beer-drinking life that much easier.
The guys from KegMeisters have been working with local breweries to get this app out of it’s beta phase, and it finally is. KegMeisters has officially been live at select Washington state locations, including Kulshan.
These guys are not only as knowledgeable and creative as they sound, but as they put it, they’re “passionate about the good stuff.” Keep checking in with the progress of KegMeisters around Bellingham and keep your eyes peeled for their QR code and accelerated rental process next time you decide to rent a keg.
From a beer-tenders and beer drinker’s perspective, thanks ahead of time, KegMeisters.