Ahh, computers and beer – my unofficial major and minor at The University of Maryland in the 90s. If you tend to be more into malt and hops than bits and flops, then this guide will help you as you’re looking to bring new software to your brewery.

Running a brewery is about more than making beer (you know, the fun part), and a successful business these days requires a certain amount of technology. You can run and even grow using little more than email and some spreadsheets in the early days. At a certain point, though, you’ll hit growing pains and start thinking, “there has to be a better way.”

A few minutes Googling your problem will likely result in a long list of software that claims to have the solution you need – but how do you know what the best choice is? Here is a list of things to consider, some of them are obvious and some you learn about through experience.

  1. Price. Be sure to look at how the price “scales” – does it cost more per user, per sale, per barrel, or other factors? This isn’t necessarily bad; software that is lower-priced when you’re smaller and increases and grow means that you can start using it and only pay more as you use it to crush your enemies thrive.
  2. Setup. How easy is it to get going? Can you do it solo, or do you have to hire someone to set it up for you? Is there a setup fee? I worry about any software with a hefty setup fee and/or requires someone else to get it up and running. Good software matches the problem well enough that it should be easy to guide a new user through any needed configuration.
  3. Runs where you need it. It used to be that software ran on computers and computers were on a desk. Grunge used to popular, too. Times change. Sometimes you’ll be on a traditional computer, occasionally a tablet, sometimes a phone – software should run where you need it. That doesn’t mean that you need to be able to do everything from everywhere. With the advances in free, open-source software designed to enable “running anywhere,” there’s just no excuse for a company not to support your device in some way.
  4. Access to your data. Good software will have the ability to export your data in some form. This will let you open it in a spreadsheet to handle any calcs you need to run your business your way. No software shop can cover all situations, so providing an export is like a lifeboat when they handle most of what you need, but not everything. Do you want to head out to sea without a lifeboat?
  5. The feel. This one is last because it’s the most subjective. When you use a tool, you get a feel for how well it’s made. A good knife feels better than a bad one. A good car feels better than a bad one. Good software feels better than bad software. This wasn’t always the case – making software that felt good used to be hard and expensive, but now it’s neither. This is not to say that software isn’t hard and expensive, it’s that the cost of construction between good and bad software has fallen to nearly zero with the years of free, open-source contributions that have changed the industry. If you’re using something that feels wrong (slow, cumbersome, etc.), don’t assume that it’s because you’re not a “computer person.” Chances are you use Google, Facebook, Office, or some other piece of software almost every day – hold other producers to that same standard. You got into your business to make a product you love for people who appreciate it, and as a software consumer, you should enjoy that same dedication.

Software and beer have a lot in common. I liked both better than Calculus in college, for example. More than that, they are both industries in which some people love the craft and create a truly better product if you’re willing to seek them. Like a perfectly balanced imperial porter or a delightfully surprising sour, the product can take a little searching, but it’s so worth it when you find the right match!

Jay Grieves