It was a problem Jim Wrubel had over and over again.
He’d go to a restaurant or bar, and the server would ask him what he wanted to drink. He’d respond with: “What’s on tap?”
“So here comes what’s essentially this naughty-and-nice-list-like scroll of beers with weird names and categories,” he said. To find the beer he’d like best, Wrubel would ask a bunch of questions or Google the beers on his phone as the server waited.
Wrubel, 43 of Cranberry, knows his problem was a silly problem to have. But he said it was a legitimate problem nevertheless. So he thought he’d try to solve it by creating a smartphone app: Beer Goggles (iOS, Google Play).
Users take a photo of the tap list and, within seconds, know each beer’s descriptions and ABVs. (Wrubel said it works with typed menus at your table, but not so much with the chalkboard signs behind the bar.)
An early version of the app launched at the end of January, but Wrubel said he’s working to perfect it and eventually charge for a more detailed app.
He said the app is learning how to distinguish between the name of a beer and things like category or price. Wrubel designed the app with a machine learning algorithm, it gets smarter as more people use the app.
He said he wants to keep improving the app and have it eventually show reviews from BeerAdvocate and Untapped, as well as create profiles for users to show them what beers they’ve already tried and what beers they might like based on their favorites.
First-time app creator Wrubel said he was just going to use the app for himself, because he didn’t think other people would care about it. But then he posted about it on his personal social media.
“The response I got back was, ‘You may have solved a problem that I’ve had for years.’ I’m like, really? I thought I was the only one,” Wrubel said.
He said that response was enough for him to keep working on it.
“That’s what you want to do in software, you want to solve people’s problems, no matter how silly it is, he said.
Plus, it came at a time when the Wrubel (the former chief technology officer of Think Through Math, which closed after being purchased by another education software company) is looking for the next move in his career. It’s odd to think of a beer app as a career, he said, but there could be multiple possibilities for the same app with wine or whiskey — or even with food menus. Regardless, he said it’s been an experience anyone with software development skills should try.
“Being able to take a problem and actually create a software solution pretty much from scratch — that’s a pretty fun journey,” Wrubel said.