New app by Asheville developers streamlines liquor industry ordering

PERFECT ORDER: Palmer Fox, left, and Cale Workman have developed an app that significantly cuts the amount of time it takes bar managers to order from the ABC. The app launches on Tuesday, Aug. 22.
PERFECT ORDER: Palmer Fox, left, and Cale Workman have developed an app that significantly cuts the amount of time it takes bar managers to order from the ABC. The app launches on Tuesday, Aug. 22. Photo courtesy of Barley

Thirsty? There’s an app for that. A new application created by local bartender Palmer Fox and electrical engineer Cale Workman could change the way bars interact with Alcoholic Beverage Control.

Barley, which functions on Apple iOS products (iPhone, iPad, iPod touch), is designed to ease the ordering process for bartenders and managers, a struggle Fox is familiar with, having been behind the stick at the River Arts District’s The Bull and Beggar since 2014. “I was doing my liquor order one night,” explains Fox. “I’d written my list in the bar, and I’m up in the office 40 minutes into the process, and I’m scratching my head and I just went on the app store and typed in ‘liquor order app’ and there were zero results. So we just started working on it.”

A liquor order can be an unnecessarily arduous task for a barkeep. Since all alcohol in North Carolina is state-distributed, restaurants have to email or call in their liquor orders by phone to one of a handful of stores approved to distribute to bars and restaurants.

But one can’t simply call and ask for a specific product — orders must be made using specific reference numbers. And while some control states have digital platforms for ordering to help simplify things, the North Carolina ABC has no such system in place.

“We took the entire ABC store quarterly price list and built it into an app,” says Fox. “This way, bar managers don’t have to memorize or look up codes anymore. They are just built into the back of the app, and it can process all of that for you. So when you go to look for a product, you can just type in the name of it.”

To start, Barley is only compatible with Mac OS. Image courtesy of Barley
To start, Barley is only compatible with Apple iOS products. Image courtesy of Barley

He adds that users can expect to shorten the amount of time they spend each week on inventory and ordering by about 75 percent. Plus, he and Workman worked closely with the state ABC Commission and the Asheville Board of Alcoholic Control to coordinate the app for immediate updates the instant the ABC makes any changes to its catalog.

It’s a slick-looking app with clean lines on a black background. But beyond being aesthetically pleasing, it is remarkably functional. A user can build a list of needs simply by searching by name. Type in “bul” and all of the Bulleit whiskeys cue. Click the ones desired, enter the quantity, and it saves it to your order.

When the order is complete, the app compiles the list with the required ABC product numbers into a formatted email or fax and sends it directly to the user’s preferred ABC store. The app maintains a list of past orders and lets users repeat or modify them. It also allows users to mark their most frequently ordered items. Rhubarb and The Admiral beta-tested the app for several months in advance of its upcoming release.

The app will also soon be able to facilitate communication between bars. One of the short-term goals is to develop a feature that allows bars to interact with each other. “This way I can send a message to a bar across town and say, ‘Hey, man, do you want to split this case with me?’ And then we can both agree to it, and it gives the store confirmation that when the case comes in, it will be split between us,” says Fox.

Asheville’s ABC is remarkably flexible when it comes to bars looking for special orders. Most regions are required to order an entire case when requesting specialty products not regularly stocked by stores, but Asheville’s primary retail hub allows customers to split cases among multiple bars. Such a development in Barley could potentially incentivize ABC boards outside the Asheville area to allow for split cases.

While Barley is initially being developed for North Carolina, Fox suggests that he and Workman are looking into creating versions of the product for other states. There are 17 control states in the country, each with its own specific laws, catalogs and procedures for ordering.

There is a 60-day free trial period for subscriptions, after which a $10 monthly fee applies, which Fox notes is “less than the cost of a craft cocktail.” At the moment, the app is exclusively made for Apple products. Barley will be available in the Apple app store starting Tuesday, Aug. 22.

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About Jonathan Ammons
Native Asheville writer, eater, drinker, bartender and musician. Proprietor of www.dirty-spoon.com

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