FEATURE: An Interview with Drinkvine Founder Ralph Holm

Ralph Holm - drinkvine founder
Drinkvine is a free website  developed by Ralph Holm in January 2010 to help beer, wine and spirit enthusiasts in Ontario track where their favorite drinks are in stock. Two of our favorite features are the seasonal beer releases lists which prevent us from missing out on a new beer available at the LCBO and the automatic email you can subscribe to which tells you when a drink you are waiting for is available.

We recently interviewed Ralph to find out more about how Drinkvine got started as well as his future plans for the website. 

Ottawa Beer Events: What gave you the idea to start Drinkvine?

Ralph Holm (drinkvine): Like many of your readers I am interested in finding and drinking good craft beer.  It's a rewarding activity and there is so much to explore and learn about.  One of the challenges that beer enthusiasts faced early on (and still do today) was that while the LCBO was releasing new beers through their seasonal programs, it was difficult to determine when the beers were actually showing up in stores.  It was a guessing game.  You could check the LCBO website every day and search for what you were interested in.. but for a seasonal release with 10 or so beers, that meant a lot of searching!

I came up with the idea to start drinkvine because I thought there had to be a better way.  It didn't take long to create a prototype program which searched for the beers I was interested in every day and emailed me when they arrived at my stores.   It worked really well but it was text based and only supported a single user.  I figured if I was benefiting from it though then others would like it as well.  After a lot of reading about how to create a website and a significant amount of work, drinkvine was created.  It was released in January of 2010.  A few months later we received a Golden Tap award and users have been signing up ever since.

What are some of the key features of the site?

I think the biggest feature is that drinkvine is completely free. It is privately owned and funded and the services are basically a way of saying thanks to many of the great people in the Ontario beer community.

The ability to see the releases ahead of time, add products to your inventory and then get notified when they arrive is a big feature.  Thousands of email notifications are going out every month letting users know that products have arrived at their stores.  An often overlooked feature though is the ability to browse the inventory.. this is still something that's not offered by the LCBO.  For instance you can quickly identify all of the IPA's, or stouts.. or whatever you like.  You can also browse by price, country, etc.

The top list gets a lot of attention.  Users want to know what the most sought after beers are. And finally I'll say that drinkvine is simple.  It was designed to be clean and fast to load.  It only uses HTML and because the screen size is small it will load on most mobile phones without modification or prompting you to download an app.

What are your future plans for Drinkvine?

I would like to see drinkvine attract a few key volunteers.  There are some top notch users on drinkvine and a few have been great at sharing information about new products and releases.  If a few of them were to volunteer it would help keep things up to date.  That would allow me to focus on development and add more of the features that people have been requesting.

Is there a chance that the Beer Store Inventory will be added as a feature?

The Beer Store inventory is interesting.  drinkvine was designed from the start to support multiple sources because I honestly thought that the Beer Store would release an inventory system similar to the LCBO.  However, that hasn't happened yet.  They list the stores that carry products .. but not any actual inventory information. Displaying the quantity (while not always perfect) is a much more reliable indicator that products are available. When The Beer Store adds the information (and I hope they do), drinkvine will support them.

Are there any plans to release an app?

Yes.. but I am hoping that it magically appears all by itself! 🙂  Development is going to take some time..

What are some of your favorite beers?

Great question.  I really like many of the local beers we have available to us in Ottawa.  Beau's Lugtread, Kichessippi Natural Blond, Mill St. Tankhouse, Broadhead's Long Shot white, etc are all solid examples that come to mind – but there are plenty of others.  It is simply amazing how much the beer scene has improved in Ottawa (and Ontario) in the last five years.  You guys are doing a great job covering it and acting as a focal point locally.

In terms of beers you might find on drinkvine, I always add the seasonal releases (and this Fall's is a killer) but there are a few classic beers which are permanently added to my list.  Pilner Urquell, Fullers ESB, Southern Tier IPA, Rogue Dead Guy Ale, and Red Racer IPA are all amazing beers which are widely available.  Check them out if you haven't!

Sign up for a free Drinkvine account or if you don't want to commit – you also have the option to just browse the website.  You can also find Drinkvine on Twitter

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