Summertime is here, which means a slower pace of life, less stress and more time for the things we enjoy. Since I enjoy fine whiskey and technology, I came across an appropriate blend (pun intended) of the two in the form of a free mobile app called "Distiller."
I've been fascinated with the birth and life cycle of mobile apps for years now, and why some thrive over others. I believe the successful ones are those that fit a niche or find new ways of doing things. Many apps are just thinly-veiled advertisement or revenue-generating vehicles and I steer clear of those religiously since I'm a minimalist and anti-clutter freak.
However, I found Distiller quite appealing as someone who enjoys whiskey and wants to learn more about it. It's been like a "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" for me (for those of you Douglas Adams fans). I can look up details about the brands I enjoy, find out how whiskey is made and the background behind it, find ratings or recommendations and locate new whiskeys that might suit my palette.
Distiller is similar to the Untapped app for beer, with the added ability to buy products and have them shipped, via their affiliation with a company called Ezra's, an online alcohol distributor. There is an iOS version and an Android version available. Since I'm an Android man, I took the app for a test drive.
Upon startup I had to enter my birthday to confirm I was old enough to interact with whiskey (am I really almost 44?). Once the app launched I beheld the new announcement that you can now buy whiskey via Distiller:
I elected to swipe through the various screens and do a little whiskey research:
Since I'm partial to Jameson, I opted to tap "Find a Whiskey" then look for my brand.
Note that the numbers to the right of each whiskey are not the price, but rather the rating, meaning the highest-rated ones appeared near the top.
Tapping the top-most entry yielded me details such as a description, cost and rating:
The toolbar at the bottom allows you to take notes, buy the product or add it to your "top shelf," "collection" or "wishlist." Scrolling down yielded more details:
Here I could review the age, proof, details, and notes about the whiskey. Scrolling further revealed a flavor profile to help establish the complex elements of the whiskey:
To review other people's notes on this product I simply scrolled back up and tapped on the "Notes" tab:
Rating a whiskey requires a free account on Distiller and it allows additional options such as specifying where it will be consumed to help identify the proper application thereof:
These elements really help to create profiles of the brands and allow fans to log their impressions and preferences or find the choices that meet their needs. I browsed through various options and found more than enough information to conduct research upon my favorite brands during my testing trial. Navigating through pages using left and right swipes was simple, and getting to the home screen was also easy via the upper-right icon:
The Distiller app allows you to look at and specify other categories such as flavor preferences, expertise levels, price and other criteria. You can obtain recommendations via the app based on your tastes and input:
Tapping Home, then "Learn" brought me to a page with a lot of interesting information about the making and background of whiskey, scotch, bourbon and other spirits:
I could also check out a page outlining the best bourbons of 2015 (so far):
The app allows you to access the Distiller blog, share whiskey collections with others and get more insight into the whiskey scene around the world. All in all, I was quite pleased with the app, which is a great way to keep one of my hobbies at my literal fingertips.
Of course, there is one caveat: should you choose to buy alcohol with the Distiller app, you can only have it shipped to those states which permit you to receive it via mail. At present, Alaska, Hawaii, Kentucky, Maryland, Massachusetts (boo!), New Hampshire, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia and West Virginia do not permit this. I live in Massachusetts, but fortunately I spend quite a bit of time in my home state of New York where my parents live, and my Dad and I both appreciate fine whiskey.
I discussed the Distiller app with Mikael Mossberg, the CEO and founder of Distiller. Here's a transcript of our conversation:
Scott Matteson: "How was the idea for Distiller conceived?"
Mikael Mossberg: "The idea for Distiller came about as far back as 2011. My co-founder Brent Stiefel and I were working in the entertainment space, and were becoming increasingly interested in whiskey as a hobby. It started to become painfully clear to us, though, that while there were many fantastic blogs and publications out there reviewing and writing about whiskey, they were written mainly for seasoned appreciators and connoisseurs. Additionally, there really weren't any products built for a mobile audience, making it very difficult to read about and discover new products while at the store, a bar, or a restaurant. In 2013 we decided to dedicate ourselves to building Distiller, a mobile and desktop platform to help beginners, appreciators, and connoisseurs alike learn about new spirits. Since then we've served more than 4 million whiskey recommendations."
SM: "What sort of team was involved with bringing it to life?"
MM: "So many people worked together to bring Distiller to life from designers and developers to lawyers and accountants. Before we had everything worked out, we partnered with an amazing third party agency to help us explore some of the ideas we had for what we now know as Distiller. Now we have a full time team in house that maintains and builds the future of the product."
SM: "How long did it take to bring the notion to fruition?"
MM: "Well, I first started thinking about the idea as far back as 2011. I had all these rough product sketches, and all these notes about what this product could do. Then we started really trying to hone in on what our MVP was, and a lot of those pie in the sky ideas were put on a shelf and we worked hard on what we could actually create in the short term. From the time we decided to really dig in and start working on the idea until it came to market it took about 6 months. That was December of 2013."
SM: "What coding/programming techniques were involved and how long did it take?"
MM: "Distiller is a Rails product first and foremost. Again, from the time that we actually started building the product until the time we launched the very first iteration it took about 6 months."
SM: "How does the app generate revenue/what is the business model involved?"
MM: "This partnership with Ezra's is a good example of one of the ways we are monetizing. We have begun working with brands to create custom campaigns to raise the visibility of their products. Brands can't affect our reviews or ratings, but they can have their product featured, promoted in search, and included as a custom element in our recommendation engine."
SM: "How was funding for the app secured?"
MM: "Votiv Capital (http://votiv.is/#/capital/ventures/) backed us during our angel phase. We have actually just begun raising our seed round to help us scale and bring on a larger team."
SM: What's next for Distiller?
MM: "This year is going to see a lot of change for Distiller. We're bringing on new team members, adding more spirits to our database than ever before, releasing new and exciting features, and rolling out the next phase of Distiller. We couldn't be more excited!"
Distiller is a good model of a mobile app that links consumers with their hobby while allowing access to retailers with whom they can conduct business. It's a win-win for both sides, which is the trademark of any successful app (not to mention spirit).
Scott Matteson is a senior systems administrator and freelance technical writer who also performs consulting work for small organizations. He resides in the Greater Boston area with his wife and three children.