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Culture

On demand craft beer? Not yet.

If you’re like me, you pay close attention to the latest announcement of some or another company joining in on the push to expand the ‘on demand economy’ into beer, wine and liquor. A confluence of circumstances recently has had me doing more than just watching press releases to using the services. I’ve used a number of different online options over the past few weeks – from more traditional things where I create an online order for pickup at the store to the services that offer home delivery.

So how do the services available to us in Houston stack up against one another? There’s three main ways to get beer delivered:
1. Store ‘curbside’ or traditional ordering combined with a task service like Taskrabbit to go get it
2. Delivery services that specialize in beer, wine and liquor
3. Hiring someone to go get what you want via Taskrabbit

Not able to go to the store yourself? In my experience so far nothing is really ‘there’ yet, especially for the beer drinker that wants something other than macro lager and cares about best-by dates. If you’re going to try it out, I think whether you have a good or bad experience comes down to four key factors. Some are better than others in each area, but none excel:

Price: How much more do I pay for the convenience of delivery (or order prep)?
Inventory: Can I find what I want, and is it accurate?
Speed: How fast can I get my order?
Quality: When I get it – is it damaged/expired/whatever

Online ordering and curbside pickup

I’ve used two main services here – Kroger ClickList and Total Wine & More’s online ordering process. Both services require about 12 hours advance notice, although with Total Wine I actually was able to have the order picked up within a hour or so by calling the store after I submitted my order – they put it together for me within about half an hour of my call.

Kroger charges a $5 fee after the first three uses of their service, and Total Wine offers theirs for free, although it isn’t curbside – you have to go into the store to pick up the order.

Total Wine’s online inventory system was quite accurate – easily the best online system available – and included listings for variants and all the sizes available (including kegs), and they actually had the things I ordered. Kroger’s ClickList search features are pretty primitive, and the inventory doesn’t list everything they have – just ‘mainline’ beers, and even then it can be inaccurate. You can, however, make manual entries and provide lists of products to sub out if what you want isn’t available, and this works reasonably well.

Note, HEB and Wal-Mart also offer curbside pickup at some of their area stores, but in my experience they have the same online inventory issues as Kroger … and as I don’t live near one of their participating locations I have not used them.

A TaskRabbit ‘tasker’ will charge an hourly rate to go and pickup basically anything, on the order of about $10-$20.

In terms of quality, I’ve never had an issue with my beer orders for Kroger (and I’ve bought quite a few six packs using ClickList) – the beer is always cold and as fresh as I would find on the shelf. In comparison, Total Wine sent me a six pack of my favorite IPA that was a little too close to the ‘best by’ date for my usual preferences.

Delivery Services

There are four big players in Houston right now that offer true web-to-home delivery. Drizly, Instacart, Minibar and Shipt. Shipt works exclusively wth HEB, and requires a fee to sign up (plus additional fees to deliver alcohol), so I didn’t try them out.

Both Instacart and Minibar offer 1 hour delivery to my area, but their online inventories stink. Instacart works with Specs, but the product database is a mess and full of beer that I sure hope isn’t available. Case-in-point, when I searched for Sierra Nevada the only product that came up was a 12 pack of Celebration… their winter seasonal.

In my neighborhood, Minibar works with a store called Chalet Fine Wine and Spirits over off West Gray. I had not been there before, and after looking at the complete inventory of beer available I figured out why.

Yeah, that was everything they had.

That left Drizly. They work with Goody Goody and Premier, and I guess because only Goody Goody had the beers I ordered and they don’t have a store anywhere near me, I couldn’t get delivery any faster than ONE WEEK OUT. Ugh. Note, I’ve gone back to the website and my experience may have been an anomaly, but regardless the availability of fast delivery depends on the beer and where you live – not a seamless experience.

On cost, Drizly includes a tip of ~10% of your order total and a $5 delivery fee – not cheap, especially for a wait that potentially could be measured in days and not hours. The inventory is a little clunky to search, but I was able to find some specialties (Bishops Barrel and Barrel aged Bigfoot). However, when my order was filled a week later, they called me and said the Barrel aged Bigfoot wasn’t actually there – but they were ready with an acceptable substitute – barrel aged Narwhal ‘Trip in the Woods’. While it was nice that they knew their stuff enough to make that offer, it was annoying that they waited to call me about it for a week.

Drizly had the best quality of the bunch, but I did order mainly barreled beers and not fresh IPA, so it may not be a fair comparison.

Hiring someone

The final option is to hire someone to go and get beer for you. There’s really only one option for that (aside from putting out an ad on Craigslist), and that’s Taskrabbit. Favor is a competitor in this space, but they don’t do alcohol delivery, and although they say they have a partner that does this, that outfit isn’t in Houston at this time (delivery.com).

Taskers (as they’re called) specialize in specific tasks they are willing to do – everything from basic errand running to house handyman stuff. As I mentioned above, the ‘grocery/item’ pickup folks charge on the order of $15-20/hour, and that’s on top of whatever you spend on the items you’re paying them to go and retrieve. Total cost depends on how how long it takes the tasker to do the pickup and delivery.

It’s the most expensive of the options, but if you know exactly what you want and it’s not available from one of the store partners that offers online services of any kind (ahem, three crowlers of Mini Boss, please) it’s the best option.

As I opened with, nothing’s really all the way there. All the services have drawbacks that (from my perspective) are deal killers. Now if only we could get Hopsy to come to Houston …

on-demand-craft-beer-not-yet

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

A Dad and husband, a craft beer fan and advocate for Texas craft beer culture, a native Houstonian and UH Cougar, and some other stuff too.

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