It Starts with an Idea

Welcome to our story.

In a similar fashion to the Startup podcast, we would like to share the story of our humble beginnings ever step of the way.

Our story begins about five years ago when my friend and I started to get serious about tasting craft beer. I was lucky enough to start working at the lovely Gentile’s Wine Shop and my boss, Flavio, was getting serious about educating the staff about craft beer. We held late night “beer-ducation” classes one per week and I learned all about how beer is made and some of the history. I also learned about some pretty awesome new styles, new descriptive terms, and fun ways to identify beer.

So, my friend and I decided to document our tasting experiences. We did a little research and found several books called “beer journals”  that gave us a standard format for writing tasting notes and sometimes contained a few educational pages about beer for the uninitiated. Every journal had it’s own strengths and weaknesses (as you can read about in this great review). Some of the weaknesses were pretty major deal breakers, though. That’s when the idea struck us: Why don’t we just design our own beer journal?

So, I abandoned all the available print beer journals and started using my own hand-made notebook. It fixed all those crucial problems we had (and I believe most of the beer tasting world has) with those other journals.

The whole time I kept thinking that an app would come along that would make me want to abandon the analogue pencil & paper model. But, as the years went by, nothing truly amazing in the digital world – nothing truly groundbreaking – ever came along. Meanwhile, paper beer journal sales continued to thrive and craft beer popularity continued to skyrocket. The appeal of a physical book to craft beer connoisseurs is just too strong. And why not? Beer tasting is such a tactile sensation, doesn’t it make sense that documenting that journey should also be a truly tactile one?

The Ultimate Beer Journal

As the years went by I worked on developing a beer journal to rival all the other journals.

  • It is Wire-O spiral bound to make each page accessible and easy to write on.
    • UPDATE 12/30: The journal will now employ a plastic spiral binding with the option to upgrade it to titanium. The reason for this is we are now designing the book to be a refillable.
  • It uses dense, non-glossy paper so there is no smudging or bleeding.
  • It measures 5″ x 7″ making it pocket sized yet allowing enough room for thorough notes.
  • It includes enough pages to take notes on over 180 beers in one notebook.
  • It is hand-made with environmentally safe and recycled materials.

During this time I came up with little info graphics about beer that would serve as a quick reference. It turned into a field guide to beer for while I was out in the wild tasting. Unlike other books about beer, these pages were not overly wordy and extensive (boring!), but they are graphic driven and are thorough enough to be useful. They serve as not only a great reference to jog by memory when it sometimes (often) fails me while tasting beers, but also it is a great tool to help me answer questions and educate other newly initiated craft beer tasters. These pages include:

  • A guide to how beer is made.
  • Beer styles and how they are related.
  • Ways to enhance your joy in the beer tasting experience.
  • A list of buzzwords to describe beer flavors.
  • Tips on what kind of glassware works with best with which different kinds of beers.
  • A glossary of common beer terms and their definitions.
  • Fun facts about beer to impress your friends.

After five years in the making, I had crafted what I truly believed to be the ULTIMATE beer journal. Then I struck upon an even better idea…

It Gets Better: The Chicago Beer Journal

One of my favorite aspects of beer tasting is sampling all the beers of a single region or city. Craft brewing in Chicago has exploded in recent years and even as a Chicago native I began to become confused in my hometown and lost track of what local brewers are out there. And no single source seemed to have an updated list of local brews and where to get them.

So, I spent days painstakingly gathering all the information I could about local brewers and challenged myself to try a few beers from each one. I decided to turn the whole beer tasting experience into a game that included challenges and rewards. And thus the Chicago Beer Journal was born. It is just like The Ultimate Beer Journal with a few key differences.

  • Instead of all blank note-taking pages, each page is pre-filled out with the name of a beer from a local Chicago brewer.
  • Every beer listed in the notebook is included in a table of contents with check boxes to keep score of which beers have been tasted.
  • The check boxes are designed to be officially stamped, like a passport, by participating bars and retailers of craft beer. Each bar & retailer will have their own unique stamp. If you complete the book, you win a prize!
  • The notebook includes a bonus calendar showing when different seasonal beers come out.
  • The notebook features one brewer and one pub per month who offer exclusive rewards and discounts for owners of The Chicago Beer Journal.

Now that is something worth getting exciting about!

After The Chicago Beer Journal launches in 2015, this idea is something that can be scaled up to additional cities and regions throughout the United States. And what better way to choose the next place to bring the notebook than to let the people put it to a vote? So, stay tuned for your opportunity to decide which city we make an exclusive beer journal for next!

Coming up next: Putting it Together – Fleshing out the details of this idea into a concrete product and plan that I can take action on to make.