Thursday, January 16, 2014

How to successfully market your homebrewing product to underage drinkers and get away with it

I love Kickstarter quite a bit for all the great projects that people have to offer. Occasionally there will be one that is not so great. I discovered the "Bootlegger Bottle", a device that sits on your kitchen counter top, allowing you to ferment nearly any juice you throw into it in 1-2 days. Now every teenager can go around his school and tell all his friends he made wine and feel proud about himself. This product has underage drinking written all over it. Additionally, the patents that the creators are trying to get can be replicated by anyone smart enough to research it.
Bootlegger bottle
Magic Beads
Let's start off by discussing the technology behind this invention. The Bootlegger Bottle is a glass jar with an inner porous liner. To use the jar, fill it with the special beads, add in your juice of choice, some sugar, cover the jar and wait 24 hours. How does it work you ask? I can tell you.
Bootlegger Bottle Fermentation gif
This looks about as active as my yeast starters
They claim that the beads are the source of 24 hour instant fermentation. What exactly are these beads? The beads are immobilized yeast cells. It is an interesting brewing technique that allows yeast to contact with sugars in the fluid, allowing for the production of ethanol and carbon dioxide. The unique thing is that since the yeast is immobilized, it does not reproduce, meaning the cell can stay viable for a long time.
Immobilized Yeast Experiment
Experimentation with immobilized yeast. Source
That sounds cool doesn't it? Now you might be wondering how do they made the beads. In a thread from, user MalFet immobilizes some yeast using calcium alginate. Mix health yeast cells in sodium alginate and drop the mixture into a solution of calcium chloride to create beads. The reaction between sodium alginate and calcium chloride creates a rubber like substance. The yeast is stuck to the surface of the bead, much like how wild yeast gets caught in between layers of fruit.
Immobilized yeast beads
"Patent pending BioEx yeast beads" (or yeast in calcium alginate).
Is this technology worth a patent? It is, but Ruckus Fermentation (that's the company who makes this product) shouldn't be getting it. Immobilized yeast is key to continuous fermentation. The same method was pioneered in the 1985 research paper by Onaka, et all. If anything, these researchers should already have the patent.

"Alcohol Culture"

Below you can see the original video that was in the Kickstarter campaign, before it was changed to the one they have now. I'll give them props for changing it out, because this video was more humorous than anything.

Firstly, the fedora. Wearing that shows me that you want to appeal to edgy teenagers. I was in tears of laughter at 1:15 in the video when he took it off and placed it on the counter. This is not how you should be marketing a product. It isn't 1930 anymore. I know the theme is "bootlegger", but if you want to make it come off right, you need to wear the other clothes of the era and not look like Justin Timberlake. (The only brewing companies  that might be allowed to use a fedora are Rubicon and Speakeasy as they fit the theme.)
Tipping Intensifies
I tip thee to you
Secondly, this is blatant advertising to minors. Any kid who wants hooch can go buy a bottle of apple juice/grape juice at the store and ferment it themselves. But this project puts everything in one place. Even though it isn't illegal for minors to buy ingredients from homebrew stores or the online, most of the time underage youths learn about making hooch, they'll use bread yeast instead. I can vouch for using bread yeast in my first batch of wine that I made (I was above the legal drinking age before you ask). To put it bluntly, bread yeast will make your liquor taste like bread. Those kids who might have tried making their own booze like this might be inclined to try this product out, so their stuff can taste better. However, as I discussed above, fruit drinks usually need time to age for the flavors to mature. It is possible to get good tasting cider or wine in 2 weeks, but 24 hours is far too soon. If you are curious about starting homebrewing and don't want to invest in expensive equipment immediately, I recommend watching this video from the Youtube user CraigTube (This is the same video that got me started).

Finally we have the concept of "Alcohol Culture" mentioned in the video. For Americans, alcohol culture usually has bad connotations due to rampant binge drinking in college and in bars. I understand that the company stresses drinking in moderation (and I encourage that too), but it's hard to pass that off when you use phrases like "positive alcohol culture".
Homebrewing Wine
If you want to start homebrewing, do it like this, and not with a special bottle.
They say you've made it as a company when you get your first hater. If I am not the first person to criticize these guys for creating this jar, I surely do not think I will be the last one to. I had trouble deciding to write this article because "any publicity is good publicity". What is your opinion of this project?

(Disclaimer: all images and videos in this article were taken from the Bootlegger Bottle Kickstarter page (except for the immobilized yeast experiment photo). My views do not reflect those of the creators of this project, nor am I affiliated with the project in any way, shape, or form.)

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