Baltimore: the next alcohol delivery hot spot? - Technical.ly Baltimore

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Feb. 4, 2015 10:26 am

Baltimore: the next alcohol delivery hot spot?

Two alcohol delivery apps — Boston's Drizly and Baltimore's Brewber — are planning to launch here soon. Is the city ready?

Coming to a home near you?

(Photo courtesy of Drizly)

Some of the most successful startups can help you find the closest bar and a ride there. In Baltimore, however, there hasn’t been an app that brings the booze to those who happen to find themselves either at home, or too far from a liquor store to warrant the walk. 

That’s about to change.

Two startups with alcohol delivery apps are aiming to begin local service soon. Drizly, a Boston-based startup, is launching Thursday. Meanwhile, the local team behind Brewber is getting set to submit its app to the App Store.

With a dense urban core, growing numbers of young people and the already-proven success of OrderUp in the food space, Baltimore has natural appeal for on-demand delivery.

Brewber logo

Brewber is the local entrant in the booze-delivery arms race.

“It just seemed like a market for us that was ripe for technology that was going to make consumers’ lives easier,” said Drizly Vice President of Sales and Retail Partnerships Bryan Goodwin.

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Throw in laws that limit where liquor can be sold and still more laws that dictate when those outlets can be open, and the appeal of booze delivery starts to become clearer. Brewber’s Jon Robinson can attest to the relative inconvenience of buying alcohol in Baltimore. He’s made many a late-night trek to the closest local liquor store to his home north of Patterson Park, which isn’t that close and only has two parking spots.

“It was such a hassle for me to go and get liquor,” Robinson said.

They can’t change everything about the liquor industry, like when stores close and who gets a license, but the delivery services are betting that making the industry more convenient doesn’t require top-to-bottom change.

The members of Drizly’s team think they already have the formula. Founded in 2013 by Boston College grads Nick Rellas and Justin Robinson, Drizly will enter its 12th market when it arrives in Baltimore on Thursday.

Goodwin said Drizly gets permission to operate in each city it enters, and has done the same in Baltimore.

The startup, which has raised $4.8 million, has inked partnerships with Canton Crossing Wine and Spirits, Wine Underground in North Baltimore and Dulaney Wine and Spirits in Towson. Those partners will open up delivery access beyond the neighborhoods the stores are in to areas like downtown, Inner Harbor, Federal Hill and Hampden.

The partnerships allow customers to have access to the store’s inventory through the Drizly app. In addition to beer, wine and liquor, extras like mixers and bitters are also available for delivery — if the store stocks it.

Deliveries are made by store employees, each of whom have a Drizly-issued cell phone with a separate app that provides customer details, and scanning software to check IDs. They also have an ID guide, and the right to refuse service if anything doesn’t seem right.

“Basically what we’re trying to do is give them as many of the tools as they can,” Goodwin said.

Brewber, which will partner with a Canton liquor store (it’s not Canton Crossing), and has an app with many of the same capabilities.

There are clear similarities between the projects, down to the promise to get you your booze in under an hour, and the $5 delivery fee that both will charge in addition to the retail price of the liquor. Technical.ly sat down with Brewber’s Robinson a couple of weeks before Drizly announced its Baltimore launch, but the developer who created BusyGrad while doing graduate work at Johns Hopkins was already keenly aware of potential competition.

To differentiate itself, Brewber is planning a few additional features, including a cocktail menu. The startup will offer packages so customers can order all the ingredients for a cocktail, like an old fashioned, as a package deal.

According to Robinson, Brewber also wants to add another key component of drinking to the app experience: friends.

“What I think the other apps are missing is, drinking is a social experience,” Robinson said. He declined to elaborate on what the social features would be.

Brewber is currently a four-person team, and is self-financing. Robinson said the app is “99 percent done,” and is close to submitting it to the App Store. From there, approval usually takes two weeks.

The space will be suddenly crowded, but it hasn’t been proven in Baltimore yet. Drizly maintains that it has “built and perfected the infrastructure to make alcohol delivery safe and reliable.” With a business model in general with at least some unknowns, it’ll be interesting to see which service captures the local market.

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