Joe Sixpack: Request a beer at ballpark, in 140 characters or less

Posted: April 29, 2011

A CITIZENS Bank Park vendor is on Twitter. Tweet him during a game, and he'll deliver a fresh beer to your seat.

Ladies and gentlemen: I present the first practical use of Twitter.

No more waiting for the beer man to finally wander down your aisle. No more hustling off to stand in line for half an inning. No more "Sorry, pal, I'm sold out."

Thumb your section, row and seat numbers into your cellphone and, voilĂ , a cold Bud.

Bill "The Beerman" Watkins, 32, who goes by the handle @PhilsBeerman, is just getting up and running with his service. "I don't know if it'll bring that much more business," he said, "but it should increase my visibility."

The Twitter service is limited to Watkins' territory in the right-field stands (sections 101-107, 201-211 and 301-310). And it's not exactly personal service. When Watkins receives an order, he doesn't automatically troop directly to your seat; but he does save a cold one for you and gets there ASAP.

"I'll come running with a cold beer . . . and a friendly smile," he promised.

Watkins, a full-time copier salesman from Mantua, N.J., who has been selling beer at Phillies games since the final years of the Vet, said he got the idea from a vendor at Seattle's Safeco Field who launched his service this season on Opening Day.

That vendor, Kevin Zelko, works Safeco's so-called Area 51, about 12 to 15 sections in right field where No. 51 Ichiro Suzuki patrols.

"A friend and I had been using Twitter to make silly baseball comments," explained Zelko (@msbeervendor), a 36-year-old special-education schoolteacher, "and we just got to talking about how we could make it, I guess, more interactive."

He's already gotten off to a big start. When Zelko announced earlier this season that he'd donate one game's worth of tips to Red Cross relief efforts in Japan, the stadium vending company, the Mariners and a local radio station matched the donation. He raised $2,000 in one night.

"Fans here have really embraced open-source technology," Zelko said. "It's just a natural way to interact with the customer."

Obviously, as smartphones get smarter, this is just the beginning. Some day (probably the day after I'm gone), you'll be able to press #6PACK, and your favorite beer will appear out of thin air, whether you're in the stadium, a bar or your back yard.

But for now, the Holy Grail of beer apps is one that will alert you to where a specific beer is being poured at any time. This has become a big deal among beer freaks in search of specific, hard-to-find brands.

Several online tap trackers in Philadelphia, New York, Chicago, Baltimore and elsewhere have tried to meet the challenge, mainly by asking bartenders and customers to update their wordy tap lists. That human element is the websites' weakness, however. On weekends, especially, as kegs turn over in as little as an hour, it's impossible for them to keep up to date.

Speaking as someone with absolutely no technical background, here's my solution: radio-frequency identification tags. The same tiny gadgets used to track keg inventories could be used to transmit signals that indicate when they've been tapped or kicked.

Or maybe the solution is to just wait a coupla minutes. Somehow, the beer always shows up, and it tastes just as good.

Throughout May, Phillies beer vendor Watkins (online at www.philsbeerman.com) says

he'll be donating 25 percent of his ballpark tips to the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.

Here are a few notable online and smartphone beer locators.

_ Phillytapfinder.com. Operated by local beer hounds Jared and Kristy Littman, the service allows users to search for beers by name, style, bar or characteristic.

_ BeerMenus.com. Tap lists in Philadelphia, Chicago, San Francisco and New York.

_ BeerCloud. An iPhone and Android app with a GPS beer finder, bar code scanner and sommelier that recommends beer-and-food pairings.

_ Philly Beer Week app. Retooled for Philly Beer Week in June, lists hundreds of events by brewery, location and time, and provides walking directions to the next, nearest beer event.

"Joe Sixpack" is by Don Russell, director of Philly Beer Week. For more on the beer scene, sign up for his weekly email update at www.joesixpack.net.

Email: joesixpack@phillynews.com.

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