They keep Web beer fresh

Kristy and Jared Littman, creators of the Philly Tap Finder website, at the bar of Bainbridge Street Barrel House.
Kristy and Jared Littman, creators of the Philly Tap Finder website, at the bar of Bainbridge Street Barrel House. (DAVID M WARREN / Staff Photographer)
Posted: May 31, 2013

By 11 a.m. on a typical Saturday, Jared Littman, 37, a Queen Village resident, has already been awake for six hours. He's mostly been working on PhillyTapFinder.com, the craft-beer-centric website he cofounded with his wife, Kristy, in 2010.

Day and night, e-mails pour in to Jared's inbox from camera-phone-wielding beer geeks and bar managers across the city and suburbs with news of the latest beer-list updates and most recently tapped kegs. He spends hours each day entering that fresh data into his site.

The frenzy increases in the run-up to Philly Beer Week, a raucous, 10-day festival featuring hundreds of events. "The beer community counts on us to have the most detailed information about what's on tap," Littman says.

Before noon on a recent Saturday when I met him at Prohibition Taproom, he's understandably ready for a beer. His pick: a brown ale from Port Brewing Co. called Board Meeting. He ordered it without a glance at the menu.

"This beer only became available about a month ago. There's not a lot of it, it's hard to find, and I knew it was here," he says between sips.

And that ability to easily locate a specific brew is what Philly Tap Finder is all about. It's a Web-based resource for the area's many craft beer hounds to get current information about what is being poured, right now, all across town. Users can search by style, brewer, specific beer, bar, or neighborhood. When Jared and Kristy came up with the idea in 2010, they wanted to learn more about sour beers by tasting as many versions as they could, but a lack of up-to-date online draft lists made their mission frustratingly hit-and-miss.

"I looked for a similar tool that would let me search for different beers around the city, and there really wasn't one," says Jared.

He and Kristy talked to friends, who seemed to like the idea, but it was when they started chatting up bar owners that he knew they were really onto something.

"Because we do all the data entry and updating, we take the responsibility off the bars," Jared says.

Both are lawyers by day, but Jared clocks in at 6 a.m. so he can end his day about 2:30 p.m., at which point he retrieves their 1-year-old son from day care and starts his second shift at Philly Tap Finder. With amazing speed and accuracy, he sorts the incoming tips, menu photos, and text messages from the bars.

"Every day, I try to have things updated by the time happy hour starts," he says.

By that time, Kristy is home from her office, ready to reconnect with her husband and son.

"Sometimes I have to change the password to get him off the computer," she says. "I tell him, 'It's time to spend an hour with your family.' "

He often works right up until bedtime, blogging, interacting with his nearly 5,000 Twitter followers, posting on Facebook, and dealing with the never-ending beer-list updates.

Jared and Kristy met in Camden, where they were in law school at Rutgers University. Together they moved to Philly in 2003, with a shared zest for exploring all the culture the city had to offer. This pursuit extended to the city's burgeoning craft beer scene. Jared had discovered the pleasures of better beer in the '90s, when he was an undergraduate. It was a pint of Sierra Nevada pale ale sipped at the Old Bay bar in New Brunswick, N.J., that ignited what would become a long-term infatuation with the suds.

"But I feel compelled to point out," Kristy says, "that it's true he knew what good beer was, but he still drank 'The Beast' " (a bargain mass-produced beer also known by its actual name, Milwaukee's Best).

"For financial reasons," Jared was quick to add.

Money matters when it comes to Philly Tap Finder, too. Though his passion for craft beer is obvious, the website isn't only a labor a love. There's a savvy business model at work here - the bars included on the site pay membership fees to be there. (With the exception of certain spots, such as Monk's and South Philly Tap Room, whose presence on the site was so essential to establishing its relevance that their fees have always been waived.)

Advertising on the site brings in revenue, too, and in 2012 Jared and Kristy recouped their initial investment and turned a profit for the first time.

So far earnings haven't been enough for Jared to leave his day job, but until that day comes, he feels richly rewarded by the community that has sprung up around his site.

Jared has organized bottle swaps through Twitter and Facebook, bringing beer lovers together to share the rare and interesting bottles in their collections. He and Kristy throw parties to thank their best and most frequent tipsters - those guys with the camera-phones sending him shots of the draft lists the moment they change.

His fans and followers keep coming back to the site because, for them, it provides a valuable service that enriches their social life and enhances their beer IQ.

"Last September, I went on a quest to try as many pumpkin beers as possible," says Matt Greig, a frequent user of Philly Tap Finder. He brags that the site led him to Avery Rumpkin, an 18 percent alcohol by volume monster that's among the rarest in that genre.

"Without Philly Tap Finder," he said, "I would have really missed out."


Beer Week picks

Jared and Kristy Littman share their top seven events for Beer Week.

Kick the Locals: 2nd Street Brew House, South Philly; More than 10 local craft breweries will be celebrated in this event, now in its third year.   Saturday, 1 p.m. to 2 a.m.

L.A.B. Tap Takeover (Local Artisan Breweries): The Institute Bar, Fairmount/Spring Garden. Sunday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. This event also features local beers, but with a focus on smaller up-and-comers like Forest & Main and Tired Hands.  

Pucker Up and Shut Up, A Sour Ale Takeover: Prohibition Taproom, Fairmount/Spring Garden.  Sunday, 3 p.m. to 2 a.m. The style that started it all, sour brews remain Jared and Kristy's favorites.

Adam Avery Private Sour/ Barrel Aged Tasting: City Tap House, West Philly; Wednesday. 4 to 6 p.m. This event promises some rare sour beers that Philly may never see again.

Weyerbacher/De La Senne Meet the Brewers: Standard Tap, Northern Liberties/Fishtown.  Friday, 4 p.m. to 2 a.m. At this event, drinkers can meet the brewers and sip special beers from Weyerbacher and De La Senne.

Homebrew Extravaganza at Memphis Taproom: Memphis Taproom, Kensington/Port Richmond. June 8, noon to 3 p.m. "Our local homebrewers are amazing," says Jared. "We went to this last year and it may have been our favorite event."  

Extreme Beer Brunch: South Philadelphia Tap Room,  South Philly. June 9, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. According to Jared, this is the ideal setting to reflect on all the fun of Beer Week right before it draws to a close.

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