By Carten Cordell
“Necessity is the mother of invention,” is not the first thought that comes to mind when you are famished for an Old Fashioned and without a drop of bourbon in the house.
Nevertheless, the notion came to 23-year-old Ben Katz, a recent Virginia Tech computer science grad, after watching countless house party hosts in search of low-cost sauce.
“The way people would buy liquor was not really looking for the best deals,” he said. “Because the information was hard to come by, they just go by the brands.”
So Katz decided to make a more simple method for alcohol shopping. By using the price list on the Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control’s website, Katz created an app called VABC which compiles the prices throughout the state and breaks them down by brand, type, alcohol volume and location.
“I figured it would be a nice thing to have if you walk into the store, to have that sort of information at your fingertips,” Katz said. “What’s the best deal you can get for the lowest price and the highest percentage of alcohol. The app basically does that.”
By using the public information disclosed by ABC, the app will tell you what brands the stores are selling, its alcohol content and how well it’s been reviewed to calculate the “best value”.
With a shopping list feature included and universal mapping of all the ABC stores in the state, with their hours, it’s easy to figure out where your next gin Rickey is coming from.
The app, which is available for both Android and iPhone, is priced at 99 cents and took Katz a couple months to build, working on the weekends while in school.
It has also made him a bit of a minor celebrity on campus, as the web innovator guiding the perpetually poor college student toward both frugality and frivolity.
“I went to a house party a couple of weekends ago and got recognized as ‘the guy who wrote the app.’ It was pretty cool,” he said. “People are really loving it.”
Katz, who graduated in December and will soon start a job with Qualcomm, said his next move is to expand the app listings to other states with their own ABC databases, like Alabama and others.
“I do want to add some kind of personal inventory (function),” he said. “It’s just something I did in my free time. I am happy it’s getting some interest.”