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To Test Blockchain Technology, Oracle Turns to Local Beer

No, it’s not BeerCoin

Alpha Acid Brewing Company/Facebook

Thirsty software developers at Oracle’s Code One conference in San Francisco this month will be busy networking, attending keynotes — and kicking back local, Bay Area beer from Alpha Acid Brewing Co. But a brewing festival this is not, and Alpha Acid’s booth at the conference’s developer exchange (October 22nd through 25th) isn’t just a showcase for beer made with fresh local ingredients. At its core, it’s a demonstration of how Oracle’s blockchain applications, which Alpha Acid is essentially beta testing, can track, and maybe improve, the brewing process supply chain.

Inside Alpha Acid’s microbrewery and taproom in an industrial park in Belmont — not far from Oracle’s massive headquarters in Redwood City — small, internet-enabled sensors take the temperature of fermentation tanks filled with brewer Kyle Bozicevic’s beer. Those temperature readings are logged and stored in the Oracle cloud, along with data from the farm in Gilroy at New World Ales where Bozicevic gets his hops, the yeast lab, Gigayeast, where he gets his yeast, and the malthouse, Admiral Maltings, where he gets his malt.

Inside Alpha Acid’s microbrewery
Caleb Pershan

Transactions between the players in this supply chain, from the ingredients producers to the point of sale — in this case the drinkers at Oracle Code One, who will scan a QR code on their beer — are tracked on a blockchain ledger. Blockchain, prized for its decentralized nature and security, is best known as the basis for exchanges of cryptocurrency like Bitcoin. But Oracle and others are betting on blockchain’s more practical applications, which include supply chain tracking and sourcing verification.

So why use blockchain for the brewing process at all? “There’s the cool factor — I want to see how my beer was produced,” says Prasen Palvankar, a senior director of product management at Oracle.

“But more importantly, things that will affect businesses are recalls, issues with raw materials, [and] issues that may happen during transportation.”

Specifically, if you know exactly where the supply chain went wrong, “you can recall not all the beer that went out in the last week, but just the batches that are affected.” That’s most valuable for makers of more expensive or sensitive products — say, semiconductors or pharmaceuticals. But it could still save Alpha Acid some kegs of beer and plenty of money.

After all, beer ingredients don’t come cheap. “We’re using very, very expensive ingredients,” says brewer Bozicevic. If Gigayeast’s shipment hits a damagingly high temperature before it gets to the brewery, an internet-enabled sensor could let the brewer know not to use it.

Practical use of blockchain at breweries like Alpha Acid might be a ways off, if it’s ever adopted at all. But even now, there’s that “cool” factor, which can’t be overlooked in marketing — “telling the story of why this beer is special, what makes it different from something generic you can get at a grocery store,” as Bozicevic puts it.

And fittingly enough, it’s that cool factor that Oracle taps into with its beer demo. That, and some well-sourced refreshments for Code One attendees.

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