Major League Baseball takes its annual midsummer respite this week. Red Sox fans will drink to that, guaranteed. If any of them could make it to Target Field in Minneapolis, where MLB will hold its All-Star festivities, they could drink with the aid of a self-serve beer machine.
Deus ex machina, say a big hello to Dos Equis.
Just when you thought you were about to get over that killer A.J. Pierzynski hangover . . . this! Pour your own beer, exact change not necessary.
Here’s how it’s supposed to work: Purchase a prepaid beer card at the park, essentially a debit card, in any one of three denominations, be it $10, $20, or $40. Then line up, grab a cup, and simply follow the machine’s easy-drinkin’ prompts. The big words on the front of the DraftServ machine, which features fancy, high-tech LED screens: TAP. SNAP. TILT. ENJOY.
Makes perfect sense. Clearly something every college dorm in America ought to consider. “Animal House,” this one’s for you. Mind if we dance with your dates while you’re pouring yourself a cold one?
The process is not totally bereft of the human touch. There will be real old-timey living, breathing beer monitors at each of the stations, located in the stands behind first and third base. Kids, if you’re already active as a student hall monitor at school, this could be a pro sports career path to keep in mind. Beer police officers. What a great way to make pals, too.
The monitors will have eyes trained on spotting that rare over-the-top self-bartending customer who has been, shall we say, swept head over heels by the newfound freedom. A sure sign of such a customer at Target Field would be when he stands there for a prolonged period, empty cup in hand, repeatedly swiping his beer card, winking pruriently, and murmuring such things to the machine as, “Hey, sweetheart, any idea if the Twins are in town tonight?’’
Now, hold on to your favorite black-and-gold drinking hat, because this come-hither piece of drinking technology has been put in place (bolted to the floor, no doubt) by Buffalo-based Delaware North Companies. Yes, sir. The company with its name on the Boston Bruins these last 40 years has what is widely held to be the sole automatic brewski dispenser operating in a professional North American sports arena.
Which only would lead one to think that the DraftServ automatic beer-dispensing machine one day could be setting ’em up at DNC-owned-and-operated TD Garden. That would officially make us the Hub of Hops. Unofficially, I think we’ve been that for a while, what with Sam Adams having invented beer. Or something like that.
“It’s a novelty . . . , ’’ Pete Spike, DNC’s general manager at Target Field, told an Associated Press reporter last week in Minneapolis, where the machine made its debut last Sunday, “ . . . merely something fun.’’
Nothing probably says fun like a self-serve beer machine. Except maybe one with an adjacent photo booth, one of those antiquated items from the pre-selfie era. Pile in the booth with a dozen of your beer-dispensing-machine buds and it’s game on! If I owned the machine company, I’d build the photo booth right into my deluxe model, DraftServ ‘n’ Say Cheese.
The dispensing of booze — by age, amount, and method — varies widely from culture to culture. I imagine a pour-your-own machine at a ballpark will surprise most Americans. At least for a little while. We still have our quirks about alcohol throughout the 50 states.
Something tells me it will be a long time before DraftServ finds its way into EnergySolutions Arena, home of the Utah Jazz, in Salt Lake City.
On a recent assignment in Quebec City, a morning walk led me through a hotel lobby, where a vending machine adjacent to the front desk caught my eye. The glass display case held no fewer than a half-dozen bottles of wine of varying brand names and types, both red and white. It sold wine by the glass. No wine monitor on duty. Quebec City is very French and the French generally don’t make a big deal out of wine, unless they’re out of it.
In 2010, the NHL season about to start, I joined the Bruins on a tour to Belfast and Prague. Nowhere on that tour did I see a self-serve beer or wine machine.
Prague, however, had something that fit the “fun’’ and “novel’’ drinking concept. A downtown tavern had a fairly good-size room equipped with (going by memory here) some eight drinking stations. Each station, essentially a kitchen-size table rimmed by six or eight chairs, included six or eight beer taps in the middle. With an endless supply of frosty glass mugs at hand, customers at each table were free to pour as much, or as little, as desired. As I recall, customers were inclined to drink more. Who’s handed the keys to a Ferrari and obeys the speed limit?
The real eye-opener at the bar in Prague was that the room with the free-flowing kegs also included a large screen on the wall that tallied how much beer was imbibed at each table. It wasn’t solely for billing purposes. It also kept score of a drinking competition. The tables were engaged in trying to outdrink one another. The table stacked with writers in town for NHL business purposes did OK in the drink-off. But I could be wrong. It was late. And dark. At least until sunrise.
We’ll see where this be-your-own-barkeep concept goes in the US sporting world. At Target Field, the machine charges by the ounce, be it 38 cents or 40 cents, which is around $6 per pint, with Bud and Bud Light the low end, and Goose Island 312 Urban Pale Ale and Shock Top Lemon Shandy the premium draw.
Here in the Hub of Hops, if the Sox, Celtics, Bruins, and Patriots keep selling out, that’s some 5 million customers through the door each year. They don’t all drink beer. They won’t all want to be bartenders. But I expect the self-serve business would be brisk, even stout. If hurried into Fenway this year, the machines would offer “the ale for what ails you.’’
Oh . . . people will come. People will most definitely come.