2017-07-13 / On the Town

Finding the right brew

Newbury Park natives craft beer app
By Thomas McMahon
Special to the Acorn


EVERYTHING’S BETTER OVER BEER—Nick Norton, left, chats with Farshad Memarzia, proprietor of Bottle & Pint in Newbury Park. Norton and three friends have created an app that will make craft beer recommendations based on the user’s preferences. 
JAMES SHORT/Acorn Newspapers EVERYTHING’S BETTER OVER BEER—Nick Norton, left, chats with Farshad Memarzia, proprietor of Bottle & Pint in Newbury Park. Norton and three friends have created an app that will make craft beer recommendations based on the user’s preferences. JAMES SHORT/Acorn Newspapers For those overwhelmed by the growing variety of craft beers to choose from, there’s an app for that.

The advent of Barly, a beer recommendation app co-created by two childhood classmates from Newbury Park, coincides with a craft brewery boom in the Conejo area in recent years (see sidebar).

Fittingly, the idea for the app arose in a moment of indecision at a bar with a mammoth beer menu.

Barly cofounders Nick Norton and Mike Weil, both 31, met as kids at Banyan Elementary School. They continued on the same school track—Sequoia Middle followed by Newbury Park High—but weren’t close friends.

They went separate ways for college: While Norton majored in music and political theory at UC San Diego, Weil went to UCLA to study civil engineering.

Norton’s taste for IPAs (India pale ales) and other specialty beers blossomed in San Diego, home of seminal craft breweries like Stone, Ballast Point and AleSmith.

“San Diego is, by many measures, the craft beer capital of the world,” Norton said.

Weil didn’t have the same degree of exposure to serious brews at UCLA. “Everyone was drinking light beer pretty much,” he said.

After each earned a master’s degree in 2009, Norton and Weil returned to Newbury Park and reconnected. Norton encouraged Weil’s nascent interest in craft beer, introducing him to new styles. Weil developed a taste for such bold brews as hoppy IPAs, dark stouts and tart sours.

The pair’s beer bonding was well timed: The first local brewery, Ladyface Ale Companie in Agoura, opened in late 2009.

“We were there pretty much every day,” Norton said.

Something’s brewing

The idea for a beer recommendation app came in 2014, while Norton was on tour with his band, Better Looking People With Superior Ideas. Norton, who plays guitar, was with his bandmates and Hunter Knight, a friend from UCSD, at a San Diego bar with a long list of craft beers.

Norton said drummer Craig Vermeyen “was Googling every single beer on the menu” to help decide what to try.

“It was taking forever,” Norton recalled. “One of us said, ‘There’s got to be an app for this.’ And we looked, and there wasn’t.”

Excited by the prospect of filling a niche in the beer world, Norton, Knight and Vermeyen decided to develop their own app. Norton asked Weil, now his roommate in Los Angeles, to join the project.

The four got to work, learning the ins and outs of computer programming and writing the codes to build the app.

Weil, who’d already begun a career as a water resource engineer, spent his spare time teaching himself coding and design. He said he typically logs 10 to 40 hours a week working on the app.

In fall 2015, after about a year of development and a test phase, the four friends were ready to publicly launch Barly, their gift to beer lovers.

Tap advisor

Barly is available as a free download for Android and Apple phones. The app prompts users to create a palate profile, asking them to choose the types of flavors they like: “fruity and spicy,” “malty and sweet,” “hoppy and bitter,” etc.

The app then gives beer recommendations based on that profile and other users’ ratings. Details like tasting notes, international bitterness units and alcohol by volume are also displayed.

Barly’s “Nearby” feature shows a list of local bars and, in most cases, what they have on tap.

After tasting a beer, users can enter their own ratings, which Barly will remember for future suggestions.

Norton said the key advantage of the app is getting a recommendation rather than a rating.

“As a beer enthusiast, I’m going to like really hoppy beers and sours. For some, those flavors might be too strong,” he said.

Still flowing

The Barly app appears to be a hit with beer drinkers: Norton said it’s been downloaded around 15,000 times in less than two years.

“It’s been slow but smooth growth,” he said.

Meanwhile, the four friends continue to update and promote Barly in their spare time.

Norton, who works as a music composer and college professor, said the app work is “beyond a hobby, but not yet a career.” In a way, the beer recommendation business is not so different from what he tries to do in music.

“My favorite thing in the world,” Norton said, “is introducing people to new things.”

The app introduced new styles of beer to Matt Strang of Newbury Park, who grew up with Norton and Weil. Strang, 31, said he served as a “guinea pig,” helping his friends test an early version of Barly by visiting local establishments and tasting brews suggested by the app.

“I found myself liking German beers a lot,” Strang said.

For more information, visit www.barlyapp.com

Return to top