"Free as in free speech"

Wired News: Free Beer for Geeks

Monday, July 18, 2005 by freebeer Comments (0)

By David Cohn for Wired News,1367,68144,00.html

Beer always tastes better when it’s free, or so the saying goes.

So leave it to a group of college students to find a way to make sure their beer is always free. Well, at least the recipe they use to brew it is. A group of students at IT University of Copenhagen have produced what they claim is the first open-source beer.

The recipe and brand of their beer is published under a Creative Commons license, which means anyone can use the recipe for pleasure or profit.

The only catch: If you make money selling their unique beer, you have to give them credit and publish any changes you make to the recipe under a similar license.

Their inspiration wasn’t just to get drunk, but to see what happens when an open-source structure is applied to a universally known product like beer.

“Why not take the legal framework, the open-source licenses, and apply them on analog products?” said Rasmus Nielsen, a member of Superflex, an art organization that helped create the beer in conjunction with a student group called Vores Øl (Our Beer).

On their website, the students said they are interested in seeing how their beer will get better once it is out in the world, acquiring slight improvements as the recipe is shared. Vjores Øl hopes that the beer “perhaps one day becomes the Linux of beers.”

Version 1.0 of the libation is brewed using classic techniques but has a special ingredient to make it unique. Each batch of the golden-brown ale has guarana, a South American stimulant, added to it. The guarana is equivalent to 35 milligrams of caffeine, which Vores Øl suspects should counter the drowsiness-inducing effects of the 6 percent alcohol level.

Proponents of open source are always quick to counter the assumption that they make software code “free.” A famous quote on the open-source GNU Project website explains the kind of freedom they really promote:

“Free software is a matter of liberty, not price. To understand the concept, you should think of ‘free’ as in ‘free speech,’ not as in ‘free beer.'”

The guarana-infused beer isn’t going to be handed out at frat parties, because it isn’t free of charge. But the recipe to make a batch of the beer is open to all and is being enjoyed by beer lovers from Brazil to France, judging by guestbook entries on the Vores Øl website.

As open source spreads beyond software to online encyclopedias like Wikipedia and biological research, it was only a matter of time before somebody created an open-source beer.

According to the site, Vores Øl created the beer “as an experiment in applying modern open-source ideas and methods on a traditional real-world product.” While the idea of open-source beer has been around since 1998 as a joke, the students and Superflex decided to make it a reality.

“Beer was chosen for its universal qualities as a commodity that we would like to think of as free,” said Nielsen.

In an industry where taste is everything, a beer seller’s recipe is typically kept under strict trademark. Home brewers, however, commonly share tips with each other, and home-brew recipe books abound.

“Home brewers enjoy telling the story about how they made it and what the recipes were. There are very few secrets kept by home brewers,” said Charlie Papzian, president of the Brewers Association.

In the beer business, more than just recipes are moving toward open source, as some brewers are adopting an open-source business model as well. An ex-Red Hat employee in Australia has developed his love for spirits into an open-source project by creating a brewery that is owned in part by its customers.

Brewtopia allows its patrons to own part of the brewery and chime in on important brand decisions that relate to Blowfly, its beer.

“We second-guessed our choices every day that leaving the company open was the right thing to do,” said Liam Mulhall, Brewtopia’s CEO. “But when you have Harvard Business School using your company as a case study … it’s extremely satisfying.”

Brewtopia’s libations are a hit in the IT industry, with employees from Cisco Systems, Mitel and Alcatel all making it their choice of beer at company parties. Brewtopia even supplied the beer at Yahoo’s 10th anniversary party.

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