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Free Beer!

Community development isn't limited to open source software

I heard a rumor about an open source beer and it's true! The idea is to use an open development methodology, like the approach for open source software, to create and propagate a better beer. A handful of examples have bubbled up from the idea though none has yet hit it big.

Free open source beer
The irony (or perhaps poetic justice) of the concept lies in Richard Stallman's description the free software philosophy; he likens it to free speech and explicitly not to free beer. (The irony was not lost on the author of a satirical piece that popped up in the late '90s alleging that Red Hat was entering the beer biz.) But the "free" in open source beer is the same free as in open source software: The freedom of users of the product to share and improve upon it.

The first and evidently most active project FREE BEER was started at the Copenhagen IT University in 2005. A group of students seeded the project with a V1.0 beer recipe that they licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike license. That license is designed for use with any kind of creative work and is similar to the GPL license by being, in essence, viral. You can do what you want with the recipe, but you have to make any modifications freely available under the same license.

The recipe is up to v4.0 with a lot of improvements on the way (v3.3 added mushrooms). Evidently this is a good thing as brewing aficionados were quite unimpressed with the initial version. But collaborative development is designed to let such squawkers put up or shut up and the recipe has evolved over time. If you are not inclined to brew your own, you can buy it commercially (not from Red Hat) from a brewery called Skands in Denmark. Various offshoots have popped up in New Zealand, Japan, Brazil, Taiwan and the US, but it appears that only Denmark survives. It ought to be served at the open source restaurant discovered by fellow blogger Alan Shimel.

Brewtopia in Australia claims to have been founded as an open source company and that 1000s of people have been involved in developing their beer "by voting on every aspect of it's (sic) development." I can't find evidence of that, nor does voting define open source. But, if you want what it is probably a good beer with a label of your own design, they do offer that.

Flying Dog Brewery took a run at the concept several years ago launching the Open Source Beer Project with a German Style Dobbelbock, which they released as "Wild Dog Collaborator Doppelbock" in 2007. Despite some concerted effort on the company's part, my sense is they never were able to build up a community. Perhaps, as with software, there is wariness of commercial entities sponsoring open projects. By the way, their Snake Dog IPA while not free in any sense is outstanding!

It's nice to know that there's some free beer out there, even if it costs money.

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