Two old friends with West Virginia roots, Mike Robb and Tom “Ozzy” Osborne, believe a little invention of theirs called the Beer Blizzard has dealt a decisive blow to bad beer. The Blizzard’s mission? Keeping canned beer from the dreaded “Warm Beer Sucks Zone,” which is not — but perhaps should be — a new scientific standard.
The Beer Blizzard is a quickly freezable, gel-filled, puck-shaped piece of thermoplastic polyurethane that Robb and Osborne crafted to fit onto the bottom of a beer or soda can, dropping the beverage’s temperature and keeping it colder longer.
They pitched the product to the folks on “Shark Tank,” the popular show where creators seek backers for nifty product ideas.
Their pitch before the panel of “sharks” — which was recorded at Sony Studios in Culver City, California, last July — is scheduled to air at 9 p.m. Friday on ABC.
Osborne, a Morgantown native, and Robb, a Fairmont State University graduate from Pennsylvania, both age 44, are legally obliged not to reveal the outcome of their pitch until the show tells all.
But regardless of what the show reveals, they firmly believe they have a potential worldwide goldmine of a product, said Robb, who is the chief operating officer of Cold Can Innovations LLC, the company they created to market what is essentially a thingie that gets your beer colder faster, and keeps it that way longer.
“We were very excited and honored to be invited to go on the show,” said Robb, a Pittsburgh-based attorney. “We know that it’s a monstrous opportunity, especially when about 8 million people watch that show. That, and we know with the international sales and the show being syndicated worldwide, that this could be a huge opportunity for us.”
Interestingly enough, when the duo had shown friends the Beer Blizzard prototype, they would always say two things, Robb said: “‘I wish I would’ve invented that!’ And ‘You should go on ‘Shark Tank.’’”
There were more than a few “A-ha!” moments that Robb and Osborne had on the way to creating their “Beer Blizzard.” They were moments that involved guns, frozen boots, drywall compound and one wildly successful Kickstarter campaign.
They trace the product’s origin to an annual hunting, fishing and beer-drinking gathering at Osborne’s cabin near Moorefield, alongside the south branch of the Potomac River.
The event has a rather more colorful name than that, said Osborne.
“All my childhood friends and I still go to the Shenandoah Valley every Memorial Day for what we call ‘the Redneck Reunion.’ It was there at the Redneck Reunion where we came up with the idea and concept for our product,” said Osborne, who — while a full partner with Robb — self-styles himself as the company’s “CRIC.”
Because the acronym is not normally found in institutional flow charts, a translation is in order: “Chief Redneck in Charge.”
Robb picks up the product development tale. In 2013, he was picking up beer cans after a night of what you do at an event called the Redneck Reunion — drinking Bud Light, Coors, Pabst or whatever canned brands the crew had brought into the woods.
The ultimate goal was to recycle the cans, but not before a little gun play. Robb hung all the cans upside down on nails on a fence.
“We put the beer cans upside down and we shoot at them like target practice,” he said.
Sighting down the barrel of his weapon, there came “A-ha!” moment No. 1.
“I noticed the bottoms — no matter what brand of beer they had — they had the exact same dome-shaped bottom,” said Robb. “I said, ‘We need to make a little ice cube or something that fits in there!’”
Then, came “A-ha!” moment No. 2. Robb was bow hunting up in a deer stand, waiting on a deer one cold morning, his feet freezing. He’d left his boots — which contained gel-filled insoles — out in the cold, he recalled.
“My gel insole had frozen because I’d left my boots out the night before. When I was sitting in my tree stand, I thought, ‘Oh, man! I need to make a little gel insole for my beer can. That way, I could freeze it and put it in my koozie.’”
A koozie is the fabric or foam sleeve designed to thermally insulate a can or bottle of brew or soda. But they have their limitations, if not embarrassments. Like many a beer drinker, Robb had tried to augment his koozie’s thermal mojo.
“I started putting ice cubes in my koozies and my beer would sit on the ice cube. The problem is, the ice cube melts and it drips all over your pants and it looks like you wet yourself.”
What was cool was what happened later, after Robb and Osborne met in October 2013 at Robb’s Pittsburgh home.
Being Redneck Reunion guys, beer drinking was involved. But so was product development. Using joint or drywall compound, they flipped some beer cans upside down and filled the concave part of the can with compound. Then, they called it a night.
In the morning, they popped out the now-hardened compound, borrowed a fingernail file from Robb’s wife and sanded down the mold.
Then the real product development swung into gear.
“I started emailing pictures and sent drawings to different manufacturers to try and get some prototypes made,” said Robb.
Initially, they injected the mold with water and cornstarch.
“Once we had the prototype made, I had 100 made and all my buddies started taking them,” said Robb. “I knew I had a good idea when all my friends were kind of stealing my prototypes.”
They eventually moved to a proprietary gel formula that only takes five minutes in the freezer to freeze.
They looked far and wide for the right container, eventually settling on thermoplastic polyurethane from the Guangdong province in southeast China, considered the world capital of such plastics technology.
Until now, the product has been assembled, packaged and mailed out from Osborne’s house in Trenton, Ohio, as he and his wife and friends have shipped out the Beer Blizzard through the local post office. The product sells in packets of 6 for $12.99, plus $5 for shipping and handling, along with a koozie.
In anticipation of the spotlight that will shine upon the product with “Shark Tank,” they’ve hired a fulfillment firm to handle the expected surge of orders, whatever the show reveals about whether any of the show’s sharks buy into the company.
But Robb and Osborne have already had good feedback they’re on to something big. In April 2014, they launched a Kickstarter campaign with a modest goal of $5,000, to further develop their idea.
Instead, they raised $43,700 during the 45-day campaign, said Robb. “That’s all 50 states and 45 countries around the world. We were surprised about the international orders.”
But think about it — a beer or soda can is now a standardized object worldwide, he said. “It doesn’t matter what brand beer or what country you’re drinking it in, it has got that dome in it.”
The duo also came to “Shark Tank” armed with a little science, all built around the “Warm Beer Sucks Zone.”
Most beer out of a cooler or refrigerator typically comes out at about 32 to 34 degrees and tastes good, said Robb. “It takes approximately 5 to 7 minutes for that beer to raise to the level of ‘the Warm Beer Sucks Zone’ — 36 to 37 degrees where it’s warm and doesn’t taste good.”
A koozie only slows a beer’s warming up minimally. And a hand-held beer without a koozie is literally being held by a heater — your hand, he said.
“A koozie just slows down the rate in which the beverage warms up. It just slows down the inevitable. What’s beautiful about the Beer Blizzard, the less liquid in the can the more effective the Beer Blizzard is.”
The duo had all these numbers tested by FAI Laboratories in Atlanta in preparation for the “Shark Tank” episode, Robb said, the same lab he uses for his work as an asbestos litigation attorney.
“I knew I wanted to have scientific testing when we went onto ‘Shark Tank.’ I wanted to prove to people in America that it works — and it does,”
The magic number? Pop a Beer Blizzard into a koozie, grab a beer out of the fridge and you have way, way longer to drink a cold beer, said Robb.
“You have 21 minutes to drink that beer before it hits ‘the Warm Beer Sucks Zone.’”
The product has already met with some enviable success. First, in June 2014 the Blizzard won a gold medal at the Invention and New Product Exposition trade show in Philadelphia, billed as “America’s Largest Invention Trade Show.”
And the product is already selling well to a target audience of outdoorsmen, tailgaters, NASCAR pit drinkers and other folks who just want their beer or soda colder longer.
How many six packs of Beer Blizzard have they sold so far?
“I couldn’t even tell you,” Robb said. “Well over 100,000 six packs.”
Robb and Osborne played the redneck angle up big on their “Shark Tank” pitch, with Osborne appearing in shorts and a muscle T-shirt and Reed in battered jeans and a T-shirt, flanked by a camouflage-green ATV, cooler and two camping chairs.
But both men do their regular work in suits and ties, Robb in the courtroom and Osborne as the head of food safety and regulatory affairs for Advance Pierre Foods, based in Cincinnati.
People ask him why he hasn’t quit his job as an attorney yet, Robb said. But he loves his work as an asbestos attorney, representing people who contract mesothelioma, lung cancer and other ailments after being exposed to asbestos.
“I love representing these old men that work in these steel mills and power plants. When I see some old guy that got sick from busting his ass all his life, putting food on the table for his family, I love sticking up for a guy like that. I love my job. I don’t think I’ll ever quit.
“Asbestos is a terrible thing. To let these companies get away with it — some of these companies get away with murder. I think it’s terrible.”
As for Osborne, who travels widely for his work, he hopes someday to make the move back to the Morgantown area, where his and his wife’s families both live.
“After 25 years in the food business, the plan is to eventually move back home and build a house on my daddy’s farm, especially if Beer Blizzard does well,” Osborne said.
Meanwhile, they are stocking up on product materials from China in anticipation of their moment in the “Shark Tank” spotlight.
“We’re prepared,” said Osborne. “We have product coming across the pond now. We’re gearing up and building inventory and we’re ready to rock and roll.”
Reach Douglas Imbrogno at firstname.lastname@example.org, 304-348-3017 or follow @douglaseye on Twitter.