By Brewmaster Ed Heethuis
If there is one thing that annoys local breweries, it’s Untappd.
Me? I don’t dislike Untappd, despite my general disdain for social media platforms. It’s certainly less nefarious than most when it comes to gathering your personal information and using it to feed you ads. But many of the users can rot in the beer aisle at Rite Aid for their lack of civility and understanding.
Untappd is the social media platform for beer aficionados. It provides its users a good way to track the beers they’ve tried and their impressions of them. It also gives users a way to keep tabs on what their friends are drinking so they can discover new libations and compare tasting notes.
How does Untappd work?
If you’ve never tried Untappd before, it works like this. After setting up a profile, you can look up and “check in” beers. You simply search for the beer, select it, and then you’re given the option to check it in.
You can make comments on the check-in and include photos of the beer (or anything else you fancy, but the beer is the star of the show here). You can also include information like flavor profile tags (hoppy, strong, smooth), how the beer was served (on draft, in a can), where you bought it and where you’re drinking it. The check-in then appears on your timeline, as well as in the feeds of anyone with whom you are friends on the platform.
You’re also given the option to award the beer a rating of anywhere between 0.25 and five stars (a score of zero will result in the beer not being rated).
And it’s that ratings system that drives me and industry brethren nuts.
Whenever you look up a beer, you’re going to see how many times the beer has been checked in and the average rating it has received on the platform. Your check-in will influence the overall rating of the beer, which other people can – and often do – use to make buying decisions. This is the biggest selling point for many when it comes to Untappd, and the only reason some have a profile on the platform to begin with.
Let’s say Doofus tries a Peabody’s Russian Imperial Stout and he doesn’t enjoy it. Doofus doesn’t like Russian Imperial Stouts, and the beer he’s checking in is exactly that. Doofus gives the beer a single star and writes in the comments, “I hate stouts.”
Is that beer really a one-star beer? Of course not. Doofus’ one-star rating doesn’t have anything to do with the quality of the beer or the craftsmanship that went into making it. But because Goofus hates stouts, the aggregate rating gets dragged down for both the beer and the brewery. Darn it, Goofus. Not cool.
Whether you’re a seasoned Untappd user or are just learning about it now, here are some things to keep in mind while using this handy – albeit frustrating at times – beer-drinking app.
How to use Untappd without looking like a newb
Include as much information as possible in a check-in. If you’re enjoying what you’re drinking, that’s great! Go ahead and check it in. Give it a rating. But before you finalize that check-in, make sure to tell everyone where you got it. The brewery and the retailer will both be grateful, as will any friends of yours who are curious about where they can get some of their own.
Be fair when you’re giving ratings. If you don’t like a certain style of beer, then you are not the person to evaluate it. Don’t like barleywines? Don’t rate them. Simple. That’s not to say you shouldn’t check in styles you don’t generally care for. You can do that all day. Just don’t give a star rating. Also, be sure the beer you’re drinking isn’t too old. Telling the world that the year-old IPA you’re drinking doesn’t taste right just makes you look foolish. Speaking of which …
You can look at recent check-ins to determine how a beer is drinking. This is more applicable to cellarable beers, such as stouts and barleywines, but this really works on any beer with a long(ish) shelf life. If you’re worried that you may have held onto a bottle for too long, check to see what others are saying about it. If there are lots of reviews that say the flavor of a certain adjunct is falling off, it may be best to crack your bottle open sooner rather than later. This information would also be useful to people who collect and trade for beer, but I would never condone such a thing. Ahem.
Of course, individual check-ins are anecdotal. The smaller the number of check-ins you see, the warier you should be.
Big numbers don’t lie. Individual ratings should be viewed with a healthy dose of skepticism, but the average score from a large number of check-ins is a pretty good indicator of a beer’s quality. I like to use Untappd to look up ratings when I’m shopping for beer. I look up beers I’m on the fence about. Generally speaking, a 4.0 or better is a good sign that I’ll enjoy that beer. But not all styles get graded the same way. Some styles just get lower ratings. For example, a really good pilsner might only get an average score of 3.7 on Untappd, while the same score on a barrel-aged stout could be regarded as pedestrian or even sub-par.
As brewers, our beers are our children. Criticizing our children will earn our wrath if it’s not constructive. We certainly won’t hunt you down…but know that I and my brethren are looking out for you.
(When Ed Heethuis isn’t brewing at Spotlight 29 Casino for 29 Brews, you will find the Certified Cicerone / Brewmaster at a Firebird’s game, participating in an Extreme Ironing competition, or talking beer with the patrons at Taproom 29. He may be reached at: email@example.com or wherever beer may be found in the wild.)