Craft beer is often proclaimed to be welcoming, to be all encompassing, and that if you’re not welcoming, you’re not welcome in Craft. 

Unless you don’t agree with the brewery.

Yes, this is an article about Untappd.

For those that don’t know about Untappd, firstly where the hells have you been? Secondly, and more seriously, it’s a website and app that spawned from Foursquare, allowing drinkers to “check in” to the beers that they drink, to record how much they liked, or didn’t like them and to show off what they were drinking by flooding social media networks with automatic posts every time they’d tried something. And if you had several friends who used it you soon muted specific phrases so that you could actually see real posts, the ones about kittens or C list celebrities trying to sell you on their latest diet. All the while those using it were collecting badges through its gamification system and sharing those on social media too, just to annoy everyone who wasn’t in the least bit interested in their alcohol habit and hadn’t added even more mute words.

Untappd weren’t the first to encourage people to record their “ticks” though. For as long as I’ve been aware, and I’m getting on a bit, there have always been tickers, folks who go out of their way to try as many different beers as they can, sometimes going to extreme lengths for that rare tick.

I once had a ticker of repute come into a pub I was working in only to find out a beer he’d heard was on (and this was in the days before mobile phones, let along smartphones and apps) only to find that the particular beer he wanted to tick off had run out a couple of hours earlier. Not to be deterred, he ordered a half of something standard, and under the guise of popping to the loos, made his way to the cask storage to take the cork out of the empty and pour the yeasty, trubby dregs into a small plastic bottle to take away – purely to be able to say he’d “tried” the beer. Od hate to think what his tasting notes might have been.

But Untappd brought this ticking behaviour to the masses, and through that has garnered a Marmite style reputation of love it or hate it. Personally, unlike Marmite, I love Untappd. Even if I don’t really use it anymore.

I should explain why I stopped, it was two fold. Firstly myself and my partner at the time were getting stalked a little bit through it. I’d check a beer in, and within a few minutes someone would show up. We didn’t mind that person, but it got a bit uncomfortable that they showed up almost every single time. And if I was on my own, they would always ask where my partner was.  So if we wanted a quiet drink I would save my check ins for later, after we’d got home, which I usually forgot as there were more than a few of them. Secondly, it’s incredibly rude to check in and rate your own beer, especially if you always rate it highly, and I’ve known several brewers who’ve done this. It’s even ruder to then also check in everyone else’s beer with a low score, and I’ve known a few brewers who’ve done this too. I’m really not sure what they hoped to achieve, other than making people who knew them realise the sort of person they were. But I fell out of the habit of checking in beers once I became a brewer, and apart from the occasional use haven’t really got back into it.

So why do people use it? I don’t think it’s for the badges, at least not for most people. Gamification seems to have died, no new apps seem to feature it, and those that have it have had to keep adding newer and further top levels for people to try and reach. 

What is still is though, is a personal record with a social element. Yes, drinkers will share their badges with each other, but why not? The majority of users on Untappd are just recording the beers they’ve drunk, and what they thought of them. And that’s the part that seems to cause some people issues.

Far too often we see those inclusive, all welcoming breweries have a go at someone (albeit anonymised) because they checked a beer in with a low score: “1 *, I don’t like sours” with the witty retort of “Well why did you buy it?!”

Perhaps they didn’t buy it. Perhaps they were part of a bottle share where their mate bought a 750ml bottle of it to share because the beer isn’t available in anything smaller and they didn’t think they’d be able to drink the whole thing themselves? Perhaps someone passed them a glass saying “Here, try this, it’s amazing!” without realising they didn’t like sours. Sorry brewers, but some people just aren’t going to like your beers. And those people may well be an Untappd user who likes to check in everything that they’ve tried. So seriously, if someone checks a beer in with a low score, regardless of a comment like that, ignore it.
If, however, they check the beer in with a low score and give a long, detailed, and obviously wrong set of tasting notes going on about things they can find in the beer that you know full well they can’t and nobody else checking the beer in at that venue is getting, then yeah, they’re a dick.

In general though for brewers there’s only really two reasons to look at the scores on Untappd, the first is if your beers are getting multiple low scores at a single venue, in which case you know there’s something up with that venue that you need to check out. The second is if a particular beer is getting low scores everywhere, in which case you know there’s an issue with that batch and you should think about a recall. Other than that, it’s drinkers personal opinions, even if those are sometimes self-inflated egotistical ramblings.

Paying attention to score though isn’t just something that breweries need to do less off, but also pubs. There are several bars around that will only order in beers that have a 3.75 or higher rating on Untappd. Frankly I find this ridiculous. One of the great things about bars, bottle shops and tap rooms was always that the staff were knowledgeable about the beers they served, not just what was on sale there, but also what beers were around elsewhere. They would go out and discover something new, and bring the best back. Relying on beers that have been around long enough in enough venues to get enough check-ins to get an average score pretty much says that they’ve given up looking themselves, and aren’t willing to take a risk on something new. I can understand not wanting to be landed with a beer that isn’t selling because it’s rather sub-par, but can you really call yourself a craft beer bar if all you serve is what’s available everywhere else? I suppose one benefit of that at least is that you won’t have to deal with someone going through your empty kegs to get the last slurp of something rare; because they’ll already have tried it somewhere else that is willing to take a chance.

What all of this comes down to though, is that everyone uses Untappd (and other similar sites) for their own reasons, and like their own opinions, that’s okay. It’s their reason, their opinion, their choice. And frankly, who are we to say they shouldn’t?