24 November 2013

Is Untappd Unintentionally Killing Craft Beer Culture?

Jake Wrote:

The original title of this blog was "Why Untappd is Killing Craft Beer", but I would rather offer my view and have you offer yours, if you desire. I think Untappd is unintentionally killing craft beer culture with a three pronged approach:

1) The time it takes to check-in and the impact that has on conversation
2) The usage of the app to check-in beers during festivals and provide a quick rating
3) The braggadocious attitude that the app encourages via social media

Point 1: The time it takes to check-in and the impact that time has on conversation
When Untappd launched, I was excited. Partially because four weeks before they launched, I mentioned to a few friends that I was considering an app that was "The Foursquare for Craft beer". Problem solved. The issue that I quickly realized was when I was dining with a friend and went to check-in the beer I was drinking. As we are constantly reminded in PSAs regarding texting and driving, humans can only process visual and audio using one channel in the brain. Therefore, to check-in, I had to stop the conversation we were having, search for the beer I was drinking, and check-in. I made a few more attempts when I was out with beer drinking friends, but the result was always the same. I was picking an app check-in and interrupting the flow of conversation with my friends. Which, to me, is what beer should be; a conversation.

I know that there have been improvements in the database response time by using the native phone apps, but I have recently challenged a few drinking friends to check-in while we discussed a beer they were excited to try. They eventually gave up trying to check-in when the conversation stopped and silence festered.

Point 2: The usage of the app to check-in beers during festivals and provide a quick rating
Point 1 carries into Point 2. In my opinion, beer festivals are time to spend with friends trying new beers, talking about the beer (and life outside of beer), and asking questions to the brewery reps (until you fail to form logical sentences). Therefore, interrupting that conversation with a higher frequency than getting half-pint pours at your local bar, bothers me.

Point 2 is specific because 2-4oz pours are proven to be a terrible volume to rate a beer. Additionally, the average drinking palate is good for maybe the first ten samples and then it is fried (Gross generalization, but you get the point). Therefore, the remaining 20-30 samples that you are attempting to take quick notes on, and assign a star value to, are not going to be memorable nor correct. It is not fair to you and it is even less fair to the brewery. I have never seen someone add, "This was beer 15, so my palate may have been off, but..." to a review. There was a reason that the original version of Untappd had a time cap on how quickly people could check-in beers. Sure, part of it was technical, but my hope is that they wanted to prevent this use.

Point 3: The braggadocious attitude that the app encourages via social media
Point 2 transitions into Point 3 when all 40 festival check-ins are also shared on Twitter. Typically, this happens in rapid succession once you are able to get data service after you leave the fest or the crowd thins. Bonus points are when the festival is on Saturday and the stream of check-ins happens on Sunday morning. Not only does that action say, "I got so drunk yesterday that I couldn't operate one of the most simple apps that exists." it also says, "I feel the need to brag about all the beer I drank yesterday." To me, if you live in Indiana and are drinking Pliny the Elder (or Blind Pig) at Russian River in Santa Rosa (Or Toronado in San Francisco), that's awesome. Check it in. You made it to one of the beer meccas. But, if you had a sip of Dark Lord from your buddy's 2oz pour, don't check that in. That is annoying.

The main part of Point 3 that bothers me is the following scenario: You're taking it easy on a Friday night and scanning twitter when the same rare beer gets checked-in by a number of accounts. It is bad enough that I can visualize everyone on their phone racing to check-in, but the back-to-back check-in from a person using multiple accounts is just atrocious. Second, you're combining Point 1 and Point 2 in this post because you are taking time to tell people that are not present about the beer that you just drank 2-4 ounces of and you probably will never have again instead of enjoying the beer and discussing it.

In no way do I hold the guys from Untappd responsible for the use of their app. For two guys to get an app to 1 Million+ check-ins and 500,000+ users averaging 70,000 tweets per month in three years is incredible. I just think that the app is a vehicle for the degradation of craft beer which, to me, should be about sharing some beers with your friends and talking about what you like and dislike.

I agree on all of your points Jake.

I actually think that Untappd is a pretty cool idea to track the beers you've drank quickly and easily.  From what I've read from the two founders, I don't think they thought it would morph into what it is, but nothing ever does.  I just want to expand on one idea and add another of my own.

Untappd's slogan is drink socially.  I would contend the App is making people extremely unsocial in social situations. This is in complete agreement with Jake's points above.   I can't tell you how many times I've seen people with phone-in-hand as the barman hands them a pint of something or the number of people that are taking the time to create news beers at Beer Festivals on their phones.  It is a beer festival people!  Put down the fucking phone and talk to the people around you.  There is a reason that beer is the greatest social lubricant every invented.  It helps to encourage conversation, but all I tend to see is the warm glow of a lit up phone and the people behind it are staring into like a 14 year old boy about the time they first discovered internet porn.

The braggadocious attitude that Untappd drives in consumers is beyond me.  When you have people with multiple twitter handles that take the time to post Untappd check-ins under multiple screen names, and then tell Untappd to post it to Twitter and Facebook, that isn't about beer culture anymore. That is about trying to make yourself look cool while drinking beer, but honestly if you are doing all of that you have already lost. People have turned Untappd in a virtual pissing contest, but to be fair that isn't Untappd's fault, but the beer community that has sadly been shaping up over the last few years. All it takes to understand that people are using the platform to showoff is look at the beers that show up on Twitter and Facebook.  I think 75% of the time they will be beers that are not easy to get or one off beers.  You don't see many check-ins on other social media platforms that are house beers of brewpubs and breweries.  If you want to post it to social media that is great, but Untappd posts what you are drinking and is normally void of any opinion or any actual beneficial information to anyone. If you want to post to social media I personally think you should just compose your own tweet and add value to the conversation and include your thoughts or personal opinion about the beer.  That will drive at least a little bit of conversation I think.  Some people I follow on twitter are at least good to provide an opinion with each Untappd check-in, but the vast majority do not. As my favorite Beer Curmudgeon put it on twitter: "But how will I get self-validation via beer elitism and exclusion if I don't post across multiple social media platforms?" The Beer Curmudgeon always speaks the truth.

My biggest issue with Untappd is that I believe is encourages binge drinking and overall disrespecting what Craft beer is all about.  The founders of Untappd have repeatedly said they are not about binge drinking, but they load these badges into the system that for some reason people feel the need to obtain. Think about that for a second. People are drinking when they don't want to simply to get an electronic badge on the internet and then share it with their social media network.  I don't fully believe they are not promoting binge drinking though. They put badges into the system that you get for 5+ check-ins for beers with ABVs above 10%, a badge that encourages people to check into 5 beers in a single day, a badge that toasts you with "drinking your paycheck badge," one that encourages drinking 10 beers from the same brewer in 30 days, one that encourages three check-ins after 8PM, and an entire assortment of badges that can only be obtained on a single day by drinking a beer. Untappd has helped turn craft beer into a drinking contest, and that isn't what I think craft beer is all about.

I've had people say "Well, what about multiple check-ins at tastings?"  Let's not kid ourselves here: Tastings is another word for day binge drinking with like minded people that won't judge you for it.

TL:DR: Don't be a douche-bag with Untappd. It isn't a competition or pissing contest. If you post to social media add some value to the conversation, and please leave the check-ins far away from social situations.

Those are our thoughts. What are yours? Of course, not all of us at Hoosier Beer Geek are of the same mind. For a HBG counterpoint, read Jason's response to this post.


  1. Great post! I love Untappd but I totally see where you are coming from on the points mentioned. As with a lot of things, I would argue how people use it is doing more harm than the app itself. Is checking into 40 beers at Winterfest effective? No. Am I guilty of doing it? Yes. Looking back it obviously wasn't the best use of the app and I'm guessing not in line with the creators' vision.

    How I've found it most helpful, though, is in better defining my palate and honing in my preferences. I am somewhat picky about my beers but I used to be naive about the different types of beer and which ones I actually liked. I would order beers that I ended up hating because I was uneducated. It was a waste of money and beer that could have gone to someone who better appreciated it. With the help of the app, I figured out that I don't like IPAs or super hoppy beers (blasphemy to some, I know). And I discovered that I am obsessed with Kolschs. Before using the app, I was less likely to pay attention to what I was ordering. (Again, calling out my out naivety back in the day). I am still open to trying styles I may not normally like, but I know my go to styles now.

    And I think it's great for when you are traveling. I am all about eating local and drinking local when I travel. When I was in Portland and Seattle this year, I sampled a lot of local beer and the app helped me go back and remember which ones were my favorite. Of course you could argue that a good beer should stand out in your memory without the help of an app.

    Long comment is long but I think there are useful aspects of the app, if you can weed through the douchebaggery.

  2. I use untappd and my friends and I have some rules we abide by when using it.

    We allow a 24 hour window to check-in. So those check-ins from the next morning may well be beer from the previous night. I really like this rule because you don't have to check-in right away and you can actually enjoy the social situation you are in. Also any longer than 24 hours and you probably don't remember the beer enough to give an intelligent rating or review.

    I personally don't check-in to any beer when I'm at a festival. I rarely check twitter, texts, or use my phone at all. I enjoy talking beer with the local homebrewers, professional brewers, and my friends at the festival so that is what I focus on during them. Usually the next day when I think back about some of the great beers I had, I will check into the more interesting and higher quality brews from the festival, but I have found it impossible to keep track of every beer tried at a festival.

    I almost never tweet my check-ins. I recently discussed this with a fellow beer geek who used to tweet every one of his check-ins. He thought it was useful for his followers who wanted to know what beer was available at the local bars and restaurants. I completely understand his reasoning and while there are quite a few bars and restaurants that have an updated tap list online (twenty tap for example posts their tap list daily), there are plenty of bars and restaurants that do not post their tap lists. I rarely tweet a check-in, and when I do it is usually because the beer is both extremely rare and extremely good in my opinion.

    I use untappd, and I enjoy using it. It's cool to see what my friends who have moved away are drinking in Texas, or what my friends who are on vacation in Arizona are trying. Getting their rating on a brew from a brewery in Arizona that I've never heard of would help me know what to try, and what not to, if I ever made a trip to Arizona. I also enjoy being able to compare what my opinion of a beer is to what my friends' opinions are. If i really enjoyed a beer and gave it a 4.5 and a good friend gives it a 2.5, well then we have something to discuss. It might just be that he didn't prefer that style, or he could've identified something wrong with the beer that my palate was unable to. I am a BJCP judge, and while a rating in untappd is absolutely nothing like filling out a scoresheet at a competition, the continual use of the rating system helps build the palate and the other skills needed for being a judge.

  3. Nice post, and I think these are all valid points. I use Untappd, and personally use it more as a Field Notes-esque tracking system for myself, which obviously takes a lot of the social factors out. I've never had the app auto-post my check-ins to Twitter, and I [finally] just found out how to stop the app from auto-tweeting my badges (I was previously manually switching to Twitter to delete those tweets). I'm not a badge-slut, so I don't feel the desire to post that stuff publicly. I also tend to use it more at home instead of social settings. In fact, if I'm out at a bar, festival, etc, I tend not to use it often since I'm typically engaged in conversation, which I think is a win for me.

    So, I'm probably not utilizing the app as the founders intended since I don't get too social on it. A couple of years ago I was using Pintley for basically the same thing, but switched to Untappd because I found the Pintley catalogue too limiting. For me, I like being able to track new beers I've had and how I liked them, and can compare my yearly findings for seasonals. It's also another good outlet for me in addition to other social channels to find out about new/seasonal releases. With the ever expanding landscape, it's tough these days to track all the releases. There's probably a Field Notes type app out there that'd be better for my personal usage, but at $Free.99 Untappd works for me and I've logged a lot of beers in there.

  4. I think it's good fun. I could see how it would be annoying to some people. Just don't take it too seriously and don't be obnoxious. Here's the general rules I follow:

    -I check into every single beer I drink. Not for any sort of competition, but I love having that data of what and when I drank. Using a site like brewfeed to see my drinking trends is my idea of fun on a Saturday night.

    -Generally, I don't post check ins to twitter. Occasionally I'll post the first drink I have at a bar to twitter, mainly just to let any local pals know where I am and invite them out if they want to drink. I appreciate when other people do this too. Great for casual acquaintances that you don't know well enough to txt or don't want to officially coordinate a night out drinking. I'll also post a check in to twitter if a friend has graciously shared a great beer with me, to give them some props.

    -Never post badges to twitter.

    -Never rate beers. Rating beers just isn't for me. I'm not that good at making observations on the beer and then calculating a score. I can generally tell you if I like a beer, or if I don't like a beer. Plus, I'm usually drunk enough after 3 beers that I wouldn't trust my own judgement anyway.

    -Check in beers as I'm drinking them. I'm sure this would piss some people off, but it's really socially acceptable among my group of friends. We would be checking our phones anyway during this time, and you're talking while you're doing it, about the beer, what you've had recently, etc.

    -Seek out badges and use as an opportunity to explore different styles of beer that I wouldn't normally drink. This usually happens with beers from other countries badges. I went through a time of having many German beers that I probably wouldn't have even tried otherwise.

    -Enjoy your beer. It's fun to track, but I'm not looking to sip and tick.

    That's about it. I toast and comment on other people's check ins. I've met friends, I've shared beers. I enjoy it.

  5. I have a completely different experience with Untappd. My friends and I check in the beer then begin to drink and discuss. 20 seconds of silence isn't an issue with us.

    I don't rate beers I have at a Beer Fest as for the points made in this article.

    I have met a ton of great people through untappd. I've had some outstanding suggestions through the people I'm friends with on untappd. I've seen untappd break the ice at some events to open up dialogue between strangers. It's also helped me want to venture out and try different styles of beers.

    I guess I don't follow my twitter feed close enough to allow the rapid check ins from some Fest goer to annoy me.

    Just my 2 cents! Cheers!!

  6. I agree with almost all of the points made in the article and in the comments. However, I think the article would be better titled "How not to ruin the Untappd experience." I don't think people spending time on their phones while out in social situations is going to kill craft beer, but it could ruin the moment. And many of them aren't just on their phones for Untappd, so it's more cell phones in general that should get the scorn.

    Personally, I use Untappd to record my thoughts about beers I've tried. I have a terrible memory, so it's great to be able to look up a beer to see what I thought about it in the past. I always try to leave a note - mostly for myself, but also as a guide to anyone that might be interested in trying that beer for the first time. I usually try to post a photo also, since a visual reminder can be a huge help, too. I use ratings most of the time, but find that my mood and other people's perceptions may influence my scoring, so I wish there was a feature that allowed the score to be private (just for me). It may be worthy of 4 stars, but if I don't personally like it, I'm not going to score it that high.

    I usually wait until I'm about half way through the beer before checking it in, which means I've had time to fully taste it and to discuss it with those around me. I only check in at festivals or tastings when I find something amazing, and don't want to forget about it. And I never allow Untappd to post to either my FB or Twitter account. I just don't think those are the right platforms for sharing my beer drinking log - but Untappd definitely is.

    I totally agree about the frequency badges - it has always bothered me that Untappd offers "rewards" for drinking a lot in one sitting. That definitely goes against what the craft beer community stands for, and I see no good argument for offering those.

    1. Ariane,

      I definitely agree with your thought on the title of the post. Although the post had been sitting in draft status for a couple weeks, we were focused on the body instead of the title. Given hindsight, there are a number of ways we could have put a title to the post that would have caused a less visceral reaction. Thanks for reading.

  7. Telling people how they should act when you don't understand why they're acting how they're acting is douchbaggery. This applies to things other than beer and "beer culture."

  8. What happens on Untappd should stay on Untappd. For the most part. I just got into it and like it as a memory jogger and log.

  9. Wow. You know what I think is ruining craft beer culture? Beer blogs talking about what is "killing" the craft beer scene. For the most part, beer blogs might talk about trends, or share opinions on trends, but overall, they don't matter because what I think is going on in my craft beer culture might be irrelevant in another craft beer culture. But that's a totally different subject.

    Who really cares how people are using Untappd? I mean, if someone is going to log that many beers in at one time, then that's their business. Personally, I get tired of it. Mostly I like Untappd because I can put my homebrews on there and that's fun. That's it. It's just fun. If you've got issues because all of your friends have their faces in their cell phones, then maybe you should get some friends who don't have cell phones. Welcome to the Geriatric Crowd. They're not all that into craft beer.

    Untappd may be the issue here, but I think the bigger issue is people who are into social media and like to check Twitter, Facebook, and all the other things. It's a paradigm that has shifted. I wish you luck in changing that.

    1. Jez,

      Thanks for the comment. I believe this post falls into the "share opinions on trends" that you mentioned in the opening paragraph. Based on the large number of comments relative to the majority of our posts on HBG, I would say a number of people care how people are using Untappd. I definitely enjoy that Untappd allows people to list their homebrew.

  10. (this part one)

    I’m so very glad I found this intelligent blog post from Jake about Untappd- so I can help stop the bleeding….Response to Point 1: Untappd is not creating a social problem with human interaction and/or communication. The problem is that you cannot somehow speak and press buttons on your phone at the same time. You had to stop your conversation? You’re the one stopping the flow by proverbially stating to the room “Excuse me, I can’t possibly multitask by hearing what you’re saying AND look at my phone, I’m one-dimensional”….Go to your room….
    Point 2: Point 1 carries into Point 2. Whether you’re at a beer fest with thousands or just at a bar with one person, it is your own responsibility and/or choice as to when you check in beer and use Untappd. I’ve been to dozens of beer fests and literally hundreds of breweries and still somehow manage to rate my thousands of beers on Untappd without interrupting any conversation with another human or completely blowing them off. If this is such an issue- simply rate them AFTER you have conversations with people. Here’s an idea to help with this social roadblock in your life: go old school with pen/paper and as you hit the booths at a fest simply (and very quickly) scribble the beer and a quick rating. It takes about 2 seconds to write it down. After the event is over- then put in all your ratings. Once again- Untappd has nothing to do with this….Go sit in the corner….
    More importantly- let’s focus on the second paragraph of Point 2; we’ll call this the train wreck of the blog post. “2-4oz pours are proven to be a terrible volume to rate a beer”. Proven? By what? By who? I think someone was telling you that amount was a good sample to rate beer, but you were trying to check-in a Bud Light on Untappd and got distracted and confused and misunderstood him. How many sips do you need to determine a rating? A whole pint? Where are you the first 15 ounces? When you mention the average palate, let’s just go ahead and play it safe by classifying you as a ‘below average’ palate. If you’ve ‘fried’ your palate after just 10 samples…..you’re doing it wrong… Are you at your first booth with a double IPA then moving over to immediately sip a Russian imperial stout then washing it all down with a refreshing lambic? Ya- THAT’S doing an injustice on about 10 different levels. After that hop slap to the face you’re probably rating the RIS lower and leaving a crappy comment…. Go say you’re sorry…

  11. (part 2)

    Here- I’ll help you out. Plan your route- wanna do all IPAs or all saisons? It may help to stick with a style. If you wanna hit up 4 beers at one booth- go light to dark. Oh, that means- lightest offering, like a pale or wheat- THEN go porter or stout. Even more help- in-between each sample, take a sip of water or take a bite of a pretzel to cleanse the palette. I promise this will get you over the 10-beer-sample-max plateau at a beer fest. Oh, and I’m pretty sure Untappd didn’t put a time minimum on how quickly you can rate a beer. “We want you to love and use this app, but not THAT much or THAT fast”. Go sit in the timeout chair….
    Point 3: Wait, are you just reporting the news? You’re just telling us that people share stuff on Twitter a lot. Hi, welcome to 2010. And the fact you’re getting responses from people that agree with you and this stuff. Michael Jackson (not the singer, Jake) is rolling in his grave because you just said a 2oz taster of Dark Lord does not count. Are you serious… If you were flying from Indiana to freaking Egypt and had a layover in London for 30 minutes—does it not that count that you were there because it wasn’t long enough? If you were caught by the police possessing crack (this blog shows evidence btw) but you made the point to them that is was just a trace amount, does it still count??
    “In no way do I hold the guys from Untappd responsible”. Holy Moses- I hold YOU responsible, for not being responsible enough to use the app, or create intelligent blog posts about craft beer. YOU are killing the culture. Untappd is a great app, it’s the gamification of life through beer. It’s fun, not to mention very helpful for people to recall beers they’ve had, locate nearby beers, try new styles, and connects all lovers of beer together. If you have badges they should be stripped away, dishonorable discharge from Untappd for treason and blasphemy- and give me your damn 2 ounces of Dark Lord. I’ll drink it and rate the hell outta it. Here’s your juice box… Go play by yourself…

    1. Mitchell,

      Thanks for taking the time to write your instruction manual. I can assure you that I won't be apologizing, sitting in a corner, or "going to my room". Although, that juice box does sound refreshing. I might take you up on that. Do I also need a pretzel necklace?

      I also appreciate your derogatory mention of 2010 and then making a drug use joke. It made me smile. "Crack is Whack"

  12. I agree with all points but I think that Untappd is a cool tool for you to have a database of all beers you already tried.
    I already tried more than 600 different beers (approx. 400 were checked on Untappd) and sometimes I just forgot the name of some beer I wanted to tell a friend to try, so I got it easily back to mind through a quick Untappd search.

  13. How do you stop it posting badges to Twitter?