I grew up with parents that discouraged the drinking of beer. For the most part, I just accepted that it wasn’t the beverage for me, and so I stuck to my soda (“pop” as we Midwesterners called it). In college I had my first real encounter with beer, though it was a very watered down “light” beer pumped from a keg in the kitchen of some student’s apartment. Assuming all beers were meant to taste like that, I realized the wisdom of my parents and gave up trying it again.
I know. I’m silly. Bear with me here.
Long after college I found myself living in a city full of micro-breweries, and had heard enough positive comments about the various beers in town to finally try one again. Surprise of surprise, I liked it. And since then I have taken a slow, deliberate journey into the world of beer.
In recent years I have become more adventurous, trying beers that sound good from their labels, or within a type of brew that I’ve enjoyed before (like a porter, or an IPA, for example). Experimenting, however, has its cost; I have tasted so many beers that I am beginning to forget which ones I enjoyed, and which ones I would prefer to avoid in the future.
To help me bring order to my beer-addled memory, I have begun searching for an app for my iPhone that can do two things for me: allow me to rate the beers I have tried, and allow me to discover new beers that are similar to the ones I love. I asked around on twitter and took the advice of people I consider to be experts. Below is the result of that search.
Untappd (free) was the most frequently recommended. And it’s a good app. It allows for discovery through recommendation, is fairly well designed and does allow for marking certain beers as favorites.
The marking, though, is presented as a “check-in”. It might be a nomenclature that hints at a more social aspect of the app, but my goal it to find the best beer-logging and scoring app there is.
The app also seems to run sluggish, even on my 4S. Slow apps are tolerable when they fit my needs, but in an app that doesn’t quick scratch my itch, it’s just annoying.
BrewGene (free) promises a lot. Recommendations, cellar cataloging, a watch list and many social features. But it is wrapped in a horrid UI that is itself hidden behind a plethora of pop-overs begging me to sign up. There are so many requests to create a free account that I’m too creeped-out to do so.
What I am able to explore seems like an admirable attempt to meet my needs. Beers can be rated and basic info can be discovered, such as brewery, type of beer, and alcohol content. But no reviews are visible, so I am left to wonder how good or bad a particular beer might be.
Pintley (free) loses points right away for requiring an account to use the app. But upon registering and signing in, it earns back a point for the helpful instructions and an attempt to learn my beer preferences (though I only know maybe 10% of the beers it asked me to rate).
The app itself is decently designed, allows me to rate beers, mark them as favorites and even learn more about the types of beers. What holds no attraction to me, yet pervades every pixel of the app, is the point system the developers decided to create. Rating a beer earns you points. Adding a beer earns you more. Which means the app has a leaderboard to track your progress in comparison to other users.
My goal isn’t to win a game; I want to catalog my beer experiences and find guidance for new brews to try. Pintley buries my favorites list too deep in the app, and fails to recommend similar beers. What’s the point of an app that gathers user ratings yet fails to use that data to draw parallels and recommend options?
BeerBuddy ($4.99) starts strong by not requiring an account. In fact, there is no account to deal with at all. Simply launch the app and start using it.
The UI is attractive, the beer photos are large (important for seeing labels) and you can easily add new beers by using the centrally-located UPC scanner feature. Once added, you can rate the beer along a wide range of characteristics (aroma, palate, taste, etc).
While it lacks a recommendation system like Untappd, it does allow the user to select the beer style and view the top-rated beers in that category. I found this to be a bit less than ideal, but it could help in a pinch. The global user ratings of each beer are clearly displayed, and some (but not all) beers have descriptions.
In the end I can’t seem to find The One. No single app allows me to do everything I want to do, namely rating the beers I drink while also exploring those similar to them.
The closest I have managed to get is to keep both BeerBuddy and Untappd on my phone. BeerBuddy handles to everyday use of logging my favorites and allowing me to detail out my ratings for each beer through a jive array of categories. Untappd, then, stays around purely as a recommendation app.