There is an inherent almost instinctive human need to grade our experiences. Rating things enhances our status as a consumer from passive to active. It wrestles the power away from the capitalist’s boardrooms and shareholders and back into our hands. Producers of goods are now beholden to a wide audience and their experiences. The internet and social media has armed consumers with opinions that can and should act like a watchdog protecting us from bad products. Beer is no exception. We are beer’s fourth estate and by exercising our right to an opinion and putting it in public domain you are helping grow the revolution.
How do you know if a beer is worth drinking? You have a few options. You can trust the media reviews; you can listen to your friend’s opinions or you can tap into beer rating platforms like Ratebeer.com or Untappd which have millions of opinions and experiences that can help you avoid the pitfalls of drinking average or bad beer. Now which one should you use? Well as a full-time beer drinker I have tried both with very little sticking quality. It is clear though they are very different, with varied audiences and what I surmise to be very different futures.
Ratebeer.com is essentially for beer geeks while Untappd is designed for the new tech-savvy generations. Ratebeer.com has been around since May 2000 and has over 8 million ratings of almost half a million beers from 26,000 breweries. It’s has a huge database and is a serious review site whose users rate beer in much in the same detail as a BJCP competition Beer judge would. The site is great for research and has become an important reference and barometer for ‘good’ beer. However, this is where it gets tricky. If you search for some of the world’s most consumed beers, like Sol, Heineken and Budweiser you notice they score extremely low to the point you think these massive companies are making ‘bad’ beer. Budweiser scores zero out of a hundred. One of the world’s largest selling beers!! Is this the case? If so would this watchdog rating platform not halt the march of these macro beers? This will never be the case as Ratebeer.com is essentially a niche site for geeks within a growing but still a relatively small market. A quick look at South Africa’s top 25 beers according to Ratebeer.com users and google analytics of searches based and you will have an idea of how underutilised this platform is in SA. Ratebeer.com is dominated by an American Market with minimal users in Africa, Europe and the rest of the world.
Untappd on the other hand is a geosocial networking service and mobile phone application that has been dubbed by users as the ‘Pokemon’ for beers. In 2014 it surpassed the 1 million user milestone and two years later had trebled that number. The app has numerous integrations with social media platforms such as twitter and Facebook. The newsfeed resembles a Facebook feed and you can follow your beer hunting friend’s latest catches. New developments will allow you to scan barcodes to find beers and you can hail an Uber to the bar you checked in via Untappd.
The platform has an easy to use App as well as a desktop option that has like all successful apps in recent times has gamified its process as you unlock and collect badges as you drink and rate beers. Long pondering and indulgent ratings are not the norm. This social beer peacocking goes down well the generation Y and the Millennials alike. Much like a fisherman standing proudly with his catch while having his photo and beer lover posts proudly of his latest acquisition. The simplicity of use and user-friendly interfaces is more modern and what we expect compared to a clunky old ox wagon of a site that is Ratebeer.com. Untappd is a collector’s dream and a personal vault of beer conquests. Budweiser scores a 2.5 out of 5 which is a lot more respectable than Ratebeer.com’s zero and probably reflects the penetration of the mainstream. Both largely agree on the world’s top rated beers just that Untappd is a little less harsh on mainstream lagers.
Untappd will reach a wider audience through its simplicity of use, modern integrations and gamification while Ratebeer.com will, if it remains the same, be forever niche and will never enter the mainstream. It will never serve its greater mandate of performing the role of the beer’s fourth estate.
Go out there and try both, just like there are different beers for different tastes there are also different beer rating sites for different needs. The more SA beers are rated on these sites the better for our industry. We are the beer industries watchdogs so get out there and bark at those bad beers.
*This article was first published in On Tap Magazine. South Africa’s first dedicated beer publication is a quarterly magazine aimed at craft brewers, homebrewers, beer fanatics and those just beginning
to dip their proverbial toe into the mash tun