Let’s talk about Untappd

Untappd irritates me.

Sure, there was a time in my life, as there is in most budding beer nerds’ lives, when I wholly embraced all that Untappd had to offer. A crowdsourced collection of tasting notes at my finger tips, a way to track beers that I tried, and even a built in humble-brag system that lets me not only tell people what cool beer I was drinking in a cool bar but also alert all my social media followers that I’ve just earned a badge for surpassing a benchmark like 25 IPAs consumed in one month. It was fun. It was engaging. It was well designed.

But now I think it might be one of the worst things to happen to beer drinking since Adolphus Busch decided he wanted to shag Lilly Anheuser.

Here’s how I came to this conclusion. First, on crowdsourcing tasting notes: I’ve realized I don’t actually care what most people think about a given beer. On the one hand, Untappd is great in that it democratically allows everyone to provide feedback about a beer, and yeah! power to the people.  But on the other hand, who cares about people? Untappd makes every neckbeard with a smartphone think he or she is Michael fucking Jackson. Do I really give a shit that “Jeff T.” thinks Bellwoods Brewery’s Farmhouse Classic “has a weird tangyness” or that “Kyle M.” thinks Instigator IPA from Indie Alehouse is “Really good”? No. No I do not. Untappd is the Yelp of beer, but lazier. If I’m looking for a good restaurant, I don’t want to know that John from Schenectedy gave it one star because he was seated under a drafty vent, I want to know what an actual fucking restaurant critic has to say.

Beer is the same way, and I’m sorry for being snobby here, but most people don’t know a cream ale from a California common, so why the fuck would we want an app that lets all of the people drinking beer (all of them!) share their opinions directly with the world?

Perhaps not surprisingly, however, those who actually work in the beer industry have mixed opinions about the usefulness of Untappd and those amateur reviews.

“I’m a masochist, so I routinely look at this site,” says Sam Corbeil, brewmaster at Gravenhurst, Ontario’s Sawdust City Brewery. “Every morning I pick up my phone and update it to see how much people hate my beer. It’s an awesome way to start your day.”

Corbeil admits that while he’s somewhat of a glutton for punishment, the app does serve a purpose. “I value the site as a metric to see which beers people are drinking and where they are drinking it. The statistics page is much more important to me than any one particular opinion on any given beer. It kinda gives a quick snapshot of how things went the night before. I personally don’t use it to check-in or rate any beer, it’s strictly another tool we use to monitor how much–or how little–people are drinking Sawdust.”

Andrew Murphy, a partner at Unfiltered Brewing in Halifax, Nova Scotia, has a less nuanced view of the site’s usefulness.

“We hate Untappd,” he says. “Idiots rating beers poorly because they don’t like the style or because they’ve got a grudge against a brewery (seems to happen regularly with us!); or rating a fave place blindly.” Like me, Murphy takes issue with the fact that anyone can weigh in on his beers. “My problem is that the reviews aren’t moderated or weighted,” he says. “If someone rates one of our beers substantially outside its average, a mod should be looking to see whether it’s a revenge review (‘he was really rude about another brewery I like! What an asshole!’) or an utterly uninformed/irrelevant one (‘I don’t like hoppy beers! Mmmmm, malt.’).”

For the most part though, my informal survey of brewers seems to indicate that most see it as something that adds value to their business. Patrick Schnarr, Brewer and Co-Owner of Outcast Brewing in Calgary, Alberta, seems to have faith in the Darwinian nature of open source reviews and tells me that, “after a certain point, the thoughts of the crowd come together” and that perhaps “some people who don’t like it don’t like it because they do poorly on it.”

“It helps me find ways to fine-tune my recipes based on feedback,” he says. “If I see something repeatedly mentioned, it makes it easy to tweak to improve something for next time. Also on a business level, the fact that my brewery is ranked #4 in Canada is a huge selling tool for me as a brewery owner when sending cold emails or dropping in to new accounts.”

Troy Burtch, who is the Communications Manager for Great Lakes Brewery in Etobicoke, Ontario, likely spends more time considering the places where beer and the internet collide than even the loneliest basement-dwelling beer blogger. Burtch, as he tells me via email, is clearly on board with the value of Untappd from a brewery marketing perspective and has embraced all the app has to offer GLB as a business.

“Great Lakes uses Untappd Business which allows us to update our retail store fridge listings in real time, pushing notifications out to those that subscribe to our brewery so they can be made aware of any new offerings. We also enjoy the analytics of Untappd. We can see when people are here at the brewery, what social media platforms they are sharing the beer on that they are drinking, how many GLB check-ins individual drinkers are making and where they are making them, tracking popular offering, etc. I also really enjoy the interaction we can have with our supporters,” he says. “For example, if I’m upstairs working and I see someone has checked into GLB on the app, I’ll head down to the retail store and say hi, have a drink with them, get to know them and find out why they enjoy the beers they do.”

And OK, sure, masochistic brewmasters, sales-focused owners, and zealous marketers might see the value in Untappd check-ins from a business perspective, but I’ve recently realized that it is in fact those very public check-ins that are one of the things about Untappd I hate the most–and not just because checking in at Great Lakes might mean you have to have a beer with Troy. Most people you ask about Untappd will tell you that it’s simply a great way to keep track of beers they’ve tried. It’s a sort of easy reference when you’re at a bar or at an event to check if it’s actually a beer you’ve already had before and whether or not you like it. And, OK, Untappd IS handy for that. But tell me why you need to push all those check-ins to twitter? I don’t give a shit that you’re drinking Big Rock Grasshopper Wheat at the Calgary Stampede. Do you really think the world needs an instant review of your beer? If you actually give enough of a shit to record the beer and your thoughts on it, keep it to yourself.

To me, those check-ins in fact embody one of the worst impulses of the beer fan in the social media age, by providing another means for people to boast about whatever it is they’re drinking. As a beer writer with a pretty active social media presence, I know I’m not not one to throw stones, but I really hate how Untappd allows users to push notifications to twitter and Facebook. It’s like the laziest humble brag possible. You don’t even have to take a picture or provide any context. You click that you’ve had a beer, you enter your uninformed opinion on it, and then you fart it out to all the people who follow you on social media. It’s boring. It’s lame. And it’s clogging up my twitter feed with shit I might care even less about than how far some schmuck just jogged.

The worst part about Untappd to me, however, is what I recently referred to in my last column for the magazine MASH (subscribe now!) as the “game-ification” of beer. In that column, in which I sought to extoll the virtues of a full pour over a sample size, I briefly spoke to the fact that Untappd is a sort of symptom of the “quest” approach some seem to take to beer drinking. Perhaps an extension of our generation’s humble-bragging social media tendencies, a lot of people these days seem to be pursuing certain beers simply for the sake of checking those beers off a list. And it drives me fucking crazy. It’s the reason you can literally buy tiny sample bottles of ultra rare beers online these days, it’s the reason so many people I see on instagram appear to spend most of their income on rare beers, and, I suspect, it’s the reason so many people will line up for expensive beer when they have a cellar and fridge full of the stuff at home: It’s simply to say that you’ve had it.

At best, this is an annoying approach to beer that has more in common with collecting stamps than it does “drinking,” and at worst, it seems to me to trivialize or normalize a sort of casual alcoholism (the prevalence of which in the beer industry might be fodder for another 20000 words some time…). I mean, Untappd users are literally awarded for their drinking efforts with little badges. The more you drink, the more you win, and of course, you’re encouraged to then push those little badges to social media to once again reinforce the idea of how cool it is that you’ve had 678 lagers this month. And not to get too Modern Psychology with the whole thing, but those little badges that pop up on your phone and the “likes” you get when you push them online have actually been proven to give you a little dopamine hit, meaning your brain has a little reward system that continues to encourage you to clog up my twitter feed with the rewards for your binge drinking.

Frankly, Untappd has me so irritated that it makes me want to drink.

And when I do, if I have a great beer I want to remember, I’ll probably make note of it like I usually do, in my notebook, and I won’t even show it to you.

My Untappd.

38 thoughts on “Let’s talk about Untappd

  1. I guess we should only listen to your reviews right Ben?

    and yeah, calling your customers idiots. Way to go Unfiltered Brewing. You get a 5/5 for stupidity. Brewers hate untappd cause it bruises their egos. Now only if this shill blogger interviewed a untappd user for this garbage article, maybe it wouldn’t have come across so bias.

    1. I don’t actually review beer, really. But yes. I should be your one source for beer information, brave anonymous commenter.
      And FYI, I did reach out to Untappd directly to see if they could point me to Canadian “super users.” I’m not savvy enough with the app to find them myself. They were unable to help me. So then I realized I actually get why people like the app and figured I didn’t need to chat with them–and it was my hope that I’d represented their POV at least a little by admitting what’s fun and useful about the app.
      Presumably you’re a user. Feel free to explain why you like the app if I missed the point.
      Also, this garbage article is “biased” not bias. I have A BIAS, thus my BIASED garbage.
      And I’d love to hear for whom it is you think I’m shilling. Big notebook?

      1. In general, here are my rules for untappd. Any craft beer I rank no less then 3 if only for effort eg. had a hefeweizen recently which tasted like fruit juice. gave it a 3. I reserve ranks under 3 for macros. I would treat with suspicion any ranking such as 1 or below for any craft beer as being malicious.

    2. happen to know that unfiltered brewery was sabotaged by a competitor in Nova Scotia who kept giving its beers 1 star just so that it looked like it was a horrible brewery. This kind of BS has to be controlled somehow

  2. Lol, this from the guy who constantly spams his twitter feed bragging about the beer he’s having with his hotdogs…

  3. I used to like checking beer reviews on Beer Advocate or Rate Beer as the ratings were more detailed and felt genuine. An objectively bad beer would receive terrible scores. If a beer was really that good, you’d see a flood of high scores. Untappd opened up beer reviewing to be something that takes no more than a few seconds of thought. It seems like almost no beer is rated less than 3.5 on there. Does that mean even some terrible beer is still average? Is every beer average to somebody, even something objectively good?

    I do find Untappd helpful if I’m traveling somewhere new and want to see what’s new and popular in that city.

    1. Agree with this. I use it in other cities to basically crowd source recommendations when i don’t have anyone trustworthy i can ask. But the ratings only work in context of style. I’ll pick up a pilsner rated a 3.5 over one rated 3.3.

  4. I definitely agree with some points here, namely the gamification, which is a symptom of any social network.

    As mentioned above, untappd is really great for discovering now bars when traveling (even if it tends to lean towards those who pay for untappd business). I also use it as my one source of truth for things I’ve tried and it’s helpful that they have an API which allows me to ‘liberate’ my data.

    I’m currently in the process of building a product focused on smaller, more intimate ‘tasting clubs’ and would love to chat about something that would be more useful for you.

  5. Good brewers do quite well on untapped. Most.of the reviewers are informed with the occasional numskull. Only brewers of swill and pig urine would be against it.

  6. Ben you know your poison. And you’re right about untapped. It also got a bit incriminating when slipping out for a cheeky one and liking what you tried.

    I want to add that Stephen Beaumont’s “In The Pocket Of” comment was frikkin beautiful. Keep it up

  7. The problem with Untappd, as with most popular tech things, is not the application, it’s the users.

    FWIW if your Twitter feed is full of Untappd check-ins (which are admittedly annoying), maybe it’s time to prune your follow list.

    I used to have a paper-based Untappd, but since I’m not a beer blogger I don’t always have it with me. I always have my phone with me and so Untappd is a great database for me. I use it to get more information on the brewery as needed. It’s entirely possible to ignore the ratings and comments if you want.

    Finally, I think the “game-ification” of beer predates Untappd by some time. I would date it to around the time Michael Jackson (the Beer Hunter, remember) became popular. And the real beer nerds are the most guilty.

  8. Sure some people abuse it but for me untappd is for sharing what I am drinking with a select few people – about 100, some friends from real life, some friends of friends and a few interesting people who added me along the way. I reject any of those weird friend harvesters who add every single person they can find. I don’t sync my check ins to twitter or facebook, I always post a picture, rating, location and a comment that is not necessarily about the beer. Because it’s a social media app, not ratebeer. It’s a fun, silly thing, and it’s entirely down to the user to make the best of it, just like with any social media. Where’s the harm in any of this? Apart from the over consumption of alcohol 🙂 Let people get on with enjoying what they like, other than goobers who share everything to their twitter feed I don’t see how untappd use can have such an impact on your life that it’s inspired you to churn out so many words moaning about it!

  9. I like Untappd for many reasons which seem very different than what you listed in your article:

    1) I get to see what my American friends are drinking and use the intel on my next shopping trip. Alternatively they can see what I am drinking and make requests for our next beer exchange.

    2) I like to see what some of my local friends are drinking so I can run out and try it or can get an idea where it is available.

    3) It gets me thinking about the beer I drinking. Can I describe it eloquently yet succinctly with a certain character limit.

    4) Most importantly, I used to get updates when Indie Ale House updated their tap menu/bottle shop and I would totally rearrange my schedule to go. That feature doesn’t seem to be working for me now, unfortunately.

    I don’t post all the beers I drink on Untappd because it is great to just enjoy them without thinking about them.

    Not everyone is an asshole on social media (well, at least 100% of the time).

    1. Chances are they didn’t renew their Untappd for Business account, so they can’t update beer releases, events, etc. It’s quite pricey for businesses to be a part of. $600 a year, whereas most other social media platforms are free. I actually fell on this blog post because I am researching whether it is worth it or not to re-up on the biz acct. But from the sounds of what you are saying, I don’t want to leave our followers hanging.

  10. Honestly, I still like Untappd, but I don’t make use of all the features. I just log it for myself mostly, and I follow only a few friends and regulars at my regular spot. My reviews are pretty simplistic… I’m not going to ramble on about mouthfeel and the lightest notes of clove or whatever the case may be. I certainly don’t go out of my way to drink something or go some new place JUST to get the badge. In that way, my untappd log reflects my actual drinking for the most part. I can definitely see how some aspects of it would grow old for a lot of people.

  11. I agree with most of what you said, but I use untappd for zero of the social features. Untappd to me is the same as that little notebook for you. A place to store notes and ratings of beers I’ve tried. I already carry my phone with me, why carry a notebook as well, hipster 😉

  12. Attention Ontario craft beer drinkers: Please ensure you only enjoy beer in Ben-Johnson approved ways at all times.

    Please do not cause this award winning blogger to suffer the agonizing inconvenience of seeing your Untappd check-ins or humble-brags on Twitter.

    As Ontario’s preeminent beer blogger he is obligated to be on Twitter and is therefore unable to unfollow or mute people who don’t tweet according to his exacting standards.

    Sure you may feel excited about something beer related and want to share it with your friends and followers, but Golden Taps’ Best Beer Writer Four Years Running Ben Johnson does not care about you so please do not risk the possibility that Ben will see it and get annoyed.

    And so in summation, by all means enjoy craft beer. But be ever mindful of whether or not how you share your beer drinking experience on social media will meet with self-appointed actual fucking beer critic Ben Johnson’s approval. For his way is the right way to enjoy craft beer and your way is wrong and causes him actual pain, I guess.

  13. So you’re using your social media platform to complain about other social media as a tool for what you refer to 3 times as “humble bragging,” and you cap the post with a photo of your humble notebook, bragging that you don’t brag about what may or may not be inside.

    And torching others for enjoying something you only stopped enjoying a hot second ago… yow. Untappd does suck, I won’t argue with that.

  14. It’s bad form to trash something a lot of your readership likely enjoys.

    It’s unkind to refer to people as neckbeard (this is not the first time Ben has used this word pejoratively to refer to members of the craft beer community) or assume that Untappd users don’t know anything about beer.

    There is a Ted Talk in which Celeste Headlee made ten suggestions on how to have a better conversation. This was number three:

    “Don’t pontificate. If you want to state your opinion without any opportunity for response or argument or pushback or growth, write a blog.”

    It got a laugh from the audience because it’s true; this blog is a prime example of this. Ben admonishes others for how they choose to enjoy their hobby, but gets defensive and buttsore if people in the comments section are critical or disagree with him. If you dish it out you better learn how to take it.

    Switching gears a bit, I question the criteria for winning the Golden Tap Awards best beer writer. I have no training as a writer or an editor and yet here’s a list of things I noticed:

    Fingertips is one word.

    Built-in is hyphenated.

    I don’t’ know what to say about this: us!); or

    This quote: “has a weird tangyness” should either have been “has a weird tanginess” if it was a fabricated quote or “has a weird tanginess [sic]” if it was an actual quote.

    Schenectedy is spelled Schenectady.

    Instagram and Twitter should be capitalized.

    Gamification doesn’t have a hyphen in it.

    I’m sure there is more.

    Yours truly,
    Jeff T.

    1. Thanks Jeff!
      And say hi to your roommate who also likes to criticize my blog.
      I’m talking of course about Jan Vogels, who shares your IP address. I assume he also lives at your address and is not in fact also you, returning to my comments section to offer more criticism under a fake name after you took the time to proofread a 1700 word opinion piece on a beer blog. Because that would be kind of sad.

      1. I have so little in my life.

        But yeah. Sure. Let’s focus on that, Ben. You’re right. I totally posed as fictional Untappd used Jeff T for my second comment. I apologize for borrowing your creation.

        And yes I did take the time to proofread your article. You should try it sometime.

  15. One thing not brought up – there are breweries out there that are altering their average by deleting low ratings.

    The thoughts of the crowd come together when you delete 1 and 2 star reviews from your own page.

    I much prefer looking at google reviews. Nice staff? Great atmosphere? Sure, I will try your beer but I also don’t need to give the whole fucking world my uneducated shitty opinion about it.

  16. I’ve got to say I love Untappd. I’ve been able to meet up with great beer people in cities like New York, Buenos Aires, Houston, Quito and Vancouver because of the app. As an occasional travel writer who loves beer, it has been a great tool for finding places to visit when I travel. To me, it is a fun app…and beer is meant to be fun.

  17. Ben,

    Thank you for this article. I think there’s a lot of interesting points here, especially concerning the problematic culture of the Pokemon gotta-catch-them-all mentality. I must admit that I can relate to it myself, and sometimes have the impulse to go “beer hunting” for something rare or hyped, before self-checking myself and being reminded of the tried-and-true classics that are affordable and easy to get.

    I do think you’re a little hard on Untappd though and the value of crowdsourced reviews. Regarding gamification in Untappd, I am also not personally a fan of the badges that congratulate you for drinking beers. I just find them annoying. But I’m not entirely against gamification, if it inspires people to go out of their comfort zones and try things they wouldn’t normally try. I would recommend that Untappd tweak their gamification to instead get people to improve the quality of their reviews (longer text, add photos, etc) for an overall better dataset.

    There’s value in ratings on a large-enough scale that creates statistical significance. The key is to compare within a category because of course there’s a bias in the beer-geek community for and against certain styles. For example, you can compare a Belgian lambic with another Belgian lambic and if the rating is 0.20 or more higher, assuming a large number of votes, there’s a good chance you will like the one with a higher rating more. And that type of comparison can be useful when you’re making a buying decision, especially when it’s a special occasional purchase. Of course, I wouldn’t compare a Belgian lambic rating with a Pilsner rating because there’s a bias against the latter.

    I also think there is certainly value in reading unprofessional reviews, especially from friends and acquaintances. There are many reasons why one would listen to a casual reviewer over a professional critic in certain situations.
    1. You might know the layman’s tastes better and align more closely with their preferences, at least in a certain category. If you know them well, you will know their biases and their level of experience with a certain style. For example, I know my brother usually likes the same sour beers that I do and has many years experience drinking them, but isn’t a fan of lagers. Therefore I will be excited to get his opinion on a sour (to seek out or avoid) but know to ignore his lager review.
    2. You can’t find professional reviews for most products, or it’s not easy or free to acquire these reviews. In that case, it’s still useful to read crowdsourced reviews to get a sense of what you’re spending your money on and to use ratings to make a buying decision between two otherwise comparable products.
    3. You will likely follow people that live close to you, which will alert you to interesting beers that have become available on the market or on tap at a local bar.
    4. A critic is typically pretty familiar with all styles but unlikely to be an expert in everything. A restaurant critic might have extensive knowledge of French cuisine, but probably isn’t too knowledgable on Georgian cuisine. But luck would have it, I have a Georgian friend who has been making and eating Georgian food her whole life. Similarly, when a Manzanilla Sherry is release to the market, I have a Spanish friend I can ask and not Robert Parker’s magazine.
    5. You can engage with a layman, ask them questions and they will likely answer, especially if they’re a friend. You can leave a comment on Untappd asking them how that beer compares to a reference point, or whether it’s worth the hefty price-point, etc.

    And of course we can’t forget that Untappd is a social platform, so its other main value is being able to interact with your friends about a shared passion in a focused context. I have a childhood friend that I interact with on Untappd that I haven’t spoken to in real life for years, but we enjoy geeking out over beers online. I can see what beer bars he visits on a vacation to Europe and how his palate is developing as he tries new styles. There’s a pleasure in that.

    Let me know your thoughts.


  18. Untappd is great app to follow what you have already tried. I rate beers for myself, so I have a stronger recollection of a certain beer. Sure sabotage sucks but, the appout there, it’s madly popular and you can’t stop it.

  19. some of the breweries here in Spain already have a sign outside, that untappd users are not welcome.. COOL!

  20. I’m in complete agreement on most points here. I have a poor memory, which is to say three days after visiting a pub, if I go back, I have no idea which beers I tried. So I’m giving Untappd a try, but it’s pretty much disgust at first sight. Those badges -really, for people over the age of ten??

    Is there an alternative that one can keep a list in, and which locates nearby breweries, which doesn’t broadcast to the world what I’m doing and what I thought about a brew that day? I thought I’d be able to turn some of that stuff off or down, but no, that isn’t the case.

  21. And how has that worked out for ya? Untappd has really suffered since 2017. You are on the cutting edge of the market Ben.

    Why cant people just like what they like without “real” beer people complaining about it.

  22. Some of the OP’s thoughts are getting drowned out by some obvious haters twisting his words. I used to be on untappd for years (7k checkins/5k unique). I was friends with several of the biggest names in untappd and was a founder. Had fun with it but with the flood of amateur’s and ignorant people turned it into another trash social media platform. It became annoying to have to filter the excessive novices comments from qualified comments. There are big problems with untappd now because of that and I don’t value their rating system anymore. Today/now a 3.5+ rating is actually represents a really good beer. Many years ago it was 4.5+.


    1. The Novice or the 8000’s checkin guy’s new girlfriend who orders flights to learn beer, gets an IPA on the flight and rates it a 1 and comments “It was bitter but I hate IPA’s”. Orders a hefe, 2 stars “it has a weird banana taste, gross”

    2. Then there are the ones who have their feet wet but don’t understand the styles properly. Orders a Sorachi Ace Saison, 2 stars “has a weird lemon pepper notes”.(That’s the flavor of sorachi ace hops…) Orders a Kriek lambic, gives a poor rating “not sour enough”.

    3. Not understanding the intent of certain beers. for example Gateway beers – Simple American Craft lagers, designed purposefully to hook in the bud/coors drinkers for a brewery. Jonny Pro Reviewer, 2 stars “Its simple and boring”.. (This is now ignorance, it’s supposed to be simple and boring, if you find it simple and boring you should give it a 5 cause that was 100% the goal). Meanwhile that simple lager outsells the rest of the lineup all day long and the gateway drinkers don’t use untappd so now the overall rating is devalued.

    4. The untappd rockstar. Thinking their holy stamp of reviews or rating actually means something important to the world and that they know beer better because of their mass check-ins. Meanwhile they have never studied the BJCP guidelines.

    I had friends back then on untappd that checked in beers but never rated them. I never understood that at that time but I do now. At the tail end of using untappd I just started to only review the beers I enjoyed.

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