Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Hi-Tech Ticking

Several months ago I wrote what proved to be a rather controversial post about “Beer Ticking”. I won’t go into the ins and outs of the post again, but the crux of my argument was beer ticking is akin to train spotting, stamp collecting or all the other, predominantly male pursuits which involve ticking things off, categorising them and then writing it all down.

At the time I wrote the post I was aware that the world of ticking had moved on from the days of scruffy, barely-legible lists maintained in tatty old exercise books and that with the advent of the Smartphone, and the growth in associated Apps, electronic versions of ticking were now available; bringing the “delights” of this hobby/obsession to a completely new audience.

 I am assuming that most readers of this blog will either possess a Smartphone, or will be familiar with what such a device can do. With this is mind, just type in the word “beer” on Google Play or the App Store and do a search. You will see a plethora of different beer-related Apps spring up; 250 when I last looked!  Some have only tentative links to beer and some are darn-right stupid, but after sorting the wheat from the chaff, there are a significant number of Apps designed with the serious Beer Geek in mind.

Foremost amongst these are Rate Beer and Beer Advocate; both with impressive credentials and with massive followings world-wide. Rate Beer describes itself as “The world’s largest source for the information on craft beer”, whilst Beer Advocate is “An extension of the largest beer community on the planet.” 
With their rankings and descriptions, both sites are taken very seriously by those who care about these things. Like their equivalents in the world of wine, Rate Beer and Beer Advocate can probably make or break a beer, depending on the review they give. This may not be their intention, but because of the weight given to the comments, and ultimate verdicts on these sites, a beer may either be boosted to stardom, or confined to the dustbin.

Now I pride myself on not possessing a herd mentality, so I don’t tend to frequent these sites very often. I much prefer to make my own mind up about a particular beer than be guided by other people’s, often highly personal, opinions. Also, Rate Beer and Beer Advocate both have a strong North American bias, and contrary to popular (American) belief, NOT all the world’s great beers originate from the United States.

Apps which focus more upon the British beer scene, and in particular cask beer, include Perfect Pint, Cask Finder plus various brewery sponsored beer sourcing applications. There is though, another App which, although American in origin, seems to be extremely popular this side of the Atlantic, particularly amongst the craft-beer community. I am talking here about Untappd.

For the uninitiated, and according to its own website, “Untappd is a new way to socially share and explore the world of beer with your friends and the world. Curious what your friends are drinking or where they're hanging out? Just check their profile where you can toast and comment on their beers! Untappd will offer you beer recommendations based on what you and your friends have been enjoying, so you’ll have no reason to not try something new! As additional encouragement, Untappd allows you to earn a number of cool badges for completing a variety of different criteria.”

In other words it’s old fashioned beer ticking combined with social media (read Twitter or Facebook). According to the Untappd website, users can:

Explore Nearby Popular Bars & Beers. Not sure where to grab a pint? Untappd shows you popular bars nearby and what’s on tap.

Share What & Where you’re Drinking. Share reviews, ratings and photos of the beers you drink with your friends around the world.

Discover What Your Friends Are Drinking. The best recommendations come from your friends, so find out where & what they drink.

Drink New Beers, Unlock Badges: Expand your palate by trying new & different beer styles and unlock achievements along the way.

All very noble, I’m sure, but unless you’ve a narcissistic personality, why would you want to broadcast all this to the world? In fact, are you that socially insecure that you feel you have to do this to accepted by your peers? I’m obviously missing the point, as isn’t this what social media is all about? Why else would you post pictures, or even video footage showing you tipping a bucket of ice-cold water over your head?

Last year, whilst in Dublin for the European Beer Blogger’s Conference, I noticed quite a few fellow beer bloggers almost glued to this App. Now I understand that “tapping” a particular beer, in a particular pub, will leave an electronic trail which the person inputting the data can make use of the following morning; handy if your on a pub crawl and are drinking a variety of different beers. This is also handy if your memory isn’t what it was, or that too much alcohol has clouded it. I also appreciate the social side of this, in so much that you can let your mates know where you are and, more importantly, which great beers they are missing.
 More recently, on last May’s trip to the Czech Republic, there was one member of the party “tapping” beers in every pub or bar we visited. Now this particular gentleman is older than me and quite worldly-wise. He is also someone I have known for a long time, and is a person I have a lot of respect for. So without wishing to judge him in any way, I was nevertheless rather surprised to see how serious he was about using this App to tick off beers. The sight of him frantically searching for an internet connection, whenever we entered a new pub, became all too common

I chatted with him about what appeared to be an obsession, and he freely admitted that he had become somewhat addicted to Untappd. Each to their own, but to me, this was a shame, as we visited some excellent pubs and bars during the course of our stay, and to be glued to your Smartphone, instead of engaging with others in the group and taking in the general ambience of the place, seemed to be missing the point. This acquaintance of mine wasn’t the only offender in this respect; as there were a couple of other members of the party who were also doing the odd spot of “Untapping”, but he was definitely the worst.

Now a year or so ago I tried Untappd myself, for a short while, but gave it up for the very reasons highlighted above. Often I would forget to use it and sometimes, I just couldn’t be bothered. Normally, if I want to make a note of the beers I have drunk, I stick to old-fashioned paper and pen, so Untappd wasn’t really for me.

There were other reasons as well why I didn’t get on with Untappd; the prime one being my phone contract has a limited data allowance, so unless there is free Wi-Fi available in the pub, the App is of little use to me. The other snag I found was that Untappd works on the back of another App called Four Square, which you have to download separately. It is free, but in my experience wasn’t that reliable. Basically, Four Square is a location-based, social-media type of App which lets the user share information with friends and other Four Square users. A good GPS signal is necessary for it to work, which again begs the question, could you be arsed?

The irony of the whole thing is that whilst the users of Untappd might well be engaging with friends who could be the other side of the world; they are not engaging with people around them. People they are with, here and now, in the real world. In other words, they are not present and they are not living in the now.

The same of course applies, to all mobile phones; especially Smartphones. It is a sad indictment of today’s society to watch a couple, or group of people out for a meal. The majority of them will be tapping or swiping their phones; totally oblivious to what is going on around them. There is little or sometimes even no conversation going on, as each person is immersed in their own virtual reality “bubble”. When this happens with a group of friends in a pub, I wonder how many realise the irony that they have totally lost sight of why they met up in the first place, and that instead of enjoying the moment and appreciating it with each other; they would rather share it with people who are often many miles away. As far as I am concerned, this isn’t social media, it’s anti-social media!

I am certain that I have only scratched the surface of this new, social-media version of “beer ticking”, and that there are hundreds, if not thousands of dedicated users out there, all no doubt able, and willing, to fill me in further about the delights of Untappd and Four Square. Beer ticking has obviously become a lot more sophisticated and, dare I say it, a lot more cool, but in the same way that the old exercise-book scratchers lost sight of the main reason(s) for drinking beer, then I’m sure their modern day, hi-tech counterparts have as well.


MerseyExile said...

Well said.

Neville Grundy said...

Such behaviour is narcissistic: I recently saw a couple in my local, both absorbed in their phones, and not looking at - let alone speaking to - each other. It's encouraged by social media, but I am unable to discern any significant benefit. I suspect that people become ensnared by such techno-rubbish because they haven't understood that, just because you can do something, it doesn't mean you have to. I recently lost patience with a friend who was in the habit of taking out his phone every few minutes and took him to task for doing so during a live acoustic music session.

If for any reason I want to remember something in a pub, perhaps for my own blog or a pub review for the local paper, I prefer, like you, to use pen and paper.

Yvan said...

I became a very heavy untappd user... picked up the habit when immersing myself in the Kiwi craft beer scene in 2011. But it passed. I find using untappd gets in the way of using Twitter ;)

More seriously: I think it is a useful too. I can make notes on beers I drink and then go back to it later to see what I've said about a specific beer. Interesting to see how my impression of a beer can be so different across different tastings. (No doubt a mix of both personal taste & beer inconsistency.) That's the power of it - a searchable database of your drinking. I've never seen the attraction to making such notes with pen & paper. I still go back and review my own notes from time to time when making beer selections.

Meanwhile I hate the social media element of untappd and the badges make me want to set fire to kittens. The whole "gamification" thing is infuriating. Part of what drove me away from it was meeting people who were all like "sooo... how many distinct beers have _you_ had on untappd" like some sort of horribly unhealthy a dick waving contest. (Given I was almost always well ahead of them it mainly made me worried about my own excessive beer consumption!)

I stopped using it mainly because it gets in the way of actually enjoying beer. But from time to time I'll pop something in when I have a beer of particular note.

Paul Bailey said...

I understand what you are saying Yvan, about Untappd’s ability to create a personalised beer database for its users; and I believe that’s what my friend was doing on our recent Czech trip. Under certain circumstances, this could be useful, but I’ll stick with my memory – supplemented by the odd note paper and pen or two.

The badges remind me of the “bubblegum cards” I used to collect, as a kid at primary school, but I suppose that for some people they act as an incentive. (Incentive for what, though? To drink more beer?).

Your final comment about the App getting in the way of actually enjoying beer is what killed the whole thing for me; that and not being able to get a Wi-Fi connection when I needed one.

Simon said...

While Untappd does use Foursquare's data behind the scenes for its geographical stuff, there is absolutely no requirement to have Foursquare itself installed.

DaveS said...

I find Untappd kind of useful as a way of seeing what sort of stuff a pub normally sells - if I'm picking somewhere to go with my parents and the Untappd whatsits are all barrel aged hibiscus saisons then I'll probably pass on it, if I'm picking somewhere to go and be a beer geek then I'll probably check it out.

Similarly, Ratebeer ratings have their uses provided you're aware of their limitations. If a trad ale brewery gets poor Ratebeer scores then it doesn't mean much, and if an individual beer gets a good or bad score then it doesn't mean much either, but if someone's producing the sort of beer that Ratebeer folk really ought to like and still getting consistently poor scores then the odds are that they're doing something wrong, so I'll approach them with more caution than usual, particularly if their stuff is pricey, and vice versa if they're doing consistently well.

Anyway, I try not to judge people on what they do for fun - I mean, I regularly go for long miserable walks up hills in crap weather, which is hardly more inherently sensible than sitting in a pub drinking nice beers and telling people on the internet about it.

Martin, Cambridge said...

Despite the volume of stuff on the web, I struggled last week to get recent information on a the sizeable central european cities (including Vienna) I've just visited. Ron Pattinsons European Beer Guide is excellent but getting dated.

As you note, most websites, such as Ratebeer, focus largely on detailing new beers and prioritise multiple beer offerings over plain good pubs.

Paul Bailey said...

DaveS, why not follow those long miserable walks up hills in crap weather, with a visit to a pub where you can drink nice beers? I’m sure they will taste all the better after your exertions.

Martin, I found an excellent site called Otto’s Rambles, researched and written by a UK based couple, describing their “beer rambles” around Europe, as well as places further a field.
I used it prior to my recent trips to Prague and Nuremberg; it didn’t disappoint!

What's Vienna like for beer? I've never been over-impressed with Austrian beer.

Martin, Cambridge said...

Paul - thanks for reminder about Otto's site, which is wonderfully detailed and helpful for the cities visited. Otto does also use the European Beer Guide, judging by the Nuremberg section, and is an unashamed scooper.

Vienna offered the standard choices of Helles and Dunkles on draft in the bars and cafes I visited. Beers came from a small number of large Austrian brewers, though big foaming glasses of Budvar were also common. Beers were cold and refreshing (I'm no beer reviewer) but nothing special.

At the 1516 brewpub, which is regularly reviewed, and the big beer garden in the Prater funfair, I did have some excellent Punk IPA type beer on draught and bottle. There were some publike bars in the lively part of the old town (Bermuda & Krah) which were enjoyable experiences irrespective of beer.

Beer prices were on a par with Tunbridge Wells; prices noticably dropped as we moved to the gorgeous Linz near the Czech border.