Will Technology Save Craft Beer?

After writing my not so popular post about the sky is falling on craft beer – Craft Beer Bubble In New Zealand? there seems to be others thinking similar thoughts about the future of craft beer. (just to clarify one more time, it isn’t the end of craft beer, but more of the potential coming correction)

You’d Probably Never Guess That This Is Craft Beer’s Scariest Problem

“By June 2013, the number of breweries had exploded to 2,538 total U.S. breweries. We’re talking a compounded growth rate of 10% per year for the past 35 years!”

How overcrowding could weaken or cheapen the craft beer movement
But what happens as this field begins to get crowded? One possibility is that the nostalgia surrounding craft brew, and even the quality, could get watered down. It would be clearly tougher and tougher for new entrants into the field with so many established breweries already up and running, so there’s honest concern that brewers may cut corners and cheapen the craft business just to get their product in front of consumers, which would only serve to harm the entire craft beer movement.

Joe Tucker RateBeer.com says “Most consumers have been dealing with a dizzying array of options for 10 years, so this is really nothing new despite all the new players. There’s only so much shelf space at beer stores and tap handles at bars. We’ve already had too many choices, so I think despite most of us knowing there’ll be some kind of shakeout, the temporary increase in options will only create hardship for new brewers trying to establish their brand and new consumers.”

“However, it could also mean rough times ahead of new breweries just starting up and difficulty in differentiating their brand from the next dozen breweries being opened”.

– Too Many Breweries, Too Much Choice
– Start Up Breweries difficulty standing out
– Technology will help beer drinkers cut through the crap
– Better make high quality beer

There is so much choice, from so many breweries with so many different beers. Beer drinkers, retailers and bar owners need a way to consider what to purchase. So little time to try everything. Therefore the crowd sourcing of reviews of online databases (RateBeer.com, Beeradvocate.com and the app Untappd.com) does provide some help.

The problem though with these crowdsourced beer review websites is that the majority of people rating and reviewing the beers generally are noobs. The majority have little knowledge base, or experience in tasting beer or any knowledge about how beer is brewed, or even what common off flavours are.

UntappdMany of those rating beers are influenced by brand, experiences in relation to the brewery. i.e. if they have met the brewer, or someone gave them a free beer at a beer festival. A lot has to do with trying beers and rating them high based on the fact they were already in the top 10, top 100, etc. These inexperienced raters/reviews reduce the highs and the lows, skew results based on advertising, social media expertise of breweries and hype that is spread by word of mouth.

Potentially these databases probably give you a fair indication of a beer.

I had the privilege of being involved with using Untappd.com when it first started. I found in the early years that the beers on there had a pretty fair and accurate rating. You could buy a beer based on the rating. Now days it seems as though every beer has a 3.6 rating, and the very good ones a 4.

People that rate beers based on the label, or sip, or rating a lager a 1 out of 5 because they prefer stouts, just isn’t helpful.

I would like to see a database/app that has verified/qualified raters. People reviewing beers that had been reviewed themselves. Raters that collectively had an experience base that meant the beers they rate will be unbiased and just about the beer they drank, not the label, or the brewpub or the hot sales person. People that are quality brewers, beer judges, or raters who’s rating shows they have experience and they are rating the beer for what it is, and not that they got a selfie with the brewer.

It would also be helpful to look at ratings based on distance from brewery, as well as ratings over time.

Technology could not only save craft beer, but make more great beer available to more people, and reduce the bad beers people drink.

Would collecting information about how fast beer is selling help this database? From a comment made in a bar recently “beer X sells out in a few hours, but then there are beers such as Y & Z that could be on that tap for up to 2 months” (I said what a single 50 litre keg on a tap? Yes, because no one really likes it).

Anyway I hope someone will come up with an app that makes your craft beer experience easier, and even better. Big data for the win.


One thought on “Will Technology Save Craft Beer?”

  1. There was an interesting episode of the Brewing Network’s “The Session” (http://thebrewingnetwork.com/shows/1053) where Joe and Mario discuss all the work they have put in to making ratebeer.com ratings as reflective of true quality as possible. While I don’t recall geographic location being discussed (excellent idea), a lot of the other things you mentioned are done well. “Good” users are manually vetted by ratebeer staff, and their reviews tend to be given more weight. Listen for yourself, as it was a while ago, and I don’t recall all the details, but it made me wish ratebeer and untappd could have a lovechild in the form of an app.

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