I recently read Michael Agnew's article in The Growler about Untappd and serial drinkers. He had included me in his group of informants for the work (showing that he both has good taste and does his research!) If you haven't read his article yet, I suggest checking it out HERE, but come back after and read the rest of this entry! Having taken the time to write up responses to his questions, I realized that I had most of a blog entry already written and my thoughts varied a bit from the tack that Agnew took. Why not expand on this a little as an avid Untappd user for several years now?
While Untappd (and other apps like it) fulfill various needs and desires for beer drinkers, Agnew's piece focuses in on the concept of the Serial Drinker. He describes a serial drinker thus: A “serial” beer drinker is one with very little brand loyalty. Serial drinkers tend to seek out new beers that they haven’t yet tried rather than sticking with brands that they know. They are the people who look at a beer list and say, “I’ll have this. I haven’t had it yet.” As usual with Agnew's work, he is incredibly well spoken and has spent much time thinking out his points before writing them up. Also, as he often does, he takes a borderline controversial stance. This is actually why I like reading his stuff: that devil's advocate view is often more entertaining and thought-provoking than the mutual back-slapping of most craft beer journalism!
When asked if I am a serial drinker my response is this: I have some brand loyalty and certainly the more unique beers I try from a brewery that rate highly will increase that loyalty. On the other hand, I admit that I get bored easily and rarely buy a full 6 pack of any one beer--making me a serial drinker. Let me use Odell as an example: Having visited Odell in Colorado when it was still a small local brewery and being blown away by their beers, I have been watching them closely ever since. When they arrived in Minnesota I rejoiced and promptly bought a bunch of their beers. After a while--when I could grab a 90 Shilling at many pubs and liquor stores--I mostly stopped actively searching it out. However, I have had enough fantastic beers from Odell over the years that when I get wind of a new one coming out I will go looking for it. For me this is brand loyalty, but not necessarily beer loyalty. If I find a brand, say Leinenkugel's, that I have tried 8 beers from (giving them more than enough tries to get things right,) and rate them all 3 or under on a scale of 1-5, then that brewery is much less likely to intrigue me in the future. For me, using Untappd allows me to keep track of these breweries and beers for future reference.
Back to the easily bored thing. I like to try new things and the only way to find a new beer that you might love is to take a chance. By doing this I run the risk of getting an inferior beer, but I could get something great! Then again, having had a lot of different beers from different breweries, I have a feel for which ones are likely to be good bets. Kind of like being a seasoned gambler who knows the odds versus being a green mark goggling around during their first trip to a casino. I don't just choose my "new" beer willy-nilly. I also sometimes look up a beer on Untappd prior to ordering, just to get a feel for what other folks have rated it. If everyone says it is terrible, I might adjust my choices!
When there are so many recognized good beers around, why should I keep trying new ones instead of sticking with those? I'll be honest, I use the old standbys as a beer life-line of sorts. I always know those good beers are available and can use them as back-up if I get a lousy one. A recent example of this occurred just a few days ago at Old Chicago. I had ordered a beer that was listed as an Imperial IPA (a favorite style of mine) but when it arrived I found it to be a black IPA that was not to my liking. They were kind enough to replace it, and rather than risk a new failure, I went with a Schell's beer I have enjoyed in the past. I also often try to get bars/pubs to give me sample of the untested beer before I buy a whole pint if possible.
Why not just drink my favorites (Surly, Steel Toe, Bent Paddle)? I love those breweries and almost everything I have had from them is wonderful. But after even one Furious, I'm in the mood for something completely different. And a lot of my favorite beers are more difficult to find (Imperial stouts, sours, barleywines, barrel aged) and are not as easily available. If I could have Darkness or Lunker any time I wanted...I probably would!
So why do I bother to check into Untappd? I have several answers for this one!
A. I like to keep track for future reference as mentioned above. Did I like that beer before or did I give it a mediocre score? Once you try a lot of beers it gets hard to remember them!
B. I also use the app as a Facebook-of-beer. I like seeing what my friends are drinking as well as toasting them, taunting them, or asking questions of them. And by doing this on Untappd, I'm not spamming all my non-beer friends and family with all my drinking hijinks. There is some element of showing off and competition going on there as well. I'm a big beer geek and when I get to drink a rare Cantillon or a Bourbon County Stout I want to share that excitement with other folks who will "get it". Can this boasting be bad? Sure, just like Facebook, forums, etc. there can be Trolls. Not the kind with green skin wielding gnarled oaken clubs, but people who feel like they can say obnoxious things in the relative anonymity of cyberspace. De-friend them and they will bother you no more!
C. I have actually met local people through Untappd that I later ended up becoming real friends with, as well as arranging for some beer trades from other states, so there is a real life social aspect to this as well.
D. I have used the location features of the app to good effect. One afternoon while hanging out at Town Hall Brewery, I checked in a beer on Untappd. Doing a quick scan of what other friends were drinking, I discovered that one of my good friends had just logged in a beer at Town Hall as well. I wandered the place until I found him and he joined our group for the evening. This may not seem all that impressive to those who live in the Twin Cities proper, but I live in Waconia and rarely run into people I know when in Town! On that same day I checked the Nearby Beers feature on the app and discovered that people were drinking Founders Kentucky Breakfast Stout just down the road at the Nomad World Pub. Our group was soon off, fighting through a crowd of folks waiting for PBR tallboys in search of this dark and precious fluid.
So basically I use this app for multiple reasons at different times. Probably the only negative I see is that my (mostly) very tolerant wife will complain from time to time about me whipping out my phone to check in beers when she wants to be talking to me. And I get that! On the other hand I really enjoy checking in my ratings for beers and comparing to other people's.
In his article Agnew mentions the "gamification" of this app and gives some good information about this as a marketing tool. With us being a technological society, and also one with a notoriously short attention span, apps and programs that keep us involved or reaching for goals like badges will keep us coming back. Geek Alert: I play the incredibly addictive computerized card game Hearthstone on my iPad nearly every day. Each day the game gives you a new goal and if you reach that goal you will earn virtual gold to spend on new cards. So you can play some more. And earn more virtual gold. So you can get more cards. Ad infinitum. Yet I enjoy the game for what it is and for the interaction with other gamers, not just for the "gotta catch 'em all!" collector value. There is something intensely gratifying about your cards coming out just right and sweeping an enemy player off the map with some epic combination that is a glory all its own!
Untappd has badges for things like drinking a certain number of lagers, or pumpkin beers, or Belgian ales, or a certain number of total unique beers. I'm not really looking to win these badges but I do remark upon them when they arrive. I'll admit I have sampled a cider or two from my wife just so I could complete the Johnny Appleseed badge though. Call me a sucker! I can tell that Agnew doesn't like the concept of drinking beers just to hit a number...and he isn't wrong in that. However, Untappd also rewards the steady drinker with the 6 Pack badge for drinking the same beer for a week, and the Brewery Loyalist badge for drinking 10 beers from the same brewery in the past 30 days.
I've noticed that the app has occasional badges for specific breweries or beers, funded by those breweries. This doesn't seem to be secret or nefarious and the app is free. Everybody wants to get paid right? So perhaps a sucker is born every minute, and apps like these use subliminal methods to take advantage of that and direct our consumerism. But one must weigh the risks and benefits! I've also noticed that breweries are paying attention to what people are saying on Untappd. This is a quick way of getting some feedback on beers for them, and probably drives them crazy if a beer is not as well received as expected. Just recently we cracked a beer at an event that had gone unintentionally sour and the next day someone from the brewery had contacted us for information about it.
So, apparently from reading my own blog entry I'm Untappd's biggest fanboy. Overall, I enjoy the app for what it does, but it certainly is going to fulfill different roles for different people. I obviously have a different take on the use of this tool from others. Thanks go to Michael Agnew and his article about this app and trends for prompting me to take a closer look at something I use regularly. In that article he sums up with the question "Are you in it of the journey or the destination?" This is a great question and relates as much to life in general as to beer drinking. Personally I'm into the journey. I view Untappd as a tattered old map (or my fritzy GPS that freaks out in St. Paul) that sometimes helps me find my way on that trip.
I'm curious if any of my readers have strong opinions on the issue of Serial Drinkers, or of using Untappd in general. Feel free to chime in and tell me what you think!