It is the distant future. The year 2013.
Beer, no longer confined to a bottle or a glass, now permeates the very circuitry of our interconnected world. It drips methodically onto the motherboards of our lives, leaving a sticky, delicious residue on any smartphone or tablet it touches. To drink beer now means to tweet about it, to check it in, to announce to the world at drinking-large that you are imbibing, about to imbibe, or have recently imbibed.
I’m admittedly late to the whole app game, having only gotten a smartphone in April of 2012. I resisted for a long time on the simple principle that I didn’t need something with near limitless functionality in my pocket. But now that I’ve got one, I understand the appeal of having what equates to a digital Leatherman multi-tool in your pocket at all times.
Beer apps hold a special place on my phone because they’re explicitly “extras.” None of them are necessary for me to enjoy beer (I have yet to find a bottle-opener app that doesn’t irreversibly damage my phone) but many of them do make finding, researching, and sharing my beer related activities a lot simpler.
I’ve compiled my favorites below:
1. Untappd – Free to use ($5/month to support the company)
I almost didn’t include this one as it’s sort of the flagship social app for all beer drinkers. If you go to a tasting, or a brewery’s tap room, or even just a local craft bar, you’ll probably see more than one phone flashing this yellow screen throughout the night. If you haven’t heard of this Twitter/Facebook/FourSquare/Ratebeer hybrid, you’ve probably been hiding under a beer-free rock, with your fingers in your ears, refusing to acknowledge progress and all things that are good.
Untappd is a ticker’s dream; it gives you an easy way to track what beers you’ve had, where, when, and even what you thought of them. All you have to do is remember to check it in. For $5 a month you can support the developers, who in turn let you download your data so you can manipulate it further. The social part seems a little bolted on (especially given that the Twitter and Facebook share buttons are so prominently featured every time you check a beer in), but the idea of “toasting” instead of “liking” is a nice little variation on the same old theme.
My favorite aspect of Untappd is the badge system, which seems inspired by the achievement systems of modern video games. You slowly work towards invisible milestones (like drink 10 American beers, or 10 stouts) and when you hit one, you unlock a new badge that shows up on your profile. The badges don’t really mean anything, but they’re psychologically satisfying, like those plastic participation trophies etched with “Co-ed Indoor Soccer Semi-Finalist ’94.
If you do sign up (or already have an account) feel free to add me: https://untappd.com/user/OliverJGray
2. BeerSmith – ($3.99 for the app [iOS or Android], $27.95 for the full desktop client [Mac or PC])
This one is for homebrewers only, but that doesn’t make it any less valuable. When someone first told me about Beersmith, I was instantly intrigued, being sick of writing all of my temperature and gravity details down in a notebook like some sort of pre-internet era caveman.
Beersmith gives you every possible thing you could need to prepare, brew, and track the progress of your fermentation. Users can (and do!) export recipes and share them among friends. It includes built-in calculators for everything from yeast starter size to optimal water additions. There’s even one to help you measure how much priming sugar you need, based on the style you’re brewing. It also has easy conversions from extract to all grain, a powerful little feature for those homebrewers looking to make that jump.
The interface is a bit Microsoft Excel-y, but it’s clean, simple, and hides nothing from you. The app version is slightly stripped down from the full desktop application (officially called BeerSmith 2), but it’s great to have in your pocket on brew day, if only to double check your hop additions before you chuck them in the boil.
It may seem a little pricey, but once you’ve started using it, you’ll wonder why it’s not more expensive.
3. RateBeer (Free on Android, $3.99 for the beefed up “BeerBuddy” app on iOS)
If you’ve got a smartphone with you, the only thing keeping you from the sum of all human knowledge is the current strength of 4G coverage. Seriously, you’re a few thumb slides away from finding out anything. That fact blows my mind daily.
The RateBeer app isn’t quite like having the sum of all beer knowledge with you at all times, but it’s certainly close. It’s more like having a direct link to the digital inventory of craft beer as it exists today, that you can pick through and digest how you see fit. It’s a beer encyclopedia. A Wikibeerpida. A beerclopedia.
The android version is basically the normal web-based database with a slick GUI, but it has come in handy many, many times when trying to remember where a beer is brewed, or trying to remember last year’s seasonal from your local brewery. The iOS guys don’t get the free version, but do get the ability to scan bar codes on beer and have the app automatically pull up the correct Ratebeer entry. I’ve never used this functionality, but it sounds straight up awesome.
4. OnTap.Me (Still in Beta)
Friday night. You had a hell of a day at work, and want nothing more than to hit up [enter brewpub name here] and have a tasty pint. You sit down and order, only to find the beer you’ve been pining after, salivating over, daydreaming about, is kicked. Weekend ruined.
The people over at Monks Tool Box are aiming to fix that by developing an app that lets a pub track a real-time list of their kegs. The current iteration is aimed at proprietors, so that prospective drinkers are always aware of what’s fresh and what’s empty. You’d, in theory, be able to check out what was on tap before ever heading to the bar. Looking for Loose Cannon Peg Leg on tap, but you’re not sure where to go? Check out the OnTap.Me pages for some bars nearby!
The app generates a URL for the specific bar, which anyone can easily browse to. Here’s an example. It’s still in beta, but I’m looking forward to seeing this software used widely (and hopefully by bars near me, so I can stalk their tap lists).
5. Brew Trail (Free)
Ok, so this one isn’t technically an app, but I’m in love with the concept, as it’s something I really wanted to do myself but couldn’t muster the time or energy to make it happen.
BrewTrail.com is a website (with a fully functioning mobile site) that has gone through the painstaking process of cataloging as many brew pubs, restaurants, and breweries as possible. It’s not just for one state, but the whole freakin’ country. That’s at least ~2500 places based on the latest Brewer’s Association census, without even touching on the eatery side of things. I give the developers of this site a lot of credit for doing the brutal legwork to get this thing off the ground.
The icing on the beer-flavored malt-cake is the tie in to Google Maps. You can quite literally plot a trail of beer across the country, design your own (responsible) beer road trip. It’s the beer-backpacker’s dream; a way to pre-plot and plan your beer destiny (and destinations).
I did notice that a few places in my home state of Maryland were missing from the integrated search, but some margin of error and data decay will be inevitable with a product of this nature. It’s still an amazing feat of data mining and organization, and I look forward to using this site on my future vacations.