Help, I’m Being Held Hostage By My Untappd List
I have to be honest, Walter and I were awfully late to the Untappd party. We have had a whole lotta good beer in the last ten years or so, but the record of our travels and preferences has mostly been found in a huge collection of pint glasses, the ability to walk in any taproom and identify a beer with both pedigree and personality, and about fifteen extra pounds.
Untappd advertises itself as a mobile app designed to help you share what you’re drinking and where you’re drinking it with your friends. It isn’t the only app for this (RateBeer, Beer Advocate), and it probably has some detractors, but there is little doubt that a large percentage of the craft beer community uses and follows others when they enjoy a beer. Some people love being able to see what local beers are available that match what they are currently enjoying. Others like tracking what beers they have had and use it for taking tasting notes for comparison across time or style. Still others use it as a purely social outlet, helping to meet and talk to people who enjoy what they enjoy.
However, it cannot be denied that many people like collecting Untappd badges and seeing their number of distinct beers increase each time they go out. I’ve heard people in a bar introduce themselves as a first name and an Untappd number. Walter is a pure drinker, she doesn’t care how many beers you’ve had and I honestly don’t think she knows how many she has had. Compare that to yourself – can you name your Untappd distinct beer number right now without looking at your phone? Unfortunately, I can. I am a Type A personality, a counter, a competitor. Paraphrasing Richard Powers from his latest novel, Orfeo, “ as with everything I love, I eventually turn it into a competition.” I look at friends on Untappd to see if I am catching their beer number. I compare numbers of badges and try to figure out what beer on the list behind the bar will count for the most categories (IPA, high alcohol, weird country of origin, a picture, meets a beer on my wish list, etc.). I wish I wasn’t so competitive, but I am; it must be genetic.
I can’t tell you how many times I have passed up a beer I know I like just to try a new beer that I haven’t had before. Somebody used old socks in a New England hazy IPA? I haven’t tried that yet! What if Untappd gave badges for finding your absolute go to beer, something you have 100 times in 100 different places? Walter would probably have a badge for Dark Horse’s Crooked Tree, for me it would definitely be a Taxman La Maison badge. That way we could get badges and could avoid trying that milkstout aged in real milk cartons. Maybe there should be a badge for drinking nothing but house beers; no seasonals, no one offs, no special releases. That way I could sit at Daredevil or Tin Man and drink entire evening of Muse or Damascene (Hey, Tin Man people, pleeeease make an imperial version of this).
Walter isn’t completely immune to the Untappd pull. I happen to know she has a level 3 badge for ESBs, meaning that she has had at least 15 different versions of the extra special bitter – and she really doesn’t like ESBs! However, my fever runs a much higher temperature. Every time I drink a single IPA, I know in my heart that I’m only doing it for my Untappd list. I am a super taster and the bittering iso-alphaacids in IPAs hit me hard and stay around for hours. Yet I do it over and over. I know what friends I am catching up to and which friends will be adding some exotic and hard to find beers to their list on their “beercation.” It’s a sickness, I know.
I don’t blame Untappd, I know the problem is mine. If I forget from time to time, Walter is there to remind me that I take this too seriously. I see Untappd as really an enabler; it’s still my problem. And like any devotee, I am quick to point out that Untappd has enriched both of our drinking lives as well. We know people we otherwise wouldn’t, and we have had some great beers that we would have not know of without the app. I can see trends in my drinking, and if so motivated, can do something about it – man, so many lambics lately, I better not forget that I like English yeasts too.
There are plenty of people who use Untappd wisely, who keep meticulous notes and learn more about the craft beers they love. They help others by communicating where good beers are on tap at the moment and giving advice, if sought, on what might be good at a certain establishment. I hope to be one of those people someday.
Yet, it is important to understand that Untappd (or similar) is not necessary to be a knowledgeable, happy, craft beer drinker. In fact, many people can go an entire lifetime without signing up and tracking their beers. I know a lot of brewers who don’t use it, and they know beer. Who can blame them, nobody wants to read a bad review of their beer, especially when they know a face to face discussion could have cleared up any misunderstandings.
In the end, Untappd and other apps like it tend to reinforce your personality, not alter it. If you are competitive, that aspect is what you will stress. If you want to be the person that has drunk beer in Iceland and Cape Horn, then you can track your movements all over the map. If you want to stalk your friends and show up where they are drinking even though it is their only date night that month – you can be that guy too. Walter says she just uses Untappd to stalk friends from afar; who is where and drinking what. Me? I just want to catch up to Nigel.