“The Bros” have a new brother. BeerAdvocate has joined forces with ultra-popular beer rating app Untappd, parent company Next Glass announced on Monday. According to the announcement, “Beer Advocate will join Untappd under the Next Glass corporate umbrella,” with each maintaining its separate platform and user base.
BeerAdvocate, launched in 1996, is the longest-running beer review website in existence. In my opinion, it was also the best. (Its only real competitor was Ratebeer.com, which, incidentally, was acquired by Anheuser-Busch investment arm ZX Ventures last year.)
In a thread posted on BeerAdvocate.com, Todd Alström, who co-founded BeerAdvocate with brother Jason Alström (they affectionately refer to themselves as “The Bros”), said that BeerAdvocate has been “struggling to keep the lights on for over two years.” It’s true — the company’s print magazine slowed from a monthly to quarterly schedule in January 2018, and ceased completely in April 2019 (it was a sad year for beer publications).
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Next Glass is a software developer founded in 2013 that acquired Untappd in 2016. (As far as I can tell, Untappd is its only business – at press time, the Next Glass website has nothing on it other than a link to a cloud platform called Heroku.) This was around the same time many, and especially younger beer geeks, began opting for a mobile app that prioritized faster, more gamified beer “check-ins” versus the detailed, drinking-at-home lengthy reviews often provided by BeerAdvocate users.
While Untappd encourages the ticker culture that is at worst detrimental to beer-drinking, and at minimum very annoying to brewers, it has also been monumental for many beer consumers. By encouraging check-ins and awarding “badges” for beer-drinking quests — app users rate beers tried on a five-“cap” scale in a process that can be achieved with minimal clicks of the thumb, and said ratings/check-ins can be “liked” or commented on by friends — the app effectively “gamifies” beer drinking, which is, it turns out, what 8 million beer-drinking app users crave.
What the two platforms will gain as beer siblings is a mind meld of complementary strengths. BeerAdvocate will assumedly benefit from Untappd’s app-building prowess, while Next Glass can tap into BeerAdvocate’s successful event planning, evidenced by recurring events such as Extreme Beer Festival.
(Beer Advocate tried to launch an app and failed; while Untappd kicked off a notoriously bad beer festival, which was basically the Fyre Festival of beer events, last year.)
A lot of beer geeks are taking to their keyboards to badmouth the Alströms. (Apparently, they are notorious… curmudgeons.) And hey, it’s important to vent. But this deal is not about, or only about, “The Bros” cashing in or trying to save their business — more so, it is representative of a digital and real-life shift from an old-school to new-school beer world.
BeerAdvocate is 24 years old, and Untappd is 10. In beer years, this is a huge generation gap. In the digital native world of Untappd users, the earlier platform is a card-carrying senior citizen.
(Remember, there are now 7,000-plus breweries in the U.S. In 1996, when BeerAdvocate launched, the U.S. had just hit 1,000.)
BeerAdvocate is brewpubs with hair-color beers (blonde ale, red ale, brown ale et. al.); Untappd is taproom-only breweries with weekend hazy IPA releases. In their overlapping years, BeerAdvocate saw the arrival and subsequent rise of New England IPAs.
Untappd was born after hazies. It’s post-West Coast IPA. It’s boutique beer bars in every city, craft breweries within a 10-mile radius of most U.S. citizens, and hazy IPAs (who even says “New England” anymore?) comprising a brewery’s entire portfolio.
And so, like an older brother hitting up his younger, more successful sib for cash — and maybe a chance to indefinitely crash on his couch — BeerAdvocate is succumbing to the powers of youth.
As the beer community expands, the business of beer gets more cut-throat. Budgets get tighter. Margins get smaller. More beer, less time. More hazies, fewer experiments. Faster apps, fewer print mags. Technology changes, and with it, culture. This is as true in beer as in any other industry.
It’s all about progression, and sometimes, we have to take a step back to move forward.