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Why I Stopped Rating Beers on Untappd

Why I Stopped Rating Beers on Untappd
Avg. Reading Time: 7 min

As a beer nerd and a smartphone addict, I absolutely love the fact that there is an app that caters to my vices. I log my beers religiously, often adding locations and photos. The ability to look back at beers I’ve consumed can be helpful because sometimes I simply can’t remember if I’ve had a beer before. There is, however, one feature that I no longer use. I don’t rate beers on Untappd anymore.

By this stage of the game, I’m sure that most beer drinkers are aware of the beer tracking app Untappd. This app allows you to log, rate and share beers that you are drinking. Like a social media platform, it allows you to follow friends; you can see what they have logged in and “toast” or comment on their selections. However, as with most addicting apps, there’s a gamesmanship aspect to Untappd, allowing you to earn badges based on what beers you log, where you log them from and when you log them.

Untappd
Untappd tracks the beers you drink, photos and ratings in a simple format.

Don’t get me wrong. Just because I’ve stopped rating beers, doesn’t mean that I don’t enjoy using Untappd. For a forgetful guy like myself, this app is a convenient way to have my drinking history at my fingertips, and the ability to see what people are checking in nearby has definitely led to last minute changes to my drinking agenda.

My choice to stop rating beers is not because of a flaw in the app. It is because of a flaw in my mindset.

As the Night Goes On…

One major problem I have had with Untappd ratings tends to occur on high-volume drinking days. Drinking many different beers back-to-back can make it very difficult to remain objective while deciding on how many stars a given brew deserves (a concept that is already skewed by the users own palate.)

Untappd
My 8th and final beer from Friday night. Was I really in any shape to rate this objectively?

Something as simple as the order of consumption could have a profound impact on the way I rate certain beers. If I drank the world-class IPA immediately before a more ordinary “lawnmower IPA,” the second beer may seem lackluster or even poor by comparison. It becomes increasingly difficult to avoid these comparisons as the night rolls on, which is exceedingly unfair to the brewers who worked so hard to create these recipes.

The other thing that affects your objectivity over the course of a long night of beer consumption is blood alcohol content (BAC). Alcohol has a tendency to dull your senses, meaning that beers consumed at the end of the night may not taste the same as they would have with a sober palate. There is ample anecdotal evidence of this. All you have to do is consider your favorite “drunk foods.” Would you have eaten that greasy diner breakfast at 3 a.m. if you hadn’t been drinking? That slice of sub-par pizza? That service station hot dog?

 

Second Opinions

The badge system in Untappd can be a fun thing to play with. Since some badges require multiple check-ins of the same beer, I try to check in every beer I drink, even if it isn’t the first time I’m drinking it. You never know when it will earn you a new badge! These multiple check-ins, however, came with their own set of problems.

For a while there, I had noticed a recurring motif in my Untappd usage while logging these repeat beers. You can see the rating that you gave the beer last time, and it turns out that I very seldom agree with my own assessments. Don’t get me wrong; these differences of opinion were not huge. I never felt that a beer I previously rated as a 3.5 actually deserved five stars or that a 4-star beer was actually a 2-star. However, discrepancies ranging from half to three-quarters of a star were not uncommon.

(Read: A Brewery’s Unique Approach to its UnTappd Reviews)

While it is entirely possible that variables in the brewing process can account for some of these differences, I believe that most of my conflict is internal.

I can attribute these variances to several factors: mood, BAC, time of day and even weather. Since I am merely a mildly obsessed beer nerd and not a trained taster, these entirely subjective details always found a way to creep into my ratings. Someone with a BJCP or Cicerone certification can probably tune out these emotional stimuli, but I cannot. I consider setting and mood to be integral parts of my beer-drinking experience, even though I know deep down that including such factors in a rating would be unfair to the beer and its brewers.

Built-in Bias

One of the first things you see when you check a beer into Untappd is its current average rating. I realized early in my usage of the app, that these averages were often affecting my ratings. If I loved a beer that the general public seemed to consider average, I might subconsciously lower my own rating.

This adjustment toward the center most likely stems from a lack of confidence in my own palate. Those other people must have been tasting something I wasn’t! My insecure brain would play it safe and adjust my score a bit closer to the average, even though most Untappd users are just as untrained and subjective as I am.

I found that a simple way around this was to have a score in my head before I ever opened the app. More often than not, this fixed the problem for me.

Untappd
You can see the average rating before you check in.

Do Untappd Ratings Matter?

In the grand scheme of things, I don’t believe that the average ratings of a beer will end up mattering very much to casual craft beer consumers. It is doubtful that very many people are looking up the Untappd averages of every beer on the bar’s tap list before they order.

Your friends’ individual ratings, which you might see in your Untappd feed or other social media, probably won’t have much impact on your choices either. Let’s be honest here. Most of us are only going to remember the most scathing and most glowing reviews, but even the memory of those will quickly fade. Has anyone ever avoided a beer because Joe only gave it one star on Untappd? I can say with complete certainty that I never have.

(Read: Signs You’re A Little Too Into Craft Beer)

Most people will go into a bar or brewery with some sense of the things they like to drink. If you tell your friends or bartender that you like fruity or hoppy beers, they will help guide you in the right direction. These interactions are part of the reason we go out to these places and are much more helpful, educational, and fun than scrolling through an app for beer suggestions.

Overcompensating

Once I realized that I didn’t function well within the 0 – 5 rating system in Untappd, I began to overcompensate. Although I wasn’t consciously aware of it, I began to develop a system to smooth out some of my inconsistencies.

If a beer was absolutely mind-blowing, it still got five stars. All craft beers ranging from “barely drinkable” to “outstanding” landed between 3 and 4 stars. Craft beer “drain pours” received no less than 2 stars, which is a rating that was shared by macro beers that I enjoyed situationally (ex. Corona while eating at a Mexican restaurant). Most premium macro lagers scored around a 1, and anything with “ice” or “light” in the name was less than 1.

When you have a rough idea what rating you are about to give a beer you have never tasted, it’s time to stop rating beers altogether.

Untappd is Not the Problem

I actually enjoy many of Untappd’s features quite a bit and will continue to use them in the future. The problem simply lies within the “good-or-bad” rating system and my inability to properly function within it. Beer is a complex, nuanced and, sometimes, polarizing thing. To boil it down to a simple 0 to 5 ratings is often too vague to describe the experience that any given beer provides (even if you factor in the allotted 140-character comment space).

Untappd isn’t the only beer-tracking app that employs this type of system. BeerMenus incorporates a 1 to 5 star beer rating system, and TapHunter simplifies things even further with only three choices: Great, Drinkable and Not Good.

Untappd
Screenshots from the BeerMenus and TapHunter apps.

This good-or-bad phenomenon is prevalent throughout society. Look at movie reviews, for example. Rather than reading long-form reviews, what do we do? We go to Rotten Tomatoes and check the percentage of good reviews that a movie has received. Film is a diverse medium, which often requires much more analysis than a numerical rating, but people still rely on those numbers when choosing their entertainment.

This type of thing is deep-rooted in our modern internet culture. We want our answers as quickly and simply worded as possible so we can get on with our day.

Can It Be Fixed?

I don’t believe that this can or should be fixed. The system does what it is supposed to do. There are definitely ways to make a rating system that better fits my personal preferences, though. A few ideas could be:

  • A 1 to 5 scale for perceived hoppiness/bitterness
  • Individual rating areas for aroma, color, taste and mouthfeel
  • Keep average ratings hidden until after your check-in

If Untappd or apps like it would develop a more comprehensive description and rating system, would anyone use it? Probably not. Chances are that you went to the brewery to socialize with friends. Taking five minutes to check in every single beer you drink would quickly become an annoyance to you and those around you. It’s much more fun to talk about the beer with your cohorts than it would be to answer a lengthy in-app survey.

(Read: Why I’m Done Cellaring Beer)

It would ultimately be a waste of time and resources for an app developer to create functions that the majority of users will ignore.

What Next?

Moving forward, I will continue to check-in beers with Untappd on a regular basis. The rating system is not essential to my enjoyment of the app, and I am actually happier without it. When I feel the need to discuss a beer at length, I will simply write tasting notes or a complete description. In those formats, it is much easier to convey my thoughts, my feelings or even the impact that a rainy day had on my overall experience.

It’s Not About Ratings

While the system and execution are both flawed in many ways, the core issue is that beer was brewed to be enjoyed. As we’ve stated before, the ratings don’t matter. Put down your phone and engage with your friends, co-workers, the world around you. Stop obsessing over the badges, the check-ins, ticking off every beer on your list, and just enjoy the damn beer. Much like restauranteurs (and South Park) loathing Yelpers, the truth is that breweries often echo the same sentiments regarding those Untappd keyboard warriors just as much. So sure jot down a few notes so you can remember the beer, but join us in putting an end to the ratings, put down the phone and just enjoy your beer.


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Comments

  1. Interesting thoughts. I think apps like Untappd end up being whatever the user wants them to be. I like to use the good/great system. If I thought it was good, it gets 4 stars, great gets 5. If I didn’t like it or didn’t think it memorable, I won’t rate. Of course, as you said, a beer experience can be highly variable for an individual, so ultimately the ratings just serve as reminder that I enjoyed a beer.
    Thanks for sharing. Hopefully we’ll all be more present with our beer drinking and life living.

    • Mauricio

      I liked the structure and basis of this comment. I feel the same way. Well said

  2. I like this piece. I’ve frequently wondered why I rate beers. I clearly don’t do it for myself, I’ll remember anything I loved and forgettable I probably won’t want to try again. My friends don’t consider me some sort of beer whisperer either, so I clearly don’t do it for them.

    I’ll try to use a beer’s overall rating on Untappd to inform a purchase on occasion, but so many trend towards 3.5, I rarely find it to be largely helpful.

    I loved the takeaway at the end. Beer is about having a good time. Anything else is noise.

  3. So true. I stopped using Untappd for many of the reasons you mentioned. I still track my beers though, but I carry a little pocket notebook for handwritten notes. This takes the one-upman-badge-checkin competition out of it, but still allows me to nerd out a bit. Plus, I don’t have to stare into my phone instead of interacting with the people around. If I taste a beer I really enjoy, I pull out the notebook and write down why; same for one that really hits me the wrong way. I have a nice little collection of notebooks now that I can reference if I want to go back and remember a specific brewery or roadtrip.

    “Put down your phone and engage with your friends, co-workers, the world around you.”

    Yes!

  4. Joe

    “…and it turns out that I very seldom agree with my own assessments.”

    This is why I’ll probably keep using the rating system. I’ve definitely changed the star count on repeat beers, and I guess I’m curious to consider what changes between checkins. The establishment? The day of the week? My mood? Did the brewer tweak the recipe? It all happens.

    All other points about ratings are well taken, especially how objectivity starts falling apart on #3 of the night.

  5. I rate beers for two reasons. 1, since I blog, people do tend to care about my opinion on a beer so I give it in a professional manner (in most cases anyway). 2, so that way I can remember if a beer was worth buying again or have a good reference.

    If I disagree with my rating on a previous beer, I’ll update it. Batch to batch beer does vary, even the same recipe and the best brewers are subject to crop variance. If I don’t feel I can appropriately rate a beer (intoxication level, previous beers, tasting event) than I will check in with no rating or simply not check it in. The nice thing about the app is everyone can use it their own way!

  6. Aaron

    My score/rating system means something to me. I do not score to BJCP guidelines.

    3 – 3.25 I would order it again if it is the best available choice

    3.5 I would recommend it to people who like the style

    3.75 I will try this again

    4-5 this are first choice to consume again

    < 3 not recommended, unlikely to give a 2nd chance

    < 2 significant off flavors, contamination or poor draft quality

  7. Psy Cho

    I agree with most of what was written. In my case, I use my HBC’s rating system applied to the Untappd numeric rating. Our HBC uses “Dump”, “Taster”, “Pint”, “Pitcher”, and “Keg”. So, for a beer to have a 5 in Untapped, it would have to be good enough that I would want to buy a keg and have it readily available to me on a daily basis on my home draft system. For a beer that I would likely choose to have a pint of when dropping by my local, I’ll give it a 3. The improvement of 1/4 point increments allows some nuance to the rating. If I am “more likely” to have a pint of a beer when at my local, it might get a 3.5.

  8. I was an early user and chatted with the developers when they switched to a 5 start system from the earlier 3.

    I agree with your sentiments, but instead of finding it a problem, I like the fact that when I review I can see what I thought previously and test myself if I still agree. I’ve often changed ratings based on a repeat tasting, and would note that its important to recall how you got it (brewery direct, week old growler, tap, in a can)

    Personally I have my own mental scale I apply to the untappd ratings
    0-1.5 bad – don’t want it again
    2 not horrible, not good
    2.5-3 – a beer is ok, but nothing special, solid middle of the road.
    3.5-4 – solid offering, decent flavour/nose
    4.5-5 – would buy again in a heartbeat and would recommend to anyone

    Something else to consider is your personal style preferences. I’m not a coffee drinker, I don’t like coffee flavour, so my ratings are much lower on many porters, stouts. I use my ratings for me. the benefit of crowd sourcing is that my personal ratings will get factored out as the number of ratings grow. I’m confident if I’m drinking a beer that’s over 3.5 I’ll probably find it decent, even if I don’t like that style.

    • LanceH

      Agree wholeheartedly. That’s how I use the ratings system as well.

  9. Ben Simo

    I don’t care about how ‘everyone’ rates beers on Untappd. I do sometimes care about how friends rate beers — either because I know we like similar things or different things. I rate beers on Untappd for my own information. It helps me remember what to try again and what to avoid. Although my ratings of repeat samplings sometimes change, I rarely go from not liking a beer to liking a beer in a repeat tasting. I tend to rate relative to a Budweiser being 2.5 — something I find acceptable but far from great. I’ll buy beer for enjoyment (rather than sampling) that I’ve previously rated 4.0 or higher.

    • Peter

      Knowing how your taste preferences relate to another’s is crucial to considering outside opinions. I work at a high end bottle shop, and will sell things based on trusted opinions if I know the customer’s personal tastes.
      I don’t rate beers if I have nothing polite to say, whether they have flaws or have “ice”, “lite”, or “malt liquor” in their name. But then again, I am a trained professional, and regularly taste things I know I am not going to enjoy (sour beer, gin, cheap wine), and rate them on quality of craftsmanship. I also rate beers (and other drinks) in comparison to other similar things. Compairing an IPA from Vermont to one from San Diego is as unfair as compairing the weather in those two places. It is important to remember that ratings are subjective, and that averages are just average.

  10. Karl Hungus

    I only rate the beers that I love. My theory is, if it is great, I want to remember and let my close friends know about it. If it is a middle of the road beer I will leave the rating empty.
    I have no idea why anyone should base their consumption on my palate. Furthermore, how am I qualified to rate someone’s life passion? Personally, I cannot jeopardize their success on my judgement. Plus, what if I one day meet a brewer and become friends on the app? Why piss someone off? Who the heck am I, and how exactly are you qualified to rate beer? We are mostly a bunch of drunks that have nothing better to do!
    In theory, if you don’t have anything good to say, stay quiet, good way to live life.

  11. Marcin

    I “kind” of agree with you, in the sense a beer will taste different in the context that it’s in. However, I’ve found this to be an awesome historical record keep.
    What I mean by that, is sometimes, I’ll have a beer, and when I go to log it, I find that the rating is very different from how I feel about that beer at the moment. And so, this is where the comments, location, date/time (especially time) come into play. In the comments write why you thought the beer was good/bad, and it’ll help you understand at a different time why you felt a certain way about the beer.

  12. Mike Connick

    I find the average ratings useful in situations where I visit a bottle shop with hundreds of options available. Especially when visiting an out of state bottle shop that has a wide variety I can’t get at home (Michigan). If the beer is of a style I enjoy and has an average rating above 4, I will purchase it.

    Another time I use average ratings is when choosing a new brewery to visit. If as a whole the brewery’s beers are highly rated, I make a point to visit when in the area while potentially skipping other breweries. Last night I visited a brewery that has offered 11 beers total. 9 averaged above 4 rating. 5 actually averaged above 4.5. It was some of the best beer I’ve ever had.

  13. Sam Singletary

    Dan,
    I agree with many aspects of your argument. With years in the beer/Brewing industry, I have noticed many situations in which folks get caught up in the moment, are influenced by their friends or are simply out of touch with the style &/or execution in which the brewer was trying to convey. Primarily based in the SouthEast, my business encounters many varieties of styles/techniques which can be misinterpreted as a “bad” or “good” beer. Education in the basic beer styles (which I find myself helping newbies to the craft) is such a key element to the experience. So many of the breweries/taprooms I visit are quite inadequate in this aspect. Thanks for bringing your observation to the forefront. Hopefully, more people will read your comments & adjust their way of thinking, accordingly.

  14. Thanks for your insight, Dan. Your piece has convinced me to skip rating the beers from my local brewery … after visiting another, nearby brewery producing the same style coffee brown ale I realized that I can’t separate my affection for the home team’s product from the home team. No more numeric ratings for them, then.

    Terrific piece.

  15. Bill_L

    As a professional brewer and avid beer drinker I really love this post.

    I love the ability of Untappd as a way to log beers that you and your friends have drank. It’s great when I drink a beer and a couple of days later a friend of mine is able to see it and say “hey man I’ve been trying to find that, how was it??”.

    The ratings system, however, is totally broken in so many ways. Most of which you’ve pointed out in your post.

    Being in the industry I think it’s poor form to rate beers but I generally jot down notes. Ratings in general are totally broken. For example, some of the best beers I’ve ever had had a terrible (<3.5) rating because they're non-hoppy beers at a trendy brewery that's known for their IPAs.

    The flip side also happens with "less trendy" breweries.

  16. LanceH

    I don’t know why people continue to bang on about the ratings… There is no fixing /any/ ratings system. The whole point of it is to be subjective. Your point of it’s my 8th beer, are you in any shape to objectively rate this beer is case-in-point. To some people/brewers you may not have been with 0 beers. Similarly if you’re a person that hates saison you’ll consistently rate them low.

    IMO spreading ratings over different metadata like aroma, colour, clarity etc will just exacerbate the problem.

    If you rate based on other peoples ratings then you’re doing it wrong and you’re easily led as it is. Your whole “Internet life” is going to be traumatic. Internet better.

    Ratings should be for yourself, not for others. I try to rate and comment on every checkin. Mostly for my own selfishness. If I’m looking a beer up to see if I’ve had it and I have, if I didn’t like – I’ll move on. It’s not for other people to use my option to inform their choices.

    I’ve spoken to a few brewers and they have got caught up in the ratings thing and oh how sad people don’t like it.. well to them I say you’re missing the point. Look at the reach and volume instead.

    TL,DR: ratings should be fun and personal not a serious gauge of anything, at all. Just ignore them and move on.

  17. Paul Fuller

    I started by rating everything a 5. At some point I switched to no rating at all. I like the tracking – beers, breweries, and venues. I also like badges. I guess I’m not very helpful to the community as I myself will sometimes use the average rating as the decision-maker between two beers I’ve never had.

    I check in every beer whether the first or the 50th. I was rewarded for this when Fuller’s had a badge available. I went to my local British pub and had two pints. Checked them both in. The first I got the badge. The second I got a free Fuller’s glass. I think three months passed before I received it but I did.

  18. Great article, and while I still have to compulsively rate my beers, I know where you are coming from. Especially with the fact that you can’t change – or better yet average out – your beer ratings for a more long term personal rating.

    I would say you left out one major factor for variances: Beer age. Just look at Orval. What’s it going to taste like fresh? 6 months? 2 years? And how am I going to rate it at those stages.

    IPAs are probably the best example. As we know, most start going downhill at 6 weeks, some sooner, some later*.

    *I will say I had a year old Heady Topper that was always kept refrigerated. When we drank it, it was still just freaking amazing! What does that brewer know?

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