When Craft Breweries Bite Back | Summit Brewing’s Unique Approach to its UnTappd Reviews
The growth of craft beer and social media have followed somewhat similar trajectories. Both have become dominant forces in the day-to-day lives of many Americans, and both have become intertwined – for better or for worse. In its best sense, the availability of social media allows craft brewers to connect with their patrons and for beer lovers to socialize and discuss with one another, expanding their passion and knowledge of the industry. In the worse sense, social media platforms like Twitter and Untappd offer anonymous critics a vehicle through which to hurl insults, often unwarranted, at breweries.
While every opinion should be valued as an honest look into what someone thinks about the beer they’re tasting, one can argue that the conversation should go both ways. Craft brewers should be able to provide their honest feedback back to the critiques they receive as it helps hold both parties accountable. Summit Brewing, the 25th largest craft brewer in 2017 according to the Brewers Association, has taken this approach after reading some off-the-wall reviews on their Untappd page. We asked the man behind the Twitter account, Summit’s PR/Content Coordinator Brendan Kennealy, about why he’s taken such a unique approach to this uncharted territory for craft brewers.
First, a primer on some of Summit’s pithiest responses to three of the wildest beer reviews they’ve received recently on their Untappd page.
An IPA That’s Nothing Special
Next up from Summit Brewing: A Glitter IPA that files your taxes. pic.twitter.com/gzLJiBPPxI
— Summit Brewing (@summitbeer) March 15, 2018
An Honest Coldplay Take
Stands too close to the speakers at a Coldplay show, can't hear normal speaking voices for 16–48 hours, according to health line dot com.
P.S. To cleanse your palate between different beer styles, try water, pretzels, crackers, etc. pic.twitter.com/oJc9witCXM
— Summit Brewing (@summitbeer) March 19, 2018
You Can’t Be Everything to Everyone
— Summit Brewing (@summitbeer) February 21, 2018
Kennealy’s approach to Twitter consists of brutal honesty. The goal isn’t to critique or shame every review, but rather to defend Summit against lazy reviews that can have an impact on how others perceive the same beer.
As you can tell from the huge responses these Tweets receive, Summit seems to have hit a pulse point for many beer drinkers and brewers alike who have experienced something similar on Untappd – or other social platforms. For Kennealy, having an Untappd account provides Summit with honest market feedback, along with a valuable opportunity to educate.
(Read: Why I Stopped Rating on Untappd)
“[Untappd] provides an opportunity to thank the drinker for trying our beer. It provides an opportunity to find out why our beer didn’t meet their expectations. Was it expired? Was it stored warm? Was it served in dirty glassware or from dirty lines? Was it just not for them? And finally, it provides an opportunity to educate drinkers on the style of the beer and our approach to brewing it. Again, maybe a drinker rated the beer based on their personal taste — that’s okay. But if they drink a Double IPA and say, ‘Oh, this is much hoppier than I expected,’ well, that’s a chance to let them know, ‘Hey, Friend. That’s what Double IPAs are all about.’ Maybe you don’t like the beer, and that’s okay. But maybe you should try our session IPA next time. We’d love to hear what you think of it. “Similarly, if someone drinks a pilsner and says, ‘No thanks. I don’t like Pilsners. Two stars,’ Well, that’s okay if you don’t like pilsners, we’re not going to argue with you on that.” He added:
“I don’t like it does not equal It’s a bad beer. We want to get that message out.”
The concrete rating system of Untappd offers little room for nuance and flexibility between simply not liking a certain style and actually experiencing a bad brew. Take Summit Pilsner, if I rate it a 5 star but my friend rates it 2 stars because he doesn’t the Pils style, its 3.5-star rating may not accurately represent its quality. This level of subjectivity can be frustrating for both brewers and reviewers alike.
A more extreme example of this comes from GABF 2017, where Summit’s EPA had just won a silver medal in the Classic English-Style Pale Ale category. That should be a great indicator of the beer’s quality, right? Wrong.
“One minute we’re up on stage accepting this medal for a world-class beer in front of the brewing industry, and the next minute we’re seeing a notification from someone back in Minneapolis, someone who’s drinking a Summit EPA and saying ‘This is literally the most boring beer I’ve ever tasted. I wouldn’t drink it again if it were free’ …
…You can’t help but laugh. Everybody has different tastes.”
So, Kennealy & team find humor in some of the silliest reviews it receives. It’s an endearing way to show to their followers that they give a damn about the beers that they make and that they’re willing to defend them – and provide a bit of knowledge in the process.
“It turns out we all like to laugh, and we all value the opportunity to talk to our customers about beer…[that said] We can’t just look at a negative review and say, ‘No. You’re wrong.’ And we can’t just make fun of somebody for leaving a silly comment on their check-in. We have to try do better than that; we have to try respect the consumer and offer them some new information to think about.”
While Kennealy says that the response to their unique presence on Twitter has been positive from both consumers and brewers alike, he admits that this approach isn’t for everyone. Some might see it as abrasive. Others might be uncomfortable with the brutal honesty. But everyone should agree that craft brewers have the right to be part of the conversation they ultimately created. That’s Kennealy’s approach.
“What works for us may not work for them, and vice versa. Bottom line, we want to make good beer that our customers can enjoy. And if they’re willing to give us feedback, we’re going to listen.”
Feature photo courtesy of Summit Brewing
Backcountry Brewery – Frisco, CO October 29, 2012 | Kathleen Morton
Weekly Growler Fill | National Beer News Roundup... August 11, 2014 | Chelsea Mitchell
Enter the Darkness | Six Dark Beers Perfect for November... November 5, 2018 | Taylor Laabs
Weekly Growler Fill | National Beer News Roundup... January 19, 2016 | Chelsea Mitchell