Despite the deal, both communities will continue to be separate “for decades to come.”

By Mike Pomranz
February 24, 2020

Despite its explosion in popularity, craft beer is still a relatively small and tight-knit community. A generation ago, when the number of breweries was a fraction of what it is today (literally about a fifth), the community was even smaller and more tight-knit. But even in those days, obsessive drinkers often fell into one of two camps: BeerAdvocate users and RateBeer users. These two sites were the most popular places for rating beer, and though you might search both for info, the people I met typically only used one or the other for entering reviews.

But in the past decade, just as the innovation of craft beer upended big beer, another innovation upended the beer rating world: apps. Founded in 2010, Untappd—a new player on the beer rating scene—focused all of its energy into its app, making checking-in beers easier than ever for a new generation of craft beer enthusiasts who weren’t as interested in the older, primarily web-based sites. By 2012, the Untappd app passed the 10 million check-in mark, a milestone on its path to becoming the new leader in beer rating, set to hit 1 billion check-ins this year. Now, that success is shaking up beer rating once again: Next Glass, Untappd’s ownership group, has announced it's acquiring BeerAdvocate.

Beer Advocate

For now, Next Glass promises that BeerAdvocate and Untappd will remain separate platforms. And BeerAdvocate founder Todd Alstrom framed the sale as a huge next step for the seminal beer site he humbly founded with his brother Jason—known on BeerAdvocate as “The Bros”—back in 1996. “BeerAdvocate is in our blood,” Todd told me via email. “I look forward to getting to work with my new coworkers and taking BeerAdvocate to the next level.”

Meanwhile, Next Glass President Trace Smith said he had nothing but respect for that history. “Being in the industry, we’ve obviously admired the brand and community Todd and Jason built from afar for some time now. We’d been tracking developments and felt it important that the brand and community had a home in which both would be treated with respect. When the opportunity presented itself, we jumped at it. As we’ve demonstrated in our work with Greg Avola to invest in and work to improve Untappd in a responsible manner, we feel we are that home.”

As any BeerAdvocate user knows, the site’s own attempt to launch an app has been a major topic of conversation for years—with two aborted launch attempts. In that regard, this partnership feels like an organic solution. “The app has been a pain in my ass,” Alstrom admitted frankly. “I know that BeerAdvocate needs an app… Now that we have the resources, I look forward to revisiting development later this year.”

Interestingly, however, Smith played up Next Glass’s excitement around BeerAdvocate’s events such as their annual Extreme Beer Festival. Just last week, news broke that Untappd planned to ramp up its own events’ schedule, so this timing doesn’t appear to be a coincidence. “[We] plan to learn from BeerAdvocate’s near two decades of experience putting on world class beer festivals,” Smith told me. “We’ve added Brittany Burke, BeerAdvocate’s Events Manager to Talia Spera’s team. Talia joined us in November of last year from MGM to lead our live events division. Adding BeerAdvocate’s wealth of knowledge and experience to this team is a clear benefit.  We will continue to put on BeerAdvocate’s renowned fests and leverage their hard-earned expertise to help enhance Untappd events as well.”

Meanwhile, behind the scenes, BeerAdvocate's team admits they had been actively seeking help in the form of a sale. It’s not surprising: Their chief rival—RateBeer—sold a stake to Anheuser-Busch back in 2017 and was then sold outright in 2019. So by comparison, hardcore independent beer fans will likely be happy BeerAdvocate didn’t follow a similar path.

That said, BeerAdvocate users have also been known to dismiss the Untappd platform, which is sometimes seen as gimmicky—more of ticking boxes and proving how many beers you’ve drunk than actually delving into properly penned reviews. Alstrom simply sees the platforms as catering to different types of drinkers. “Untappd reaches a much wider audience than we do. Way beyond the beer geek, which is one of its strengths,” he explains. “It's easy to dismiss those individual users as not being as serious, but if tens of thousands of casual beer drinkers rate a beer on Untappd, that beer's aggregate score has some serious power behind it. You shouldn't dismiss that collective voice.”

Regardless, when pressed on if the two brands would ever merge, even in the long term, Smith replied, “No plans. No inklings. This won’t happen. There has been room for two great unique communities and platforms in this industry since Untappd launched a decade ago, and there will be for decades to come.”

Instead, Smith said the plan is to look at “ways to leverage strengths” of the two brands. “This just happened, so we need to get to the drawing board to see what is possible and be intentional in considering what makes sense for both communities,” he told me. “Untappd’s business software tool is used by bars, restaurants, and breweries around the world to publish beer menus; it’d be cool to find ways to leverage that content to benefit the BeerAdvocate community. Imagine checking out a beer on BeerAdvocate and seeing not only the Beer Geek Stats and user reviews and ratings, but also finding a list of nearby spots with that beer on tap. Our minds are racing with possibilities, but we need to let the dust settle and process the ideas in a thoughtful manner to separate the good from the bad.”

For his part, Alstrom had a similar sentiment. “It's what we can do together that excites me, much of which we haven't even begun to explore yet,” he said. “But we've already gained what I hoped for; BeerAdvocate and its community will continue to thrive.”

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