Checking Out a Lot of Beers, Without the Hangover

The Beer Expert is among the programs that can help users make sense of all the beers on the market. Second picture: the “Find Craft Beer” iPhone app.

Written by Bob Tedeschi for The NYT

My attention was elsewhere when the craft beer craze started, so I was caught off guard when my friends started talking about ales with a kind of snootiness one normally finds at a Grand Cru wine tasting.

I still lack the time, budget and liver to keep pace with those guys. But with an iPhone or a Droid, I can definitely fake it.

Spend a little beer money loading a handful of apps onto your smartphone, and the wretchedly complex world of brews becomes as clear as a Belgian wheat ale.

In this category, for a change, Android owners hold the advantage. Two go-to titles, BeerCloud (free) and Find Craft Beer ($1), are available to iPhone and Android users, but three other good apps are Android only: the Beer Expert ($3), Brewster (free) and Beer Map ($1).

IPhone users can take some solace in that the excellent (and free) Pintley is an iPhone-only app.

I still lack the time, budget and liver to keep pace with those guys. But with an iPhone or a Droid, I can definitely fake it.

Spend a little beer money loading a handful of apps onto your smartphone, and the wretchedly complex world of brews becomes as clear as a Belgian wheat ale.

In this category, for a change, Android owners hold the advantage. Two go-to titles, BeerCloud (free) and Find Craft Beer ($1), are available to iPhone and Android users, but three other good apps are Android only: the Beer Expert ($3), Brewster (free) and Beer Map ($1).

IPhone users can take some solace in that the excellent (and free) Pintley is an iPhone-only app.

These apps can help you make sense of the dizzying selection at beer stores or help you choose a good beer to go with a particular meal. If you’re lucky, the apps will also help you find that particular beer at a store nearby.

BeerCloud, with a database of about 2,900 beers, can do all that and lets you search its list a few different ways. Within the Sommelier tab, you browse a list of foods and see the app’s beer recommendations, though you may pine for a real sommelier to further winnow the suggestions. (The app recommended roughly 120 different beers to go with blue-veined cheeses.)

The second way to search is to simply peruse an index of major beer styles — ales, lagers and mixes — that are divided into categories and subcategories.

Better still is the search box, for times when you can remember a key word, like “deadlift.” A search on that name yielded what I’d remembered as an especially good beer, Widmer Deadlift Imperial.

For every brew, the app offers descriptions that are often from the brewery, so they can be a bit boosterish. (“The result will surely be a welcome workout for your taste buds,” gushes the Deadlift description.)

Beer enthusiasts will also make good use of the data that winks at them from the description page, like the alcohol content and statistics on a beer’s color and bitterness.

BeerCloud also offers to help you find a bottle at a local store or pub, but for most people this is a tease because the company’s database (which is also available online at GreatBrewers.com) includes only eight states and the District of Columbia. New York and Wisconsin are included, but not California or Nevada, the state that drinks the most beer per capita.

Users in those states have even more incentive to download Find Craft Beer, which does precisely what its name implies. The app’s home screen invites you to enter a location and tweak the settings so the search results are more targeted to your preferences. The search results can include brew pubs, breweries, beer bars, beer stores or homebrew stores.

Beer Map is similar. It has a slightly less user-friendly interface, but unlike Find Craft Beer, Beermap lets you post reviews of establishments.

Neither app lets you search for a specific beer as BeerCloud does. But realistically speaking, no app can hope to be truly comprehensive in this respect. Microbreweries produce craft beers in such small batches that an automated location service would have great difficulty tracking inventories of every brew with much accuracy.

Indeed, the ephemeral nature of the craft beer industry partly explains the popularity of Pintley, a beer recommendation engine that has a database of over 17,000 beers. Think of Pintley as Pandora (the radio app) for beer. You feed it some ideas about beers you like, and it provides ideas for beers you may love.

You jump-start the app by taking a brief survey, after which the recommendations can begin. Then, when you try a new brew, you can rate it, if, that is, the database includes your beer. It missed two beers on my list, Deadlift and the even more obscure Foret, from Dupont, but after it found one other beer (Fish Paralyzer), it came up with enough interesting suggestions to make my efforts worthwhile.

In addition to the list of recommendations, Pintley offers (often excellent) tasting notes from other users.

Pintley’s chief executive, Tim Noetzel, said the company would release an Android app before the end of March. In the meantime, owners of Android phones can get a similar experience with Brewster, which lets you store the names of your favorite brews, map the places where you found the beer and share reviews and recommendations with friends.

You can’t search the database for reviews on unfamiliar beers, however, and graphically speaking, the app is less refined than Pintley. But for those with tasting groups filled with other Brewster users, it’s well worth downloading.

Android users should keep one more app at hand: the Beer Expert. The app is extremely easy to use. You can speak a keyword or scan a bar code, which are handy features if, for instance, you’ve enjoyed one too many ales and you can’t hold your hands steady enough to type.

After you enter a name, the app scans a database of more than 300,000 beers for matches. From there, you can mark selections as favorites or read user reviews from the RateBeer online service, which is another good resource.

The Beer Expert’s developer, Matt Simpson, said an iPhone version of the app was in the works and would reach the market in the next few months.

It’s a nice turnabout for Android users, who are accustomed to waiting for the better iPhone apps to come to them. Given the market momentum of Android devices in the last year, it’s a situation iPhone owners may have to get used to.

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