This morning brings what feels a bit like a nail in the coffin of an earlier era of craft beer geekdom—the news that influential beer rating site BeerAdvocate is being acquired by the parent company of its most prominent and far younger competition, the app Untappd. That company, Next Glass, will continue to operate BeerAdvocate as a separate entity under founders Todd and Jason Alstrom, but will simultaneously take possession of all its resources and decades of data.
BeerAdvocate was at one point one of the two titans of the beer rating scene, along with perennial competitor RateBeer. In the 2000s in particular, as craft beer’s second big boom period revved to life, the popularity of the site skyrocketed, offering users the ability to post their reviews online and refer back to them later. Those collected reviews, and the rating scores associated with them, then played a major role in building hype for the top beers of the day, from breweries such as Russian River, Westvleteren and Three Floyds. Many beers that came to be thought of as the “best in the world” during this era had the likes of BeerAdvocate to directly thank.
The last decade, on the other hand, has brought a noticeable remolding of the beer rating space. Untappd launched in 2010, and within a few years had surpassed BeerAdvocate as the most active rating site in terms of the numbers of check-ins and reviews. And as Untappd thrived, it seemed to suck all the energy out of the BeerAdvocate community, at least in terms of adding new beers and reviews. Seemingly unable to keep up with the momentum and volume of the day, it became common to visit a brewery’s page on BeerAdvocate and be unable to find more recent beer releases. A BeerAdvocate app was promised, but was postponed several times. Energy seemed to have migrated to Untappd, and with it came a move away from the long, detailed user reviews that had once characterized BeerAdvocate. Many beer geeks have decried this, insinuating that the one-sentence reviews common on Untappd offer less real substance.
At the same time, though, there were also many beer geeks and writers with personal beefs involving BeerAdvocate, and its prickly founders. The Alstroms have often been accused of being petty or tyrannical in their running of the site, with users reporting that their profiles (and all their reviews) had been deleted for questioning some aspect of the way things were run—even for comments made on sites other than BeerAdvocate. Untappd, by comparison, had no such visible drama, nor the taint of association with AB InBev, which was revealed as an investor in RateBeer in 2017, right about the same time we were also writing about other broken RateBeer features. AB InBev finished the acquisition of RateBeer in 2019.
Bite-sized, low-context reviews became the prevailing standard.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, then, the official BeerAdvocate announcement of the acquisition chooses to use the headline “BeerAdvocate and Untappd have joined forces” to describe the buyout, even as Todd Alstrom says “We’ve been struggling to keep the lights on for over two years,” a mere two sentences later. Alstrom did have some positives about Untappd to share, however, including a defense of the lack of detail in average Untappd reviews.
“Untappd reaches a much wider audience than we do,” Alstrom said to Food & Wine. “Way beyond the beer geek, which is one of its strengths. 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.”
Next Glass, meanwhile, has the expected nice things to say about the company it just acquired.
“Being in the industry, we’ve obviously admired the brand and community Todd and Jason built from afar for some time now,” said Next Glass President Trace Smith. “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.”
Smith also hints at what may have been one of the most enticing aspects of acquiring BeerAdvocate, which is its history/experience with running live beer events, such as the annual Extreme Beer Festival. Smith said the following: “[We] plan to learn from BeerAdvocate’s near two decades of experience putting on world class beer festivals. 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.”
Regardless, this announcement certainly represents the end of an era. BeerAdvocate was once arguably the biggest name in the beer rating space—it was the site I used to write my own amateur reviews for many years—but the evolution of the tech space never stops. BeerAdvocate was slow to adopt to the modern, app-driven era of beer ratings, and now it finds itself owned by a competitor less than half its age—swallowed up by its own intellectual progeny.