WHAT’S ON TAP at your local pub? Who’s pouring your favorite beer?
You could just pull up a stool and, y’know, ask the bartender. But in a day when new releases come nearly every day and bars change their draft handles hourly, many beer lovers are reaching for their smartphones before embarking on a pub-crawl.
With tons of beers in their databases and easy-to-use searches, Web tools are especially handy in tracking down those limited-edition cult beers that hit the faucets this time of the year: Bell’s HopSlam, Dogfish Head 120 Minute IPA, Founders Canadian Breakfast Stout and, of course, that elusive whale, Russian River Pliny the Younger.
Last week, I tested several Web tools and found that some are quite good, but none is entirely foolproof. Sometimes they’re outdated or incomplete because – even in this digital age – they still depend largely on actual human beings to keep them updated.
And another thing: The way word spreads in Philly, some gems disappear within minutes. So, complement these Web tools with the Facebook and Twitter feeds of your favorite bars and breweries to get advance warning of big “tappenings. “
My tests were simple: Tell me where to find Ninkasi Tricerahops, a double IPA from Oregon that recently arrived in the Philadelphia market; and tell me what’s on the 14 taps at Perch Pub, the second-floor beer bar at Broad and Locust streets.
The 5-year-old website is aimed squarely at beer fans, with listings of the top 100 or so bars in the Philadelphia area. Info is collected daily via email, phone, even photos of chalkboard menus. A smartphone app is coming this year.
Beer test: 6 of 7 correct.
Pub test: 14 of 14 correct.
Pro: Easy to use, clear beer descriptions, links to Google maps.
Con: Limited selection of local bars leaves out many good ones. And, obviously, it’s not much good when traveling out of town.
Geared toward businesses nationwide, it depends on subscriber bars to upload their selections.
Although more than 12,000 bars, restaurants, bottle shops and distributors are in the database, it’s focused mainly on large cities. (It lists only two locations in Delaware, for example. )
Beer test: 4 of 7 correct.
Pub test: 14 of 14 correct.
Pro: Lists prices. Will email you when favorites are listed. Database includes an astounding 63,000 beers.
Con: Because it’s pay to play, many area bars are absent. Tap lists are often outdated (I spotted one that was 32 days old).
This new site uses the hive to report draft lineups nationwide. It gleans recent posts from more than a million users of the wildly popular mobile beer-rating app Untappd to automatically chart where specific beers have been sighted near your location. This one has game-changer potential.
Beer test: 5 of 7 correct.
Pub test: 2 of 14 correct.
Pro: Bars don’t pay to play, resulting in more locations. Will email you when favorites are listed.
Con: Because no one takes responsibility for uploading tap lists, the info is often outdated. No beer descriptions; search tool balky.
For these two, bar owners update their lists onto in-house digital boards and printed menus. These lists are automatically fed to a website and mobile app, and shared on social media. Great idea, but so far they have not been widely adopted, and they failed both of my tests.
Both of these depend on users to either scan UPC codes or manually enter tap lists. Both failed my tests, too.
Here’s an idea for an enterprising techie: a system that uses RFID (radio-frequency identification) tags on kegs that tell barroom communications systems which brand is connected to the draft line. That info would automatically feed into an in-house draft board and a smartphone app.
Or, like I said, ask the bartender.