Are you constantly on the look out for the most pungent porter, oatiest stout or deadliest barley wine? Perhaps you have a favourite beer, but can never find a pub that serves it? Or maybe you once tried a heavenly IPA, only to immediately forget its name in a five-pint haze?
There is, of course, an app for that. Several, in fact. Here at The Big Tech Question, we’ve tracked down the three best free apps for beer aficionados – a tough job, we know, but someone has to do it.
To be as scientific as possible, we tested all three apps in the centre of that booziest of metropolises, Royal Tunbridge Wells in Kent, which has a good sprinkling of cosy pubs, hoity-toity bars and the ubiquitous Wetherspoons.
What better place to start than with the Campaign for Real Ale’s (CAMRA) own app offering? The organisation is, after all, the most famous champion of Proper British Beer and an unceasing supporter of the people who produce it.
Unfortunately, the app itself looks dated, with all of the menus clad in queasy beige. However, dig deeper and you’ll soon find that it’s a goldmine of information. Not only does it a present a list of local CAMRA pubs – along with their facilities, user reviews and a selection of the beers on tap – it also covers the vast majority of British breweries (from the Abbey Brewery in Bath to London’s Zerodegrees) and has lengthy tasting notes for all of their beers.
Be warned, though, that the app starts as a “free taster” and, if you want to unlock all of the content, you’ll have to shell out £4.99 for a year’s subscription. That’s slightly irritating given the clunky interface and the fact that there are better cost-free alternatives (see below), but you can rest assured that your money is going to an organisation that truly cares about the beer.
Cask Marque’s CaskFinder app is a real beaut. The non-profit organisation, which was set up by four leading breweries in the 1990s to provide quality control, has obviously spent a lot of time making its offering as drinker-friendly as possible.
Like both of the other apps on this list, CaskFinder includes a map view so you can easily locate the nearest Cask Marque-accredited establishment. So far, so good, but the real magic happens when you’ve picked somewhere to settle down. A tap on The Compasses pub in Tunbridge Wells, for example, brought up a profile page with a photo, contact details and, most importantly, a list of beverages on offer.
Feeling adventurous, we selected the Black Sheep Bitter and were taken to its extensive Beer Details page (see left image above), which includes an overall star rating, sliders for the beer’s bitterness and sweetness, its alcohol content, a detailed description and even a food pairing (red meat, apparently). If we’re nitpicking, this wasn’t a full list of the ales The Compasses sells – only the ones that have been tested by Cask Marque. That said, it’s still a powerful tool.
CaskFinder has a few more tricks up its sleeve: you can find the closest pub selling a particular beer, scroll through the tasting notes for hundreds of brews, join Cask Marque’s “Ale Trail” to win prizes and share your favourite pubs with friends.
The undisputed Cadillac of beer apps, Untappd is simply brilliant. In fact, if you’re a self-confessed beer nerd, it’s compulsory. Download it now – we’ll finish our pint while we wait.
Untappd combines the very best features from the CAMRA and CaskFinder apps and wraps them in an attractive interface. To test its colour-coded map mode, we clicked on The George pub, located in the depths of Tunbridge Wells, and were confronted with a live list of all of the beers on tap, user photos and even a selection of ales that will be soon flowing through its pumps.
As with CaskFinder, a tap on Magic Rock Brewing’s Cannonball (a “massively hopped” 7.4% ABV American IPA) brought up a profile with its description, a flavour profile and the ability to seek out other pubs that sell it. However, in a Tripadvisor-style twist, there are (often entertaining) user reviews, photos and star ratings at the bottom of the page. Consequently, you can learn that Steve B thinks Cannonball is “something of a hop bomb”, while Luke W likes its “big juicy flavours”. It’s a characterful tool that marks Untapped out as something different – a “beer social network”, if you will.
This idea is continued with Untappd’s main selling point: the ability to stay in touch with like-minded slurpers using its Activity section. This allows you to follow what your chums are drinking and comment on their excellent, or awful, taste. You can also keep in touch with local or global beer trends (purists will be pleased to see that Harvey’s Sussex Best Bitter still reigns supreme in Tunbridge Wells), as well as scout for local festivals and one-off events.
If you’re short on smartphone storage space and can only choose to download one of the apps, make it Untappd.