Local Brewing Company -- local to the author, here in Redwood City -- has a new app that helps people at their brewery choose the right beer for their tastes.
The Beer Curator app shown above asks you to pull a few sliders to tell the brewery what kind of tastes you like in beer, and then it'll spit out a few recomendations for you at that brewery. Seems simple enough.
First, a few admissions that should place this analysis in an important context. Part of BeerGraphs' mission is to help people find new beers. You're in a new city for work and need to find the best local beers? Use the filters to describe your location and the style you want, and you're in business. This c0-founder has used the website to that end many times, so on that level, it works.
Another admission: we have, at times, considered this exact method of gathering early information and making better recommendations.
So, this bar has done what we're considering doing, that's fine. We obviously like the idea.
But it does call to question how useful the app is, and to whom it will be useful. Let's consider a few different users.
1) Low-information, low dedication to craft beer
This person has just wandered into your bar because they were next door picking up pizza and felt like a pint. They don't really care about the newest IPA, but they'll drink a craft, maybe. Does this person want to fill out a form to buy a beer? Do they know enough about their own palate to describe the things they like about beer? Wouldn't they just rather ask the bartender for their favorite?
2) Medium-information, medium dedication to craft beer
This person is at the bar because it's a new craft beer bar in their neighborhood or they heard it got funded by Kickstarter and hey why not. They know what they generally like and would have just picked the pale ale, probably. Does filling out the form really help them decide between the pale ale and the IPA? This bar has 15 beers, how much time do they want to spend to help them decide between the two styles they immediately identified as their favorites? Couldn't they just ask the bartender between these two beers?
3) High-information, high dedication to craft beer
This person is at the bar specifically for one beer that someone said was amazing. Really, that's most likely. Let's say they are just there because someone said it was excellent generally, they still probably have a recommendation. If they don't have a recommendation, will they trust the app or probe the website, Rate Beer, BeerGraphs for reviews and scores? Or will they ask the bartender what kinds of hops are in those beers and if the saison is clean or dirty?
In all three of these cases, I think it's probable the user only uses the app for the novelty. Until we have robot bartenders, the app is probably less useful than a thirty-second conversation with the professional behind the bar.
But let's move beyond this one bar and think globally. I think potential users would rather have this work done for them by algorithym, or would rather do the work because they find it part of the fun of craft beer, but that's not a necessarily something I have data on.
The trick in taking this sort of thing globally is to find out if these three classes of users really want to do this kind of work for this kind of reward. In that case, trying it in one bar is not a bad idea. If they do find a class of user that enjoys using the app, they'll have more information for a global launch, with or without us.