My craft beer exploration begun over at RateBeer.com where I immediately learned the drastic differences between the community and culture compared to BeerAdvocate. BeerAdvocate had a vocal minority of trolls, who would ruin the user experience for many, where the owners and moderators spent most of the day bringing down the ban-hammer on the worst offenders and, often times, on innocent users caught in the crossfire of the chaos. Over on RateBeer, there was maybe one-third of the user base, and much more community-based policing when a bad egg got out of hand. The black background versus the white background made you feel like you were in a completely different universe. Asking a newbie type question on BeerAdvocate might result in a multi page troll-off, but over on RateBeer, there were many elders that would immediately take you under their wing and bring you up to speed on whatever topic was being discussed. In the five years or so that I spent time chatting and ticking on RateBeer, I learned so much about styles, brewing and beer. I became an expert trader and I met people that I can call friends to this day.
Then one day this little website came along called Facebook.com. All the folks I met on RateBeer joined, as did everyone in the beer industry, along with the rest of the world. At that point, there was no need to go on other message boards. Facebook’s interface was far superior, addictive and more user-friendly than RateBeer or BeerAdvocate. Those who felt restricted with rules and moderators were now free. Throwing up a trade with pictures and subsequent shitposts were flowing like a river.
Shortly after those who only used RateBeer for the message board feature left and when smartphones became a life necessity, a mobile app named Untappd came out of nowhere and leapfrogged over RateBeer and BeerAdvocate’s web interface to become the primary method of logging, reviewing and rating one’s beer journey. At this point, RateBeer was left as a shell of itself after being one of the biggest online beer communities in the world. Make no mistake; RateBeer kept chugging along even after a bulk of their community disbanded.
Those that stayed were the most loyal. RateBeer has, to this day, a great European following. One of the best memes about RateBeer was the “Danish tick”, the punchline being that a Scandinavian ticker would receive a special bottle of beer on trade and split it 40 ways. RateBeer has pockets of loyal users here in the States, who still use their message boards and organize the RateBeer Summer and Winter Gatherings, where time, heart and soul is put into multi-day meet ups in which RateBeer users in a certain metro would plan brewery tours, bottle shares and outdoor ragers.
Then there’s the not-so-loyal part that needs mentioning. RateBeer has historically been used as a tool to pump up a brewery’s standing. Back when I was an active member, I would notice a virtually unknown brewery go from obscure to rock star in a matter of months with a bit of system gaming. Basically, a group of users would all band together and give a brewery’s beers the highest ratings, pushing the brewery and beers up the charts. Some typical motives behind inflating ratings include increasing trade values or to quickly get their local brewery some much needed notoriety. This has always put owner/founder Joe Tucker in a bind that can’t be fun to deal with. On one hand, he is watching his own system get gamed; on the other hand, his site stays somewhat relevant when the new darling brewery refers back to RateBeer rankings. There’s always been a defense that the algorithms and weighting system stifles such tomfoolery, I could point you to some of the “BEST BEERS IN THE WORLD”, and show you that only 200 RateBeer users have tried such and such beer. Follow this very link: https://www.ratebeer.com/beer/top-50/ and you will see that 122 people have the worldwide influence to make Toppling Goliath Kentucky Brunch one of the best beers in the world. You probably haven’t tried that beer have you.
So here we have almost two decades of logged beer ratings, place ratings and message board threads. The user base is dwindling due to newer platforms and different Internet usage habits than from a decade ago and this is what Mr. Joe Tucker is dealing with. To pump new life into the brand, Joe took his yearly ratings compilation known as RateBeer’s Best and turned it into one of the most spectacular beer geek focused beer festivals. He was able to bring his most loyal users that have stuck with him to Santa Rosa for this amazing event and due to the unreal beer lineup he secured, was able to draw people that haven’t uttered the word “RateBeer” in a long, long time. Do you think those Johnny Come-Latelies who raged out on de Garde, Sante Adairius and Cantillon popped their head in at RateBeer.com to thank Joe after that weekend? Do you think any of them created a user profile and began logging ticks instead of using Untappd? Hell no. As far as the current beer community knew, RateBeer is a yearly festival and not a website with a long storied history.
Even though the community has dwindled, the richness of the data lives on in Google and causes quite a bit of bandwidth and overhead. While I’m not an active user, I use the site as a reference to a degree. So if you were the owner of RateBeer in 2016, and you had some slightly flawed data that is used and abused by breweries, bottle shops and traders, wouldn’t you consider your options?
Here we are living in these scary times where Anheuser Busch is purchasing craft breweries for the sake of tricking consumers and, now, buying up beer websites for favorable mentions. The first reaction when RateBeer announced they’ve taken investment money from said evil corporation is to get out the pitchforks. Nobody gave two shits about RateBeer a week ago outside of their very loyal, serious and humble user base. Many of those people are my friends. Joe Tucker is my friend. Breweries and snarky beer geeks are publicly flaming a company they weren’t even thinking about a week ago. There is a theory, which as of press time is a bit of a stretch, that the evil empire has compromised this database. Those upset loved the database when they got their 99 score and hated it when they got a 56. I admire people taking a stand against the evils of AB-InBev, but picking a fight with RateBeer in June 2017 seems more like bullying to me. As a proud member of Team Fuck InBev/ZX Ventures, I understand this seems like the perfect opportunity to make some noise, I just think its low hanging fruit and is making some look childish, which is a very bad look for craft as a whole.
My advice is to have some class and take it offline with the owners and admins of RateBeer. Educate new beer drinkers about who owns what websites and publications so that the next wave of beer drinkers and tickers are just as savvy as you. RateBeer has been used and abused. Let them be.