How Untappd is Helping the Beer Industry Through the Pandemic

How Untappd is Helping the Beer Industry Through the Pandemic

“Stop taking pictures and just drink your beer already.”

I’m sitting with my friend out on the socially-distanced patio at our favorite local brewery. Our server has just brought us our first beers of the night. My friend’s drink is a seasonal caramel apple ale, rich and light brown (because who doesn’t love fall beers?). Mine? A beautiful blackberry sour. 

He immediately pulls down his mask and starts drinking, while I’m still angling my phone camera at the glass in front of me. The beer is a deep purple-red, like the juices you get on your fingers from picking blackberries. The foamy head is almost pink. It’s a work of art, and after a few more seconds I’ve captured it.

I take a sip, consider it for a moment and then start typing away on my phone.

“No one on Instagram cares what you’re drinking,” my friend says, and he’s probably right. My dozen Instagram followers aren’t interested in my beer. 

I turn my phone and hold it in front of him. “Not Instagram,” I explain. “Untappd.”

“Untappd?” he asks, squinting at my screen.

Not five minutes later, he has signed up, checking in his first beer and earning his first badges. But what is Untappd, and what can you do with it?

The Social Drinking App

untappd beer app screenshot
Image courtesy of Brad Viniarski.

The Wilmington-based company originally brewed in the heads of Greg Avola and Tim Mather back in the summer of 2010. At the height of Foursquare’s popularity, the duo wanted to bring that real-time social connection to the industry and social space it would fit like a koozie: Beer.

A few short months later, the first version of Untappd released to the public.

10 years later, the Untappd app allows users to check-in at local bars and breweries, upload pictures, discover and share new beers, follow friends, and earn badges.

You can rate and review your favorite beers and breweries, or just check in on what your friends are drinking. Many partnered locations have up-to-date tap lists and menus, and you can find both in-person and virtual events near you.

How has Untappd responded to the pandemic?

NCND recently spoke with CEO Trace Smith to find out how the company has adapted to COVID-19. Untappd, like other tech companies, was already well-positioned to adjust their team to work through the pandemic. In the 10 years since its launch, Untappd has grown its team from two people to almost 100.

“The health and safety of our employees is the number one priority,” Smith said. “We are a tech company that was well-suited to flip the switch and go fully remote. We’d been on Zoom for several years, and our product and engineering teams were already remote, so we had institutionalized some best practices.” The Untappd team is continuing to work from home until it’s safe to return to the office, their safety being Smith’s primary concern.

“We’ve adjusted in other ways too,” he continued. “For example, in June we held our first ever Untappd Virtual Beer Festival – it sold out!”

Attendees of the sold-out two-day event got to sit down with co-founder Greg Avola and two panels of brewmasters and special guests. A portion of the proceeds from the event went to the Restaurant Strong Fund, a partnership between Samuel Adams and the Greg Hill Foundation that helps the restaurants and their employees affected by COVID-19.

Untappd at Home

Untappd first responded to this challenge with “Greg’s List.” Greg’s List is an updated list of restaurants and breweries that users could find and support through beers to-go, delivery, curbside pick-up, gift cards, and more.

untappd beer app screenshot
Image courtesy of Brad Viniarski.

As social as beer drinking is, doing so publicly became unsafe when the coronavirus hit earlier this year. Most states shut down for months, and even as they began to reopen, small breweries occupied a difficult space. Eventually, in many states, restaurants and bars that sold food were allowed to reopen. Places like breweries that only sold drinks in their taprooms had to remain closed. This restriction left most small breweries high and dry, especially when public assistance decreased towards the end of lockdowns.

They then followed up the List by launching a new venue where users could check-in — Untappd at Home. Untappd at Home lets users check-in and earn badges from the safety and comfort of their homes. Since it’s launch, the venue has had more than 985,000 unique patrons check-in more than 35 million times. 

The Beer Industry and COVID-19

As a big fan of craft beers myself, I felt like I had a fairly good connection to the industry. I follow all my favorite breweries on social media. My Snapchat is almost exclusively friends showing off new beers they’re trying or wanting to try. But while I could see reactions from the breweries I followed, Untappd has its finger on the pulse of the industry in a more significant way.

I asked Smith if the doomsaying I had been reading about the beer industry is true, or if there is hope for growth in our beloved industry.

“Definitely cause for hope!” he said. “During the last six months, we have had nearly 900 million check-ins of beer by our users, so we know the passion and connection are still there. And our business customers are creating thousands of new menus each month, which indicates that they’re shifting their business models a bit during COVID to continue to serve customers safely. Many of our partner breweries were able to shift to online and to-go orders with the support of state and local laws changing to allow these types of direct-to-consumer transactions.”

Image courtesy of Untappd.

“It has definitely been interesting to compare on-premise check-in volumes in areas that had less restrictive lockdown measures, like Sweden or the U.S. Southeast, to areas that imposed stricter COVID measures,” Smith said. Places like Oslo and Stockholm generally don’t appear so high on maps, so it’s indeed interesting to see this data and speculate about the effects of different countries’ responses to the pandemic on the beer industry.

Looking Ahead

COVID-19 isn’t magically disappearing this winter, and cases are once again spiking around the globe. With outdoor seating going away with the warm weather, Untappd might just be the social drinking solution we need.

“We want to be true partners to the community,” Smith said. “We believe technology can go a long way in helping both our Untappd consumer users and our business customers navigate COVID.”

Local bars and breweries might be interested in Untappd for Business, a partnership that allows them to create and update contactless menus and share them online or on the Untappd app. It also offers analytics to help find the most popular beers in the area and keep up with the latest trends.

Beer aficionados can stay in and stay safe with beer picked up from any participating locations on Greg’s List, check-in at the Untappd at Home venue and tune into a Virtual Happy Hour to stay close with the community while still staying safe.

To learn how an NC company is helping breweries can their beers, or how a local tap room is playing to population strengths, check out our beer news.