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Having a Beer With a Smartphone

Drinking beer used to be simple. But the exploding popularity of craft beer over the past several years has changed that, giving beer drinkers a new world of possibilities — and a range of hard decisions.

Predictably, the ever-expanding roster of oatmeal stouts and vanilla porters has been accompanied by the creation of dozens of beer-related apps. These include local guides to the best pints, inane games, beery social networks and recommendation engines that determine which beers you might like based on what you have enjoyed in the past.

An app released this month, Craft Beer New York, gives local connoisseurs an excellent guide to the city’s bars, breweries and bottle shops ($1.99 for iPhones and other iOS devices; you must be 17 years old to download this and the other Apple beer apps). Its developer, Blue Crow Media, also makes attractive apps focused on coffee. The content for this app comes from Joshua M. Bernstein, a beer writer living in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn, and the author of Brewed Awakening, a book about the craft beer movement.

The app rates 122 bars, 34 shops and 22 breweries. I first tested it out in Astoria, Queens, where I live, and it seemed to get things right without just picking the most obvious places to drink. There were short entries on half a dozen establishments, including specific recommendations on which beers to order.

It is worth noting that this app is different from a guide to bars. Good spots will not show up if they have pedestrian beer selections. At the same time, bars do not automatically get good ratings for having lots of choices. Mr. Bernstein acknowledges that the Beer Authority, a 70-tap bar that recently opened on a stretch of Eighth Avenue in Midtown Manhattan, is “a life preserver for folks working around the Port Authority.” But the app still sticks it with a 2 out of 5 rating because of its unimaginative d?cor, high prices and a tendency to play lame music.

Mr. Bernstein updates the app with newly opened establishments, and it also has a news tab that includes bulletins on things like how to ensure that an I.P.A. is fresh, or how to help out beer-related businesses affected by Hurricane Sandy. An Android version is due out in early 2013.

One of the more popular beer apps is Untappd, a location-based social-networking app for beer drinkers (free and available for Android and iOS). The app is designed to get people to share their impressions of beers, keeping track of what they liked while also guiding friends and strangers to good bars and brews. The app has an active community, but like any crowdsourced project there is a lot to sift through to find anything useful.

Another way to find new beers to try is to tell an algorithm what you drink and have it determine what else you might like. BrewGene is a nice version of this idea (free and available for Android, iOS or on the Web). It has a truly extensive database. I recently ordered a Goose Island I.P.A. from a bar, but when I went to enter it into the app found that there were five different beers with that name. I rated a few beers from the app’s top 100 list, and it began generating credible suggestions for me. The app’s ability to point me toward an establishment that would serve me these beers is lacking, however. Its “Places” function pulled in a seemingly random selection of nearby bars, bodegas and restaurants. There’s supposed to be a beer menu for each establishment, but all the ones I got were blank.

26 Nov. 2012

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