The beauty and the curse of beer today is that ordering one can feel like you're reinventing the wheel. There are now just so many options: Opt for a test drive of something new, or just go safe with your tried and true favorite brew? Order a perfectly solid seasonal wheat, or go gonzo with that high alcohol barrel-aged brain-boiler that's been taunting you? As with almost anything else today, however, there's a cure for this first-world dilemma in the form of a smartphone app. In fact, we've dabbled with a few: Untappd is sort of like Foursquare for drinkers; Beer + List offers a granular way to precisely catalog your personal tastes, while getting input from others reviews as well. Our current favorite, though, is RateBeer (for Android), due to its user-friendly layout and sheer volume of information, which includes hundreds and hundreds of beers (not to mention sake and ciders).
Claiming to be the world's largest source for craft beer info, the app definitely feels comprehensive (and is based on the popular website). The idea is obviously to type in a beer and search for reviews (by users, in-house editors, or pro beer critics), but there's also a clever barcode scanning function to instantly call up specific details about virtually any beer in the world. This is especially handy when we're traveling, since browsing a list of best beers by country is a fun way to be a tourist and discover regional specialties. And you can also just pick among the best rated brews by style (Abbey Dubbel, Amber Ale, Barley Wine, IPA, ad nauseum, if you will) and even pull up a list of the best places worldwide to find whatever beer style you desire. For example, to grab a nice chocolate-y Baltic Porter, you'd be referred to the excellent Danish brew Ølfabrikken Porter, which is available at State Line Liquors in Elkton, MD. (We're told it's worth the drive.)
When you're in the any-port-in-a-storm mood, a Places list pinpoints nearby bars with a map and even a list of available tipples. In the interest of science, we put that particular function to the test to see what came up in midtown Manhattan and proceeded to discover a bar with a surprisingly wide number of high-quality, little-known beers and ciders, such as Gulden Draak, a well-reviewed Belgian Strong Ale, and Lindemans Framboise, a delicious brew with subtle raspberry undertones. Is there anything science can't do?
The app is free and the idea is that you not only search for content, but also track your own preferences and then add to the mix yourself by contributing reviews and information. Passionate beer snobs will adore RateBeer, but we think it's a great all-purpose app for travelers looking for locales off the beaten path or just anyone looking to broaden their booze horizons. Slightly more limited versions of the app are available for the iPhone and other mobile platforms, but Android users have the most comprehensive option. [ratebeer.com]