By Jim McLaren
For the Oregon Beer Growler
Two boys from North Carolina eased their truck up alongside John’s Market in Multnomah Village on a rainy day last October for one of three Portland stops on what has to be the greatest beer run in history. And they’re doing it for you.
While a ponytailed Stephen Pond was rattling and scanning bottles on the store shelves and downloading the information onto a laptop, George Taylor explained they were creating an app that will “evaluate beer based on scientific data rather than subjective adjectives.”
Beer Census 2014 was the collection phase of the latest project from Next Glass, which came about when Taylor’s father and brother got some bad advice from a sommelier. They figured there had to be a better way to pick wine than knowing if it was oaky, earthy or citrusy.
Taylor said they decided to run first wine, now beer, through a scientific investigation evaluation. Similar to what happens on the television show, “CSI,” a small sample of “evidence” is put into a mass spectrometer. The machine “spins the sample so fast it separates everything — proteins, sugars, carbs, alcohol content, calories, everything,” Taylor said.
That was the easy part. What was harder was getting the bottles for testing. Unlike most wines, many craft beers are not distributed nationally, and having them shipped cross country can be expensive or legally prohibited.
So the boys hit the road, lead-footing it from the Northeast, through Middle America to the West Coast.
In Oregon and Washington they bought nearly 2,000 bottles, pushing closer to their goal of 40,000 beers. And they purchased “one of everything ever made — seasonals, those crazy one-offs.” Taylor explained, “What’s cool, if they don’t ever make it again, I can put you onto something almost identical that is being made.”
Last October’s rains were dried up by a long, hot summer and now September is again easing toward the kind of weather an Oregonian can live with. Meanwhile, those boys from Carolina have been computer crunching the info gathered on their epic beer run. So, what do you get for all those miles, all that beer and all that digitalizing?
To find out, I downloaded the Next Glass app to my iPad, entered account information and worked my way through the tabs.
The Taste Profile tab rates beers on a 100 point scale, but also tells you the alcohol and calorie content of your favorite beer. The Breakside Country Blonde, for instance, comes at 7.5 percent ABV and 225 calories. Next Glass said it is 90 points on a “My Favorites” scale.
The Recommendations tab works like a Cicerone, suggesting beers you might like. Clicking on the Filter tab narrows your search to just beer. You can also refine your hunt to a particular beer style; though the app does not define styles.
The Search feature can help adventurous beer lovers find many, but not all beers. I easily found the offerings from Portland-based breweries, as I did larger craft brewers. But smaller breweries didn’t make the app. For instance, in Central Oregon, Deschutes made the app but Three Creeks and RiverBend didn’t. In Southern Oregon, I checked for six breweries, including Standing Stone and Caldera, and didn’t find them. In the Gorge, Logsdon made the list as did Full Sail, but pFriem didn’t.
The Snap feature is the most fun. To test it I hauled my iPad to a nearby New Seasons and input images of labels and bar codes. The app rates those beers based on my taste profile and should recommend alternatives. The results were mixed. Next Glass recognized the Rogue Dead Guy I liked and gave me a rating. But when I snapped a Pelican label it merely brought up a listing of other Pelican beers without ratings. In neither case did the app offer alternatives to those beers. And that is a problem. The most interesting challenge and potential for Next Glass is to allow a user to go to a place like Portland’s Belmont Station, take a picture of a strange beer label and then find out if the app compares it to something you like and tells you where to buy it.
To find out if Next Glass has plans to upgrade, I emailed Emma Johnson, Next Glass user happiness specialist, and asked about adding a match feature along with the GPS locator Pond and Taylor described to me last year. Johnson replied: “Next Glass does have a Glass Match feature available, but we've removed it for the time being for some revamping! It'll be back and better than ever soon. We're also working on another new feature — filtering by geographic proximity. As we perfect these features you'll be able to see bottles that you like that are available in your area!”
Apps are like beer, there’s probably going to be more than one you’ll like. Next Glass has potential but has some catching up to do. Untappd and Pintley are better at social networking for beer drinkers. BeerCloud offers a beer and food pairing service. Find Craft Beer has a mapping service that directs you to a shop carrying the beer you are hunting for.
Like beer, you probably have a favorite app. Just make sure you don’t ignore the newcomers. Each has the potential to enrich your experience.
Stories from the print edition of the Oregon Beer Growler.