Friday, April 15, 2011

In search of a better way to choose

Decisions, decisions, decisions ...

To get there, you sometimes gotta grease the wheels by making some comparisons.

And therein lies the point of's search engine that compares beers across a range of factors, i.e. price, alcohol by volume, calories and of course beer styles. It's all to help you make a choice that leads you to actually tasting a brew, the ultimate decision-maker for repeat buys or the point of no return.

Right now, FindTheBest's beer page is stocked with 940 different beers from 50 different brewers from around the globe (sounds like the teaser to a beer festival, doesn't it?). Alas, you won't find any of the New Jersey brands in that cache. None of their data has been uploaded to the site. However, Garden State brewers are welcome to provide details about their brews and get listed.

The innards of FindTheBest's beer page is an algorithm that can combine expert ratings and reviews from several sources (think BeerAdvocate and RateBeer).

"It's highly unbiased. It doesn't use expert ratings from marketing companies," says Brandon Coakley, a business development associate for the Santa Barbara, California-based site. "We're just trying to give the user every piece of information."

FindTheBest launched the beer search engine toward the end of last year, recognizing the explosion of beer brands as craft beer gets more popular, as a it becomes a consumer passion with a galaxy of options. (Here's a tidbit about that explosion: The federal Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, the agency that has a say in breweries and beers coming to market, notes it has seen a steady uptick in the required applications for beer label approvals in the past couple of years.)

"The Internet is cluttered. We're trying to structure data from places. We're trying to make it an even playing field for comparing anything," Brandon says. (He notes the folks there at FindTheBest are beer enthusiasts themselves.)

Other things for which FindTheBest has been a consumer-minded data cruncher include cigars, colleges, automobiles (and car insurance companies), laptop computers and smart phone, baby-sitters, even amusement parks.

But with beer, this may make you wonder just a bit. One the one hand, there's something to be said for being forearmed; you're forewarned, caveat emptor and all that. But there's also something serendipitous about going into the packaged good store scouting the latest oak barrel-aged Belgian that's on everyone's lips (or blog post) and taking a chance on an unknown porter that ends up becoming a constant in your fridge.

So to compare, or not to compare. You decide. Play with it below. (And yeah, we know, Jack Curtin covered this topic late last month.)

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