With the ubiquity of smartphones, if you visit a restaurant you are almost always able to find the menu just a tap away. If you are a fan of craft beer or other alcoholic beverages, you know that in many cases, the menu for these can be longer than the food menu. Since most restaurants almost never list the available drinks on their online menus, you must seek another source if you want to read your drink menu without the aid of a sighted companion or OCR technology.
In this article, I review two apps that I have found to be excellent sources for accessing craft beer menus, DigitalPour and Untappd. I tested these apps using an iPhone SE running iOS 12. To get the most from these apps, basic knowledge of VoiceOver navigation is suggested, with Untappd requiring more advanced knowledge for smooth navigation.
DigitalPour is the more straightforward app for locating beer menus. Each location that lists their offerings subscribes to the DigitalPour service. This allows them to automatically send notifications of beer changes across multiple social media services. The system ties into the point-of-sale at the location, which allows the service to track and display the amount remaining in any keg currently on tap. Because this is a paid service, fewer locations use it. For example, there are 5 locations in less than a mile in Huntington, West Virginia, while I found zero within 60 miles in Orlando, Florida.
When you first download and launch DigitalPour, it will request to use your location. With this information, DigitalPour will organize the list of locations from nearest to furthest. In some cases, DigitalPour can determine that you are at a specific location and automatically take you to the tap list for that location.
Once you have allowed the app to use your location, you will be taken to a screen that contains tips for using the app. Once you close the tips page, you will be on the main screen. Use the Map button in the top left corner to change the list of venues into a map view. Across from the Map button is a More button, which will launch a screen containing information on the features of the app. Back on the main screen, you will find a search field. You can search for beverages, locations, or producers. Note that when searching for beverages, the search is being performed on drinks that are either currently on tap at a venue or listed as "On Deck" (kegs that are in storage) at a venue, so it doesn't serve as a database of all of the craft beer being produced.
Below the search field you will find a list of venues. Here is where you may find the main accessibility issue with this app. If you start swiping right through the list of venues, you may suddenly find yourself either swiping through venues earlier in the list again, or at the very bottom of the list. This seems to happen when you swipe from the last item visible on screen to the next. Touching an item on the screen seems to fix this issue, allowing you to keep swiping through options.
Beer Menus in DigitalPour
A screen for a given venue will be split into two distinct parts. At the top of the screen you will find details of the venue including address and an option to call the venue, an About button, and a list of icons for sorting the beverages by specific categories. A search field will also allow you to search among the drinks available at the venue. By default, the app will show the beverages on tap arranged by number. You can also choose to see beers on deck. For either of these options, you can arrange the drinks by style, Alcohol by Volume (ABV), or by International Bitterness Units (IBU).
Each beer is listed as a single VoiceOver element that contains a good deal of information. The order varies, but the following information is provided for each beer:
- Name of the beer
- Description of the beer style and any additions
- Brewery name and location
- Tap number
- Percent remaining in the keg
In practice it looks something like this: "American Porter w/ Jamaican Coffee, SweetWater?Exodus, American Porter w/ Jamaican Coffee, 11, Atlanta, GA, ABV, 6.6%, Keg, 75%". Most items here are self-explanatory; the lone number without a descriptor is the tap number. If you double-tap on any given beer, you will be shown the amounts for sale and their cost. In addition, below a beer that you have activated, you will find buttons to Favorite and review the beer. Beers you have favorited will appear at the top of the beer list under Favorites. Reviewing the beer lets you rate it on a 5-star scale and allows you to make notes about it. As far as I can tell, the notes are for your own benefit and can't be seen by others. If you review a beer, your notes will appear as part of the beer's description. This feature requires a DigitalPour account and you will be prompted to create one the first time you try to review a beer.
Overall, the DigitalPour app is the most accessible and straightforward of the two apps reviewed here. The only issues you may encounter are a few non-essential unlabeled items and some focus issues when navigating a list of beers or venues.
Untappd is primarily a social media app for beer, but it also includes beer menus and, unlike DigitalPour, bottle and can lists. The primary use of Untappd is to check-in the beers that you try. You can rate them, take photos of them, and comment on the beer. When you add friends, you can see what beers they are trying and toast (similar to a Like in other social media apps) and comment on their check-ins. Another benefit of checking in beers is that you earn badges for doing so. For example, if you check-in five beers that have an ABV above 5% but below 10%, you will earn the "Middle of the Road" badge. There are nearly 12,000 badges available and the developers are constantly adding more.
Untappd also collects and offers information about venues. Verified venues generally provide their beer menus through the app. You can follow a venue to learn about any new beers added to their menu or events that they will be hosting. In these cases, Untappd will send you a notification alerting you to any menu or event additions.
Getting Started with Untappd
To use the Untappd app, you will need to set up an account. At the time of writing, it is not possible to do this accessibly through the app, as it's impossible to select your birth date using VoiceOver. Fortunately, you can set up an account through the website, where the entire process is accessible. You'll need to complete a captcha, but an audio version is available. You can also choose to use your Facebook account instead of creating a specific Untappd account. Note that if you aren't going to be checking in beers and do not want to create an account, you can look up venues online and see their menus without the need to use the app at all. The only downside to this approach is that you'll encounter many more blank spaces, such as between the name of the brewery and the size/type of container in which the beer is served.
Once you have your account, you can sign in to the app. Before completing the sign-in process, you will need to cycle through a couple of introduction screens that discuss the features of Untappd while also choosing if Untappd can use your location and send you notifications. These screens are where you will find the most serious access issue with this app. Frequently, pop-up windows will not keep VoiceOver from seeing the content below, meaning that you will need to explore the screen by touch to find the needed information and buttons to close the pop-up. This can be frustrating, but after a short amount of time I found that exploring the screen to read and interact with these windows was second nature.
Tabs in Untappd
As mentioned previously, there are many features in Untappd. This article aims to provide information on accessing beer menus, so this is where our focus will be primarily, but I will also briefly discuss the other features of the app.
When you first sign in to the app, you will be on the Discover tab, the third of the five tabs in the app. Like most iOS apps, the tabs in Untappd are situated at the bottom of the screen. I'll be describing each tab, from left to right.
The Activity tab shows beers that have been recently checked in. At the top of the screen, you can choose to see check-ins by your friends, friends who are checked in nearby, and check-ins from specific groups you belong to. For each check-in, you are given the name of the beer and brewery, rating, and location if selected by the user. Toast and Comment buttons are available for each check-in.
The Maps tab will allow you to find nearby venues. The Map view is the default, but I find that I can only see one venue in this view. At the top of the screen is a search field where you can search by a specific city, state, or zip code. If you swipe left from this field, you will find a button to change to list view. Once in the list view, you can then navigate past the first venue in the list. Verified venues are shown first, followed by those that are not verified. Headings precede each type, so you can navigate directly to the list of regular venues without difficulty if you wish. We will be revisiting this tab later when discussing menus.
The discover tab is where your focus will be when first signing into the app. This tab allows you to search for specific beers and provides a variety of other details that can be helpful. You can see a list of verified venues near to you here as well as nearby events. You can also find local badges here that are associated with a specific venue. Below this information, you will find items that will show you the top and trending beers and venues as well as the global check-in feed from everyone using Untappd. This tab also has a button that will allow you to quickly open the Uber app if you need a ride to, or from, a venue.
Finally, you can see a few beers that are currently recommended at the bottom of this page. One is shown by default, but you can double-tap-and-hold, then slide your finger to see others.
The next tab is the Profile tab. This tab provides the details of your account, including your friends, your beer statistics, the badges you have earned and other details. The Friends button at the top of the screen will list your current friends and allow you to add others while the Settings button will launch the Settings menu. In the Settings menu you can change your profile as well as the notifications that you receive. You can adjust device settings here such as date and time and location. Something else of interest in the General submenu is the Advanced Settings menu. This allows you to choose which tab you will see when launching the app as well as other options including where your focus is placed after checking in a beer.
The final tab is the Inbox tab. Here, you'll find all of your notifications by type. Options include Activity (toasts and comments from friends on your check-ins), Venues (new beers and events from your subscribed venues), and News (nationwide beer news).
Finding A Beer Menu and Checking In a Beer
To find a beer menu, select a verified venue. I generally find the venue from the Maps tab but you can launch a venue's page anywhere you see its name. A venue page has a few sections: venue information at the top, pictures of the venue, and recent check-ins at the venue at the bottom. You can swipe past the venue image and name to find the Menus button or find it directly about half way down the first page on the far left when exploring by touch. At the top of any beer list is a search field where you can search for any part of a beer's name to display only that beer. Below the search field you will find a series of filters including Brewery and Style.
After moving past the list of filters you will find the menus. A heading precedes each section so you can navigate more quickly. Most commonly, bottles and cans will be sorted by style, but some venues design their own categories. Beers on tap will not be sorted by style but will be sorted by tap number instead. The following information is listed in the same order for each beer:
- Beer name
- Serving style/price
Each of these pieces of information is on a separate line, so I find it most helpful to adjust my VoiceOver Rotor to Images and then navigate since only the beer name and rating have images. This is much faster than swiping through all of that information for each beer. You can activate the More button just after the ABV/IBU to see flavor notes, find the beer at a venue near to you, and check the beer in. You can activate the beer name to see the same menu.
When you move to a beer's page as described previously, one of the options will be check-in. When you activate this button, you will be placed in an overlay containing check-in options. I find that I need to navigate by exploring with one finger until I find the horizontal radio buttons for rating the beer, whereupon I then swipe to the other aspects of the check-in overlay. As you swipe through the overlay, you can choose various aspects of your check-in. At the top you will find a comment field and a button to add a photo of your beer followed by the horizontal rating radio buttons that range from No Rating to 5 in quarter-star increments. After this, you can select the serving style followed by a button that allows you to tag your friends in your check-in. Next, you select the venue where you drank the beer; generally this will be a restaurant or bar, but you can select anything from coffee shops to law offices; the list doesn't seem to be filtered. Below this, you can select specific flavors that you noticed in the beer followed by the purchase location. Finally, you can share your check-in on Twitter, Facebook, or 4Square. After the share buttons you will find the button to check-in the beer.
After a beer is checked in, you will almost always earn a badge for doing so. This will appear as a separate pop-up window. Find the Close All Cards button in the bottom right of the screen to close this.
Untappd is much more complex than DigitalPour and requires more skill with VoiceOver. That being said, after you pass the hurdle of signing up for an account, the app has almost everything labeled and it is fairly easy to quickly find a beer menu if you are comfortable using the different Rotor options available to you when using the app.
A Note on Wine Menu Apps
I had hoped to be able to profile a similar app to the two discussed for those who prefer wine, but the only two I could find, Vivino and My Wine Society, had significant accessibility issues after I signed up for my account. The Vivino app aims to allow you to scan a bottle of wine or a wine list and provide more information about the wine or wines. Unfortunately, I was not able to accurately scan a wine list even after working my way through the app's inaccessibility. At this time you would most likely need sighted confirmation for any wines you scan from a wine list, defeating the purpose for someone who has vision loss. If you are a wine connoisseur it still may be of interest as it is possible to search for and purchase wines from the app. From my brief look at this aspect of the app, it seemed to be mostly usable.
My Wine Society is somewhat similar to Untappd as it is more of a wine social network, though it does seem to have a method for finding local wine lists. After signing up for the app, I was able to find the Places tab in the far right corner of the main page. I was able to search for locations. It seems that the app primarily provides information on specific wineries. I examined several different wineries, though none had wine lists available in the app that I could determine. Tabs in this app are arranged across the bottom of the screen but appear as plain text. In addition, there are many unlabeled elements in this app. If you are looking for wine menus, it may be worth a quick look to determine if any lists are available in your area.
The Bottom Line
Both DigitalPour and Untappd are usable, but both have some access quirks. I always check DigitalPour first due to its ease of use, but it seems that there are far more Untappd locations available with menus. Even if an Untappd location does not have a menu, you can generally discover a few of their offerings based on what others have checked in at the location (all check-ins are dated). I've also found that checking in beers and earning badges using Untappd is quite addictive. Unfortunately, it seems that access to wine menus through an app is less common and the apps that are available are far less accessible than their beer menu counterparts.
This article is made possible in part by generous funding from the James H. and Alice Teubert Charitable Trust, Huntington, West Virginia.