This post is going to piss people off.
I’m aware of this even as I begin writing, because I know that at least some of the folks who read it are going to be unable to disassociate my condemnation of a brewery’s website from condemnation of the brewery itself. To those people, I can only shrug in a semi-defeated, exasperated sort of way, and suggest that maybe you’re missing the point.
As I covered in the preceding post on what makes a “good” brewery website, I personally believe an ale factory’s web presence is its single most important public face, particularly if it’s a brewery serving a larger area than just one city or community. Small brewpubs can more easily afford to have a bad web presence if they’re able to connect with their target customers on a face-to-face basis, but if you’re trying to reach people the next state over who aren’t likely to be visiting anytime soon, your website, as a business, is going to be the first place a curious person will search for information. In 2011, this is a fact.
It’s shocking, then, how many brewery websites straight-up fail to give any of the necessary information that a business site should offer—like a list of the beers you make, for instance. Others contain other sorts of failings, from being straight-up annoying or ugly as sin* to being frightfully out of date. Many breweries these days have turned to social media to make up for these failings, participating actively on their Facebook or Twitter accounts and posting news updates there. This is a step in the right direction and a good thing overall, but it still doesn’t make up for a website that fails otherwise. Ideally, a brewery is able to embrace all aspects of its web presence, but at the very least it needs to offer the kinds of basic information I defined in my last post. Customers should leave your site having found exactly what they were looking for—anything less can be improved upon.
*Even to someone with absolutely no design experience whatsoever, like me.
I wouldn’t just say these things without giving examples, however. As such, I put together this list, which is NOT meant to be a “top 10.” It would be impossible to search through every site out there, and equally impossible to objectively decide which gaffes are the worst. As such, I’m not even going to try to number them. These are just the sites that, in my search, really made me cringe and contained easy-to-point-out issues. I’ll remind you one more time that this is in no way a reflection upon the quality of the brewery or the BEER ITSELF, but simply a commentary on each brewery’s attempt to market itself online, and perhaps a reason or two why they’d be better served with a newly revamped web presence. If you still feel the need to rage in the comments about these “attacks” on a brewery or brewpub you happen to enjoy, then by all means, feel free.
So without further ado…
I decided to start off with Two Brothers because they’re a successful brewery I actually love quite a bit, and I wanted to show just how independent these terrible websites can be from the quality beer being brewed. As I said, I love Two Brothers beers like Cane and Ebel and Domaine DuPage. It’s also the closest full-time production brewery to my hometown, and I share my alma mater with founders Jim and Jason Ebel. With that said…their website blows, and moreover, they KNOW it blows.
You know that things are all wrong when you hit the main splash page and it looks like something from the mid 1990s. The other pages are accessible via little buttons in what is a very awkward system, owing to the fact that this website has been largely without significant updates for years. Case in point: The first illustration in this post, which is pulled directly from the “artisan beers” page, listing the “upcoming” beers for FREAKING 2009. This is something written in early 2009. It is now almost 2012, a full three years later. That should not be able to happen. In the last few years, they’ve done significantly better giving out information on their Facebook page, but it still isn’t enough, and announcements fall through the cracks all the time, even as dozens of fans just like me continuously leave messages on the Facebook wall, asking “When are you guys getting a new website?” I’ve even seen people offering to build Two Brothers a new site for free. It’s become something of a running joke.
In truth, the reticence of Two Brothers to create a new site or update the current, awful model is inscrutable but understandable at the same time. Inscrutable because they routinely go to the trouble to do other things online, like create a modern, functional site for the yearly “Hop Juice Fest,” but understandable because their widespread success and max-capacity brewing has likely convinced them there’s just no reason to bother with it. Personally, I believe the ability to actually track down up-to-date information on Two Brothers products would be a worthwhile reason for these guys to get their act together.
Here’s one that, upon first inspection, doesn’t look bad. It’s got an interesting aesthetic, at least. But then you start clicking around, and you find a total dearth of useful information. How many beers are listed on their brews page? A grand total of three, with no further statistics. Beeradvocate tells me they make at least a dozen, including some VERY popular, very hyped beers like Imperial Stout Trooper, Ghandi-Bot, and 668 Neighbor of the Beast. Does information on these popular beers seem like something you might want on your website? I feel like it would be, but I’m no marketing genius.
The rest of the site is equally vapid. The brewer’s blog hasn’t had an update in about 15 months, has four total posts, and has seemingly been completely abandoned. The events calendar hasn’t had a single event posted since a “secret event” in June of 2010. And I don’t even know what to say about the videos page, which truly has to be seen to be believed.
I’ve never had a brew from these guys because they don’t distribute in Illinois. I hear they’re quite solid, and I’d love to try some. But there’s no denying this site is a disaster.
It kind of hurts my eyes to look at this one. The Microsoft Word Papyrus font is bad enough to look at in small doses, but my god, the ENTIRE WEBSITE? Huge blocks of text, all in Papyrus? Really? This is a font so annoying that even the man who created it believes it to be completely overused “on every computer in the world.” Actual quote, folks.
Getting beyond the Papyrus, which is admittedly difficult, you have a site that does contain beer listings but has no actual descriptions of those brews beyond the name. I also rather like the ambigiously named “Fun” page, with its haphazard photos and text, and lack of updates from this calendar year.
All in all though, the biggest issues here are aesthetic.
Remember the chief criticisms of the last site? Pretend that I reposted them here, and replace each instance of “Papyrus” with “Comic Sans MS.”
As for the rest, what can I say? From the randomly inconsistent font sizes, styles and colors to the archaic layout or complete lack of information, this is just a bad website. After reading every word on every page of the site, I still don’t know anything about the brewery…except that one of their goals is “to survive.” There’s nothing else to say beyond that; I’ve never had the beers, and beeradvocate seems to think every single one they make besides their amber ale is “retired.” I emailed them out of curiosity to ask about it, and the message was immediately bounced back due to “fatal errors” with the email address listed on the site. What’s that? Another example of internet ineptitude? WHO COULD HAVE PREDICTED IT?!
This site is home to an entirely different bevy of offenses. Whereas a lot of the previous gripes have been in the realm of the visual, this site immediately disgusts in an aural capacity. As in, when you load the home page, you’re treated to a protracted beer pouring sound byte, followed up with a mighty refreshin’-soundin’ “AHHHH.”
Now, if this were a single offense, it would simply be hokey. But no. Click on the page for the brewery’s beers, and you get to listen to the sound again!* In fact, every page has some sort of sound effect when you click onto it. In fact, even moving your cursor over the buttons on the left-hand side produces little glass-clinking sounds, each and every time you do it. This kind of thing is just patently unecessary. Imagine if, in your persusal of Aleheads, you had to endure that kind of thing each time you clicked onto a new post. Brutal.
*On a Chrome browser, it makes the whole pouring sound on every single page when you load it. Seriously.
…the site also kind of looks like it was formed in some sort of Christmas tree explosion, but I digress. Nice attempt at providing information on the beers, at least. And looks like they’ve got some very cheap growlers. If I lived in Alpine, CA, I’d go check it out…and I’d avoid ever accessing the website again.
Another brewery I have heard makes some solid brews, with an incredibly out of date website. And I mean MY GOD. To begin with, right off the bat you’re met with a design that looks like it’s coming from the early days of the internet. But the further you search around, the worse it gets.
Let’s click over to the beers page. I guess they make four beers, total? Except oh, wait, beeradvocate lists 17 current beers. Well, but maybe the lack of beers is by choice and not because it’s out of date, let’s just click over to the “news” page where it has posts about…upcoming beers for April of 2006. April. 2006. That’s right, the most recent news on the site concerning a beer release is a 68-month-old blurb that says ”hey guys, we’re making a scotch ale! Cool, right?” And nothing goes along with old news better than an online shop where you can’t actually buy anything! Or maybe you’re just supposed to mail them a check? I can’t say I know, on account of it’s totally unclear!
I found it so hard to believe that they could have this website as their sole web presence that I even went hunting for an official Facebook, thinking there might be some information there. They don’t have one, or at least one that is used. The best I could do was this equally un-useful Twitter, which immediately directs people…back to the main website, as if that was someplace a person would want to go.
This is a restaurant brewery (I’m fairly certain, anyway) and not a production brewery, but I wanted to use it here as an example of why you don’t allow an art student to put your website together. I would have liked to give you some background on what the hell this place is exactly, but seeing as there’s no information to that effect on the site, I’m at something of a loss. Was there a planning meeting at some point with a whiteboard that looked like this?
♦ Light blue and yellow fonts on a white background. Pages that look like a rainbow was violently ill on them.
♦ Hidden buttons that don’t work on some browsers (try looking at this thing in IE) and things that look like links but aren’t
♦ “About” section on the restaurant
♦ Lots of loadable .pdf attachments for your downloading pleasure
♦ Profiles or information on the beers
♦ Listing of beer names like “Bear’s Choice” that convey no information whatsoever (I presume it’s made with berries and grubs and possibly elk)
♦ Indie rock album artwork
And once again, judging from the two Great American Beer Fest medals they won this year, we can tell that the beer must be pretty good, right? But just imagine…wouldn’t it be nice to actually be able to read about those two medal-winning beers on the website? That seems like it would be nice to me, but I’ve been wrong before.
Alright, this one is the “overproduced” and “overbusy” way to go about things. Compared to some of these websites, it’s a beautiful and carefully wrought gem, but it still annoys the hell out of me when I have to visit a site of this nature. The second I’m dropped into the sprawling, out-of-control mess of flash art that is the homepage, I want to run.
Look, people on the internet have short attention spans. Some 98 percent of the people who began reading this post have already found much more entertaining things to do before reaching this point. Your website can’t just drop people into a world of buildings, speeding cabs and tiny tabs sprinkled liberally throughout the background, it’s got to actually get something done. When I land on a page like this, my first impression is to leave. They’re in the same boat that Magic Hat’s websites have usually been in—overly cutesy.
Thankfully, most of the information you’re seeking is actually available through the site’s top tabs, and there are even bonus features like videos, recipes, etc. There’s a lot of good to be salvaged here. However, I can NOT say that about a site like this next one…
This, my friends, is hell. I saved two of the very worst sites for last. I don’t care if you’ve spent the entire rest of this post frothing with rage and preparing to hurl your feces at me, you can NOT deny that this is some messed up stuff, right here.
Krash Brewery is purportedly a production brewery in Riverside, CA. Beeradvocate confirms that they do in fact exist, and their beers have been reviewed before…poorly. I get the impression they probably don’t exist anymore, but it’s impossible to tell.
As for the website, it’s a complete mess, almost coming off as some sort of experiment in irritation. Somehow this doesn’t seem entirely implausible, given that one of the creators apparently had a degree in “Science.”
From the launch page, we have the following:
♦ Buttons that make great metallic “kling” noises every time they’re touched.
♦ A list of “flavors” (meaning the beers) that includes a stout I presume either never got to beeradvocate or was never actually made.
♦ A “team” page with the two admins, both of whom even listed their cell phone numbers–or they both listed the same number for some reason, anyway. Great! I called twice for good luck, hoping some information might be had. The number was disconnected, but oddly suggested that it had been changed to a new number that was then provided. That number…was also disconnected.
♦ “Media” and “Store” buttons that both make delightful CO2 sounds when hit, and do nothing else, because they’re dead links. Try it, it’s fun!
♦ An “About” page that references the aforementioned degree in Science, as well as providing links to Facebook and Twitter accounts that–wait for it–don’t go anywhere, because they’re dead links as well.
I was curious to see if there actually were Facebook and twitter pages out there, and found that yes, there are. The Facebook was last updated two years ago, but thankfully it does make its intentions clear to make “the best beer in the world.” The Twitter account nearly got into double digits before it too was abandoned in the spring of 2010.
Right, then. In all seriousness, I have to assume that this brewery simply folded without bothering to offer any explanation or official notice on their website, Facebook or Twitter account. Hell, I hope to hell that’s what happened. Because if this place is somehow still operating, then we all as a collective have to find the people operating it and get them to pen a book titled “How to Run a Successful Business While Utterly Failing in Every Possible Aspect of Internet Marketing.”
In the past, we have not been kind to Butternuts on this site. This is not about to change. The Butternuts site is truly abominable. From the automatically playing “Fanfare for the Common Man” that I immediately turned off upon loading it, to the complete and utter lack of a single tab to explain where information is located, it’s just well and truly awful. In fact, despite this post not being an abject ranking of “worst” sites in any way, I’m prepared to say that Butternuts is indeed the worst, and I will fight any man who says differently as if my life depended on it. In my book, the childishness here is worse than the incompetence of Krash Brewery, more irritating than the sound effects of Alpine Beer Company and more negligent than the out-of-dateness of Duck Rabbit, all rolled into one.
We’re presented with…a barn. On a pond. Mouse over the barn and suddenly things come ALIVE, and by “things” I essentially mean “stupid noises.” Click on the left barn door and a smiling cow will tiptoe forth making 1940s Looney Tunes sounds, only to be struck by lightning. We’re then provided with a beer profile. Of course, there was no way of knowing that this particular click would have this result—instead, it is apparent that the plan is for people to just click around the Butternut site at random until landing somewhere vaugely reminiscient of where they were attempting to go. It’s a little like navigating the site for a brewery like Paulaner, with the slight proviso that you don’t, you know…speak German, or anything.
Seriously, though, this site is as offensively bad as I can ever imagine a brewery website being. It’s loaded with irritating sound effects that I’m fairly certain were lifted directly from a stock soundboard labeled “Wacky Trackz.” The “about” segment is loadable by clicking on an outhouse, wherein resides a man experiencing severe intestinal difficulties. The “news” page has apparently never been updated a single time since the site launched. This is real stuff, folks. Real, depressing stuff. Blowing my mind is the realization that somewhere out there, there is probably a guy who thinks this was all a good idea.
HONORABLE MENTION: “Self-Awareness Award”
Overall, the Voodoo site is actually significantly worse than many of the other sites in this post, but I have to give them a tip of the hat for the following they posted on the site:
“By the way I brew beer not websites, nor can I spell or type, so be critical of the beer not the website.”
*Shrug*, at least he knows it’s bad, right? I have to respect his self-awareness of the site’s ugly nature*…and also of his own gramattical prowess.
*Seriously, what is going on with all the different text sizes and colors? I’m very confused.
That’s it, folks! My god, this post took a while to put together. I feel bad to have kept it from you so long. I know you’ve all probably been waiting, crouched in the bushes, ready to pounce and point out things I’ve already admitted, like the fact that I’m not a graphic designer. But still, might as well embrace the inevitable! First person to write “STFU, what does a website matter if the beer is good?” in the comments will win a fabulous prize, to be decided later by me, at my convenience.
See you next time!