Pintley, a MassChallenge Finalist, Looks to Turn Beer Industry On Its Head With Social Apps

I don’t like playing favorites. I just really like beer. Especially after this weekend. But enough about me.

A couple of weeks ago, I got to chat with Tim Noetzel, the co-founder of Pintley, a Boston-based beer website that provides personalized recommendations, tasting notes, and a social community. Pintley is a participant in this year’s MassChallenge startup accelerator, and it is one of 26 companies in contention for $1 million in prizes (divided among several winners), to be awarded tonight at the program’s closing ceremony in South Boston.

So, apropos of nothing, I wanted to provide a quick sketch of Pintley’s story. Noetzel is a Tufts University grad who studied abroad in Germany during his junior year. Not too surprisingly, he fell in love with the beer culture there. When he came back to Boston, he started Pintley as a hobby with his childhood friend, Shannon Hicks. (They grew up together in the suburbs of Chicago.)

Pintley opened to the public in July 2010, as a site where consumers could sign up and rate beers and discover microbrews. The company has since rolled out an iPhone app and social features including a news feed and monthly prizes for people in the Pintley community who share recommendations with friends on Facebook, Twitter, and other social sites. So, as you might guess, it’s more than just a consumer app.

In fact, Pintley is trying to change “how beer is marketed and sold,” says Noetzel (and yes, he’s a home brewer). “Consumers are demanding much more variety. They want products tailored to their tastes.” He adds, “The availability of social media means the advertising game is really changing.”

The company is working with a range of businesses, from small craft brewers up through established breweries such as Great Divide and well-known companies like Samuel Adams. The idea is to help brewers reach more customers, Noetzel says, as well as put “smaller brands on more even footing with big brands.” Pintley is trying to do this by helping brewers build word-of-mouth campaigns that take “people who love your product and make them advocates,” he says.

That’s an ambitious and popular goal, of course. There are tons of other beer sites and apps out there, ranging from local search and discovery (Tap Hunter) to recommendations and social features (BrewGene) to just plain silly but entertaining (iBeer). But if Pintley can carve out its niche and build some traction, it could gain the leverage it needs to get more paying brewers involved.

Meantime, we’ll be watching to see how Pintley and the other MassChallenge finalists do tonight. (Drync, another finalist, specializes in wine search and discovery, so there’s a mini-theme here.) Truth be told, we’ll probably be knocking back a few too, along with the rest of the startup community. Good luck to all tonight.

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