Digital drinking: learning about alcohol online

The digital age has a lot to answer for – Nigerian email scams, annoying cat videos and social media oversharing are among the invasions our lives could do without – but I remain largely grateful for its influence on our lives.

Why? Because when a customer asks: where can I get that spirit? How’d you find out about that bar, that bottle, that event? The answer is almost always: online.

Sourcing your favourite drop or learning more about it is easier than ever – when you know where to look. You can also save money and time, and connect with fellow enthusiasts all over the world in the process.

Out and about

It is now easier than ever to arrange an evening out with friends or colleagues. Some of us of a certain age may remember what it was like trying to round up a posse of friends on any given evening via the landline phone. The phrase “herding cats” springs to mind. For better or worse, we’re now instantly connected and contactable, and that’s also true in relation to the venues fighting for our patronage.

Often we ‘friend’ or follow our favourite drinking spots, and apps such as The Australian Good Food Guide and Travel Guide can even guide us straight to their doorsteps. And there are many fantastic online publications such as Good Food, Broadsheet and Time Out which devote themselves to unearthing the latest and greatest offerings for their readers.

A digital conversation

Social media has allowed proprietors of more intimate and unique venues to cultivate a conversation with their customers that continues beyond their premise. And if you’re having trouble ordering, there are numerous apps such as Approach Guides Wine, Beer Buddy, Whisky Companion and iMalt that can help you figure out exactly what you’re after.

The way we pay is also changing. As we farewell the credit card signature this week, apps such as Clipp and My Shout are showing us what paying in the future might look like. And if the company credit card’s involved, Expensify allows you to easily scan and save receipts to keep the accounts team happy.

Purchasing power

Purchasing that perfect bottle is now immeasurably easier than in years gone by. The vast majority of us still head to the bottle shop, but often the people manning your local retailer couldn’t tell you the difference between a Port and a Port Ellen.

But you don’t need to lug around your favourite booze writer’s tome when unsure of what to buy. Many of the best wine, spirits and beer writers now have apps that provide you with instant reviews of thousands of products. Price comparison websites such as Boozle and Getprice are another handy option to ensure you’re not paying too much.

The online retailer

Apart from the many online clubs out there that utilise bulk ordering to offer cheap deals to their members, online liquor retailers are also incredibly useful. International sites such as Whisky Exchange and Master of Malt offer an incredible range of whisky and spirits from all corners of the world. But personally importing alcohol into Australia is a veritable nightmare once Customs stings you for taxes, freight costs and authenticity documents.

Thankfully, online Australian retailers can help you avoid the hassle. The various online stores owned by market crushers Wesfarmers and Woolworths will give you great value for money, as will purchasing direct from producers through sites such as From The Producer.

But if you’re after something a bit more intriguing and hard to come by, Vintage Direct - the online retail site for Nicks Wine Merchants - is probably the best Australian site for wine and spirits. Reasonably priced, and stocking numerous rare and hard-to-find bottlings, it delivers anywhere within Australia at affordable rates.

There are also recent start-ups such as Vinomofo which represent a new challenge to traditional retailers, with a more curated and progressive approach. If you join their vast online tribe you can get amazing deals on indie and established Australian wines. Andre Eikmeier, co-founder and joint CEO of Vinomofo, told me that people are starting to embrace the online retail space in a serious way.

“We're seeing online continue to grow. Everyone is, even the major retailers. There’s better value, generally a better selection, and convenience – ordering from the office, or lounge room, on your mobile, anywhere,” he says.

So what does the future look like? “The future is about blending the online and physical experience, so that customers can choose if they feel like going into a store, or ordering online.”

Or make your own

Fancy creating your own booze? Australians are increasingly home-crafting their own tipples, and there are numerous websites and online videos to help you through all the inevitable stuff-ups. And whether you produce your own beer, cider, wine or get down to some sneaky distilling, you can access invaluable forums that connect you with experts from around the world.

Better value, better informed, better booze. Get online and find the stuff you enjoy, and spend more of your time enjoying it.

What apps and websites do you use to get the best information and deals?

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