Club W: Oversimplified Recommendation Engines

The secret to advertising a product is to make lives better or easier. Or do the same thing cheaper. So when it comes to selling wine, Club W takes the approach of making it easier to pick out a wine you like. Their concept is pretty simple. They ask you a handful of questions about your food preferences, and match your answers up to types of wine. Of course, there is a timer counting down until your new customer discount expires, just for some extra urgency.


I gave it a shot, as I know enough about wine to know which varietals I like and can generally pick out a good bottle in the store. But there’s far more I don’t know, and would love to explore new regions, grapes, etc.

Here’s some of their suggestions:


By way of comparison, here’s what recommends for me – based on my shopping habits:



If you don’t know anything about wine, that’s okay. Essentially Club W suggested I get fruit punch and suggested bourbon. of course has it more accurate, as their suggestions are simply based on products that other customers viewed after viewing the same products I did. I really like big reds, so they suggested more of the same. I do not like sweet wines, fruity whites or light red blends. But apparently because I enjoy oranges and don’t eat mushrooms (it’s mostly texture), I must like bright and sweet wines.

Sorry Club W, you’ve got it wrong. Maybe the bulk of people will find this system to work to their benefit. But I’d guess not, as I’m already seeing this trend of curating products based on lifestyle or semi-related surveys dying off.

I’d love a compromise and maybe give people questions about basic types of wine to narrow down favorites. Most people know the major characteristics if you give quick definitions (e.g. acidity makes the side of your tongue tingle). Everyone knows red vs white and has a general idea of sweet vs dry. Maybe such a recommendation engine exists. I suspect it involves going back to my local wine shop and talking to the employees.

Improving Restaurant Reviews with Basic Data Visualization

Like many, I rely on various restaurant review sites before making a decision to try a new eatery.  However, every major site has a huge flaw.  They aggregate ratings throughout the history of the restaurant.


This would be fine if restaurants were run by robots and immune to changes in staff and quality over time.  It also doesn’t take into account that as a culture, our opinions change.  Trends die, better options come to town, what was universally great years ago may be average or worse today.

So the place above, seems like a reasonable choice with an 84% approval rating.  However, if you dig into reviews, there are many people saying the restaurant has gone down hill over the past year or so.

But you can’t gather that quickly, especially from your phone.  So how can we fix this?

With very very basic data visualization.  Here’s an example of what’s possible:

improved review1

This has a lot of implications.

  1. As consumers, we have solved the “restaurant going downhill” problem I outlined above.
  2. Anyone can spot someone trying to cheat the system (ie – getting all your friends to post positive reviews of your business at one time)
  3. Business owners can fairly easily judge the customer feedback on various promotions (the Groupon note pointed out in the screen shot)
  4. Owners have additional external pressure to turn around a struggling business, and their potential customers can actually see when changes have had a positive impact, rather than letting past mistakes continually haunt.

Taking it a tiny step further – I always get annoyed by the list of restaurant details with simply “yes/no” type items.  Seemingly everything outside of the snootiest joints on Yelp say “casual” attire, even if you’re expected to show up with nice pants and a tie.  We could use, again, very simple visualizations to help people.


As you can tell from my examples, data visualization is not a strength of mine.  But a bigger takeaway is that this can be done very simply and provide a lot of value for the consumer.  I’d love to see review sites attempt to go this route.

Beer Quest

I’m going for 200 different beers at my local Flying Saucer before moving away the end of March.  I started in December.  Here’s the progress:

512 Cascabel Cream Stout (CASK) (draught)
512 IPA (draught)
512 IPA (CASK) (draught)
512 Pale (draught)
512 Pecan Porter (draught)
512 Pecan Porter (CASK) (draught)
Abbey de Leffe Blond (BTL) (bottled)
Abita Amber (draught)
Abita Purple Haze (BTL) (bottled)
Abita Rootbeer (BTL) (bottled)
Adelberts Scratchin Hippo (draught)
Anchor Brekle’s Brown (BTL) (bottled)
Anchor Porter (BTL) (bottled)
Anchor Steam (BTL) (bottled)
Austin Beerworks Battle Axe (draught)
Austin Beerworks Fire Eagle IPA (draught)
Austin Beerworks Peacemaker Extra Pale Ale (CAN) (bottled)
Austin Beerworks Pearl Snap Pils (CAN) (bottled)
Avery Collaboration Not Litigation (draught)
Avery Ellie’s Brown Ale (BTL) (bottled)
Avery Joe’s Premium American Pilsner (draught)
Avery Maharaja (draught)
Avery Mephistopheles (BTL) (bottled)
Avery Old Jubilation (draught)
Avery White Rascal (draught)
Bear Republic Racer Five (draught)
Belhaven Scottish Ale (draught)
Belhaven Twisted Thistle (BTL) (bottled)
Belhaven Wee Heavy (BTL) (bottled)
Big Sky IPA (BTL) (bottled)
Big Sky Moose Drool (draught)
Big Sky Trout Slayer Ale (CAN) (0)
Blackthorn Cider (CAN) (bottled)
Blanche De Bruxelles (draught)
Boddingtons (draught)
Bosteels Tripel Karmeliet (draught)
Breckenridge 471 Imperial IPA (draught)
Breckenridge 72 Imperial (draught)
Breckenridge Agave Wheat (BTL) (bottled)
Breckenridge Avalanche (draught)
Breckenridge Christmas (BTL) (bottled)
Breckenridge Lucky U IPA (BTL) (bottled)
Breckenridge Pandoras Bock (BTL) (bottled)
Breckenridge Thunder Stout (draught)
Breckenridge Vanilla Porter (draught)
Brooklyn Brown (draught)
Brooklyn Lager (draught)
Brooklyn Lager (BTL) (bottled)
Brooklyn The Companion (draught)
Brooklyn Winter Ale (draught)
Chocolate Truffle (draught)
Circle Nameless (draught)
Circle Nightlight (draught)
Clown Shoes Tramp Stamp (draught)
Crispin Hard Apple Cider (draught)
Deschutes Black Butte Porter (draught)
Deschutes Fresh Hop Mirror Pond (draught)
Deschutes Hop Henge IPA (draught)
Deschutes Jubelale (draught)
Deschutes The Stoic (draught)
Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPA (draught)
Dogfish Head Aprihop (draught)
Dogfish Head Indian Brown (BTL) (bottled)
Duvel Single (draught)
Franconia Kolsch (draught)
Full Sail Session Black (BTL) (bottled)
Great Divide Fresh Hop (draught)
Great Divide Nomad (BTL) (bottled)
Green Flash Hop Head Red (BTL) (bottled)
Green Flash Rayon Vert (BTL) (bottled)
Green Flash West Coast IPA (draught)
Guinness Draught (draught)
Hoegaarden White (BTL) (bottled)
Hofbrau Dunkel (draught)
Hops and Grain Alt-eration (draught)
Hops and Grain Pale Dog (draught)
Houblon Chouffe Dobbelen IPA (draught)
Independence Austin Amber (draught)
Independence Convict Hill Oatmeal Stout (draught)
Independence Stash IPA (draught)
Karbach Hopadillo IPA (draught)
Konig Pilsner (draught)
Kostritzer Schwarzbier (draught)
Lagunitas A Little Sumpin’ Sumpin’ Ale (BTL) (bottled)
Lagunitas Cappuccino Stout (draught)
Lagunitas IPA (draught)
Lagunitas Imperial Stout (BTL) (bottled)
Lagunitas Maximus (draught)
Lagunitas Sucks Holiday Ale (draught)
Left Hand Fade to Black Vol 3 (draught)
Left Hand Milk Stout (draught)
Left Hand Sawtooth ESB (draught)
Lindemans Framboise (draught)
Live Oak Big Bark Amber (draught)
Live Oak Hefe-Weizen (draught)
Live Oak Liberation (draught)
Live Oak Primus (draught)
Murphys Irish Red (BTL) (bottled)
Napa Smith Organic IPA (draught)
Napa Smith Organic IPA (BTL) (bottled)
New Belgium 1554 (draught)
New Belgium Belgo IPA (draught)
New Belgium Fat Tire (draught)
New Belgium Fat Tire (CAN) (bottled)
Newcastle Brown Ale (draught)
North Coast Brother Thelonious (draught)
North Coast Old Rasputin (draught)
North Coast Red Seal (CASK) (draught)
North Coast Scrimshaw Pilsner (draught)
Ommegang Rare Vos (draught)
Ommegang Three Philosophers (draught)
Oskar Blues Dales Pale Ale (draught)
Oskar Blues Dales Pale Ale (CAN) (bottled)
Oskar Blues G’Knight (draught)
Oskar Blues Old Chub (draught)
Oskar Blues Ten FIDY (draught)
Paulaner Hefe-Weizen (BTL) (bottled)
Paulaner Oktoberfest (draught)
Pilsner Urquell (BTL) (bottled)
Pyramid Apricot (BTL) (bottled)
Ranger Creek Oatmeal Pale Ale (draught)
Ranger Creek Saison Oscura (draught)
Real Ale Fireman #4 (draught)
Real Ale Full Moon Rye (draught)
Real Ale Full Moon Rye (BTL) (bottled)
Real Ale Lost Gold IPA (BTL) (bottled)
Real Ale Rio Blanco Pale Ale (BTL) (bottled)
Real Ale Shade Grown Coffee Porter (draught)
Rogue Dead Guy (BTL) (bottled)
Saint Arnold Christmas (BTL) (bottled)
Saint Arnold Divine Reserve #10 (draught)
Saint Arnold Endeavour (draught)
Saint Arnold Root Beer (BTL) (bottled)
Saint Arnold Weedwacker (draught)
Saint Arnold Winter Stout (draught)
Sam Adams Boston Lager (BTL) (bottled)
Samuel Smith Organic Lager (BTL) (bottled)
Sierra Nevada Celebration (draught)
Sierra Nevada Ovila Quad (draught)
Sierra Nevada Pale Ale (draught)
Sierra Nevada Pale Ale (BTL) (bottled)
Sierra Nevada Ruthless Rye IPA (draught)
Sierra Nevada Ruthless Rye IPA (BTL) (bottled)
Sierra Nevada Torpedo IPA (draught)
Sierra Nevada Torpedo IPA (BTL) (bottled)
Ska Modus Hoperandi (CAN) (bottled)
Ska Pinstripe Red (draught)
Southern Star Buried Hatchet Stout (draught)
Spaten Dunkel (BTL) (bottled)
Spaten Franziskaner Dunkel Weisse (draught)
Spaten Franziskaner Hefe-Weiss (draught)
Spaten Lager (draught)
Spaten Oktoberfest (BTL) (bottled)
Spaten Optimator (draught)
Stella Artois (draught)
Stone Arrogant Bastard Ale (BTL) (bottled)
Stone IPA (draught)
Stone Ruination IPA (BTL) (bottled)
Strongbow Cider (CAN) (bottled)
Thirsty Planet Bucket Head IPA (draught)
Trumer Pils (BTL) (bottled)
Twisted X Fuego (draught)
Victory Golden Monkey (draught)
Victory Storm King (draught)
Wells Bombardier Bitter (draught)
Woodchuck Amber (draught)
Woodchuck Amber (BTL) (bottled)
Woodchuck Granny Smith (draught)
Woodchuck Winter (BTL) (bottled)


Dogfish Head World Wide Stout

Well worth $8 for a 12oz bottle. Dead serious.

New favorite brewery

I’m currently finishing off a 6 pack of the Octoberfest from Central Waters Brewery.  It’s not my favorite Octoberfest (it’s kind of a foggy orange color, very light/thin with a toasty/nutty flavor – quite tasty but a departure from a typical Octoberfest beer), but I still rather like it.  I’ve had as many beers as I can find from Central Waters and I’ve decided they are one of my favorite breweries.  Yes, other breweries make fantastic beers, but to be a favorite brewery I want to be able to pick up nearly any of your products and enjoy it.  I think they bumped Dogfish Head out of my top 3 (I’d put it at 1. Bells, 2. Laguinitas 3. Central Waters).  Try their Glacial Trail IPA, it’s my favorite of what I’ve had from Central Waters so far.  Oh and they’re in Wisconsin too!