“Here’s the deal. I’m the best there is. Plain and simple. I wake up in the morning and I piss excellence.”
– Ricky Bobby in Talladega Nights
Curiously, RateBeer decided not to rank their “best beers” in order from top to bottom – as far as I can tell the first time they’ve ever decided to go this route. The only other change over the years has been switching between ranking the top 50 and top 100.
So while we may not get to find out which imperial stout undoubtedly gave Westy 12 a run for its money in 2013, we at least have an idea of what RateBeer voters liked the most. No surprise, it’s a lot of big stouts and IPAs, with the occasional quad and barleywine thrown in for good measure. However, if you recall, there is a changing palate for beers of lesser heft, including some saisons, lambics and more.
This year’s list got me thinking, courtesy of a post over on Fuj on Tap, where The Fuj ponders Upstate New York’s place among the list. Or rather in this year’s iteration, it’s lack thereof despite the presence of many US-based brews.
As a native of that region I had particular interest and it got me to thinking … is it the manifest destiny of American breweries to become a hegemony of the RateBeer “best beer” lists?
At the current status of the American beer culture, our beer and breweries are tailored to make a run at the best beer list. Glance at the best beer by style and you’ll see. Big stouts and IPAs – styles that perform best on the overall best beer lists – are dominated by US breweries.
But before we get into that, there’s this…
Here are percentages of American beers represented on RateBeer’s “best of” lists in the past five years. I use percentages because in 2012 and 2013 only 50 beers were listed, with 100 the other three:
There’s a nice bump going into the latest list which is buoyed by a high of 82 American beers out of a total 100.
We know that historically, the highest performing beers on these lists are imperial stouts and big IPAs, even if that trend is slowly changing. So when we think of BIG BEERS, what country do you think of? For me, it’s America, where we go hard or go home, hopefully with a designated driver. The study of RateBeer’s top 20 beers also shows a growing trend toward American breweries.
If beer raters are swayed by high ABV stouts and hopped-up IPAs, American streets are paved with barley and lupulin. Which is why as the number of American breweries continues to grow, there is even greater potential to dominate these ratings.
Don’t just think these lists are swayed by pure patriotism, either. RateBeer admits that a “majority” of reviewers are American, but currently, only 31 of the top 100 most-active users hail from United States. There is certainly bias with the rankings thanks to beer distribution and geography of raters, but it’s also important to consider something like Zymurgy’s “best beer in America” voting, in which American voters across the country have picked Pliny the Elder as the best beer five years in a row – despite the fact the beer is only distributed to a few West Coast states.
Yes, places like Hill Farmstead provide an assortment of artisan ales and session IPAs are all the rage, but while these are beers are highly regarded, they still don’t play well into the RateBeer hierarchy of “best beers.” Maybe it’s as simple as them not being “special” or rare enough. Either way, it’s just what the numbers tell me.
With America’s established breweries already knocking out high-ranking stouts and IPAs, all those new breweries opening up across the country are following in their footsteps. By my count, eight new US breweries are included on this year’s RateBeer list, producing 10 beers: four imperial stouts, two big IPAs and one each of a hoppy pale ale, sour, saison and a porter. The porter only stands out among “typical” RateBeer best beers until you know it’s made by the mad scientists at Funky Buddha and includes white chocolate and coconut.
Which brings me back to the Upstate New York scene. Here’s a portion of my comment on Fuj’s post, where I mention the probability of more New York breweries crashing the RateBeer party:
I expect the drought won’t last forever, especially with Upstate’s slowly growing hop business and state laws that emphasize local biz-to-biz sales of agriculture. Everyone wants to have a big IPA these days, so I’d suspect it’s just a matter of time.
So while 82 percent of this year’s “best beer” list seems pretty damned high given the phenomenal beer created worldwide, I wonder if that number can’t be pushed higher. But as American breweries continue to influence countries around the world, maybe others are bound to catch up … eventually.
What do you think? Are these “best of” lists destined to be all red, white and blue?
“Don’t drink to get drunk. Drink to enjoy life.” — Jack Kerouac