The Big Beer Impact: Does ABV Influence Rankings?

Brass_scales_abvWhat’s beer without alcohol?

Perhaps more precise, what’s a top-ranked beer without high ABV?

Not much, perhaps.

If you love beer and have glanced at rankings from sites like Beer Advocate, you’ve probably noticed a certain trend: beers with higher alcohol content tend to win over drinkers pretty easily. Pack a punch with an imperial stout or IPA and there’s a chance it’s going to be a hit. In fact, some research has proven a direct connection between ABV and better ratings of beers.

In all my work with Beer Advocate’s rankings, I knew it was pivotal to address the 300 pound (or is that three-lettered) gorilla in the room. While we previously addressed the collection of styles and makeup of Beer Advocate’s “best of” rankings by state, now it’s time to really delve into the numbers.

(Editor’s note: for the sake of space, I’m hyperlinking lists in this post so not to create a post that scrolls on forever.)

To start, here’s a list of all 51 locations in descending order of average ABV, as determined by each state’s top-10 “best” beers. I recommend looking at the whole list, but for our TL;DR crowd, here are the top 10 states:

State ABV
California 11.18
Delaware 11.174
Alaska 11.08
Massachusetts 10.1
Utah 10.081
Indiana 10.056
Oklahoma 9.95
Illinois 9.94
Oregon 9.74
Missouri 9.65

I didn’t expect to see Missouri or Utah on that list, but the higher-octane brews of Perennial and Boulevard do the trick for The Show Me State while Uinta helps push Utah’s average above 10 percent ABV.

Russian River’s Plinys (both Younger and Elder) thrust California upward, but it’s The Bruery’s Black Tuesday (19.2 percent) and Chocolate Rain (18.5 percent) that propel them to the top.

But perhaps what’s most curious to me is questioning whether there’s a correlation between ABV and rankings.

You’re welcome to peek at this list, which shows state ABV and weighted ranking (WR), but may prefer this one, which shows ABV in-line with WR for each state.. You can also reference this guide on Beer Advocate that talks about their ranking system.

But for the sake of ease, let’s look at two things: where a state ranks in its placement of ABV against WR.

Here are the top-25 locations, ordered by ABV, followed by where they rank (1 to 51) by the average weighted score of a state’s top-10 beers. California has both the highest average ABV and WR, while Delaware is second-highest average ABV but 27th average WR and so on:

State ABV WR Ranking
California 1 1
Delaware 2 27
Alaska 3 15
Massachusetts 4 14
Utah 5 32
Indiana 6 7
Oklahoma 7 20
Illinois 8 6
Oregon 9 9
Missouri 10 18
Colorado 11 12
Virginia 12 23
Michigan 13 5
New York 14 24
New Jersey 15 22
Kentucky 16 36
Pennsylvania 17 25
Florida 18 3
New Hampshire 19 31
Idaho 20 39
North Carolina 21 16
Iowa 22 4
Ohio 23 8
Alabama 24 33
Georgia 25 34

Now here’s the bottom-26:

State ABV WR Ranking
Vermont 26 2
Maryland 27 28
Maine 28 21
Washington 29 19
Nevada 30 43
Connecticut 31 11
Minnesota 32 17
South Carolina 33 26
Nebraska 34 40
New Mexico 35 29
Texas 36 10
Wisconsin 37 13
Arizona 38 35
Montana 39 38
Wyoming 40 30
Louisiana 41 46
Kansas 42 37
DC 43 41
Tennessee 44 42
Arkansas 45 51
Mississippi 46 49
West Virginia 47 44
Hawaii 48 45
North Dakota 49 47
Rhode Island 50 48
South Dakota 51 50

You’ll notice that the bottom half of our list has quite a few states that might be considered wastelands of great beer when compared to states across the country. However, you can’t ignore the bottom half, where WR drops off a cliff as ABV rank dips among the final 14.

To look at it another way, the top-25 had a median WR placement of 18.56 while the bottom 26 (even with outlier Vermont) had a median WR of 33.15.

This is not to say that these states have bad beer. It’s simply pointing out a possible connection between the ABV and how raters perceive the quality of beer.

This info might not be new, per se, but it does reinforce the idea that ABV impacts ratings.

But before we call it day on this section of data, let’s have a little fun.

Do ABV and high ratings have anything to do with climate?

If we can assume that ABV positively impacts ratings, I was curious to see if there was a cyclical connection between average alcohol content and the average annual temperature for states. In theory, if higher ABV means higher ratings, would colder weather mean beer styles conducive to high ABV?

Let’s take the data but adjust it for temperature, separating the top-25 and bottom-26 according to descending average annual temperature by location. Here’s what the full list looks like, but let’s skip to the fun stuff.

First, here’s the top 25:

ABV WR Temperature
Florida 8.73 4.414 70.7
Hawaii 5.56 3.653 70
Louisiana 6.57 3.629 66.4
Texas 7.25 4.301 64.8
Georgia 8.16 3.975 63.5
Mississippi 5.76 3.573 63.4
Alabama 8.291 3.985 62.8
South Carolina 7.54 4.138 62.4
Arkansas 6.066 3.5204 60.4
Arizona 7.07 3.934 60.3
Oklahoma 9.95 4.193 59.6
California 11.18 4.563 59.4
North Carolina 8.583 4.268 59
DC 6.17 3.828 58.4
Tennessee 6.12 3.782 57.6
Kentucky 9.06 3.93 55.6
Delaware 11.174 4.121 55.3
Virginia 9.39 4.178 55.1
Missouri 9.65 4.236 54.5
Kansas 6.3 3.906 54.3
Maryland 8.035 4.073 54.2
New Mexico 7.35 4.054 53.4
New Jersey 9.14 4.189 52.7
Illinois 9.94 4.362 51.8
West Virginia 5.579 3.655 51.8
 Averages: 7.94472 4.018416 59.096

And here’s the bottom-26:

ABV WR Temperature
Indiana 10.056 4.343 51.7
Ohio 8.399 4.327 50.7
Rhode Island 5.48 3.615 50.1
Nevada 7.75 3.712 49.9
Connecticut 7.74 4.29 49
Nebraska 7.525 3.832 48.8
Pennsylvania 8.765 4.138 48.8
Utah 10.081 3.989 48.6
Oregon 9.74 4.324 48.4
Washington 7.91 4.201 48.3
Massachusetts 10.1 4.28 47.9
Iowa 8.49 4.404 47.8
New York 9.22 4.159 45.4
South Dakota 5.21 3.529 45.2
Colorado 9.483 4.289 45.1
Idaho 8.67 3.852 44.4
Michigan 9.37 4.387 44.4
New Hampshire 8.724 4.036 43.8
Wisconsin 7.24 4.282 43.1
Vermont 8.1 4.532 42.9
Montana 7.03 3.891 42.7
Wyoming 6.89 4.039 42
Minnesota 7.659 4.262 41.2
Maine 8.03 4.192 41
North Dakota 5.5 3.62 40.4
Alaska 11.08 4.276 26.6
 Averages: 8.240076923 4.107730769 45.31538462

Even with a difference of almost 14 degrees between lists, the averaged ABV only goes up about .3 percent from hot to cold temperature states and the WR barely adjusts, too. I’d take this to reinforce the idea that styles are anything but blurred here in the U.S., where anyone can make anything and usually does.

There are states that fit expectations, though. Alaska’s top-10 has three barleywines, two imperial stouts and a Baltic porter. Arkansas, with an average annual temperature of 60.4 degrees, has a pilsner, ESB and blonde on its list.

I feel this simply points out what we already know about American beer fans, however: we like variety and brewers will create whatever they like, wherever they like.

Tomorrow I’ll share another piece of the ABV puzzle focusing on the absolute “best” beers from these Beer Advocate rankings and what that may also tell us about drinker preferences.

+Bryan Roth
“Don’t drink to get drunk. Drink to enjoy life.” — Jack Kerouac

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10 thoughts on “The Big Beer Impact: Does ABV Influence Rankings?

    • Absolutely, but then we’d be making the assumption a truly world-class beer has to have big, bold flavor derived from that method.

      That said, I don’t think seeking big, bold flavor is something foreign to the American palate. In fact, I’d consider it a defining characteristic. I guess the point I was trying to make is just what you’re suggesting – that if it’s what people want then that’s what they’ll get. But it also just happens to be what they think is best.

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