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:
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:
Now here’s the bottom-26:
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:
And here’s the bottom-26:
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.
“Don’t drink to get drunk. Drink to enjoy life.” — Jack Kerouac