Trend Spotting: What Can RateBeer’s Best New Beers of 2015 Tell Us?

ratebeer header JPG

In my previous post about RateBeer’s latest collection of “best” beers, we focused on the overall top 100, as released annually by the beer review site. But new this year, RateBeer has also shared a list of 50 best new beers released in 2015.

This is exciting because it not only gives us a better glimpse into trends and preferences for the subgroup of active reviewers on the website, but it also provides an opportunity to compare with my previous “best of 2015” list compiled from a collection of writers and beer enthusiasts.

Like RateBeer’s overall list analyzed in my last post, this one is a wide collection of rare and hard to find beers. As mentioned in a previous piece about the rising price of beer, expensive and speciality brews cater to “snobconsumers, “for whom the acquisition of scarce goods generate ‘signaling effects’ on consumption, increasing their utility when the good consumed is uncommon and generates status.”

In an age of accumulating badges on Untappd and standing among beer loving peers, a list like this isn’t representative to Average Jane Sixpack, but it’s still useful to look at to get a better grasp on the socio-cultural preferences shown by beer lovers.

So let’s once again get to crunching some numbers.

The Styles

Of the 50 beers included, here’s how the selection broke down among styles:

best new beers by style

What’s interesting about this collection of beers is that even though it’s half the size of the overall best beer list, which boasts 100, both lists provide 16 different styles. Of note for the new beer list, IPA comes out on top. From 2014 to 2015’s overall best beer lists, that style fell from nine to three beers. Granted, the IPAs included in the new beer list are represented by some of the sexiest names making the style right now: Trillium, Other Half and Tired Hands.

This is also the first time I’ve seen saisons at such a high rate, although the reason they show up in this quantity (7) is because of Hill Farmstead, RateBeer’s top brewery in the world, along with help from specialty saisons from Sante Adairius, Side Project and Allagash.

For fun, I broke the overall list of 50 into two halves, the top-25 and bottom-25, as determined by RateBeer’s weighted rank formula to compare where styles fell. Here are the results:

Top 25 Bottom 25
Imperial Stout 6 1
IPA 5 3
Saison 4 3
Barleywine 3
Berliner weisse 2
DIPA 2 1
Imperial Porter 1
Quad 1
Sour/Wild 1 5
Pale Ale 4
Stout 2
Strong Ale 2
Amber 1
Blonde 1
Gose 1
Imperial Pils 1

To go a step further, I also wanted to compare the impact of where the styles fell, so I took the averaged alcohol content and weighted rank of each section of the list:

Avg ABV Avg Weighted Rank
Top 25 9.52 4.19
Bottom 25 7.12 3.94

This is very interesting.

Just looking at the top 10 best new beers, the list is very heavy on big beers – the top-ranked overall new beer from this list was Dragoon Brewing Company’s Lazarus, a barrel-aged barleywine clocking in at 13.25 percent ABV. Eleven of the top-25 beers had ABV’s at or above 10 percent while the bottom only had three. I’d say it’s not a big deal, as these are all thought of as great beers, but the drop off of .25 in weighted rank feels kind of steep to me for a list so short. Might this offer more context for the success of big beers on “best of” lists?

The Flavors of 2015

It should come as no surprise that “barrel” might be the most popular word when it comes to these kinds of lists.

Out of all 50 beers, I could identify 26 that were barrel aged, which includes imperial stouts and barleywines that were left to sit or wild/sour ales that needed that exposure to round out the yeast cultures for extra fermentation. There were 22 beers I identified that were not barrel aged and two I couldn’t find out from online searches: Sante Adairius Fruit Punch #1 and #2.

However, 16 of the 26 barrel-aged beers appear in the top 20, including nine of the top 10.

There were other overall trends to highlight, too:

  • Hops – We can’t forget the king of craft beer when it comes to these lists, as a third of the 50 beers were either IPA, DIPA or pale ales hopped to drink like an IPA. (looking at you, Hill Farmstead and Trillium) When hops dominate the American craft beer conversation, this should be no surprise.
  • Coffee – Rejoice, java heads, as it seems your favorite roasted ingredient made quite a splash last year. I admit I didn’t go through the ingredients of every beer listed, but no fewer than five beers were easily determined to have coffee included in their recipes. Just to prove the point of growing interest of coffee in beer, you may want to give a follow to the Team Coffee Beer Twitter account.
  • Sour/wild – Look. I realize that people all over constantly say sour beers are a trend worth watching, but if we’ve been saying that for at least five-plus years, I think it’s OK to simply state they are popular. However, this list of top beers from 2015 does have 13 listed that could fit some kind of profile of sour/tart/funky/etc.

Another trend is awfully specific: Mosaic hops. “Mosaic” was included as such a prominent hop in six beers that it was a part of the name. I would venture a guess the hop was also included in some of the hop bills for other beers on the list, too.

RateBeer’s Best vs. Others

Comparing this list of RateBeer’s 50 best new beers against the collection used for my own 2015 analysis yielded some repeats worth mentioning. These were the beers that showed up both on RateBeer’s list as well as any of the 16 I sourced from blogs, newspapers, magazines and others:

Beer Style ABV Weighted Rank
Allagash Cuvee d’Industrial Sour/Wild 7.5 4.01
Firestone Walker 19th Anniversary Strong Ale 13.8 4.02
Maine Beer II IPA 4.7 3.89
Trillium Fort Point Pale Ale Pale Ale 6.6 4.04

Of the four beers listed above, only Firestone Walker’s 19th Anniversary was included on RateBeer’s best new beers of 2015 and my list that identified the most-cited best new beers by writers and beer enthusiasts.

So go find a bottle of that one since it’s apparently pretty good.

Two other observations when looking at the previous collection of 2015’s best beers against what RateBeer offers:

  • Modern Times Beer – Their Black House Oatmeal Stout was noted as one of 2015’s best by the team at DC Beer and their Modern Times City of the Dead stout was included on RateBeer’s list. For a brewery entrenched in the IPA culture of San Diego, it seems their stouts are worth seeking out.
  • Other Half Brewing and Trillium Brewing – If you’re looking for two of the hottest names for making hop-forward brews, these seems to be the ones. I have seen their names come up over and over in recent weeks doing research for all my 2015 “best beer” round ups.

Closing Thoughts

If you’re deep in the weeds of beer like I am, I encourage you to take a look at the post analyzing the overall 100 as well as this one of the best new beers of 2015.

One of the conversations that has popped up around the work on this lists is the lack of lagers. It was brought up several times in this Reddit thread and among conversations I spotted on Facebook. This is most certainly a complicated conversation with many parts, which I hope to address soon.

In the meantime, I hope you were able to enjoy at least one or two of the best beers out there in 2015. Still lots of time in 2016 to find one of your own, too.

Related: An Analysis of RateBeer’s Best in 2015

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

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