If there was ever going to be a year in beer to highlight the “haves” and “have nots,” might as well be 2017.
Since 2014, I’ve been pulling together a compilation of “best beer” lists from writers and publications across the U.S., taking subjective choices of what is “best” and trying to add some layers of objectivity on top. (see 2015 and 2016, too) The goal of compiling these lists into one conglomeration allows for some consensus – or at least clearer focus – of what pleased the palate of “taste makers” from around the country.
A theme that began in last year’s analysis became a full-blown trend this time around, with rarity proving to be a pivotal trait for the majority of beers included across 13 year-end “best” lists. Of 150 beers provided by brewers, writers and beer enthusiasts, there were 142 different brands included in my data set. Nearly three-quarters (74.3%) were limited one-offs or specialty releases, never to be duplicated in that same way again.
An easy argument for why this might happen is simply the number of breweries (6,000+) and beers (A LOT) available to consumers, and as more people preach “drink local,” surely those local breweries will step up to provide.
Except these lists come from people exposed to beer from all over, of all availability levels, from the rarest to core lineups, and “best of” lists are seemingly getting more exclusionary year-to-year. This is not a good or bad thing, as it shows there’s phenomenal beer being made all over, but it does seem to be A Thing.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
Overall, the criteria for selection into this analysis was simple: beers were focused on 2017 releases (new beers or new, annual brews) with a preference toward lists that included a wide geographic representation. An important note on the overall UNscientific nature of this analysis is that the lists chosen differ year-to-year (it’s almost literally whatever I can find) and the total number of beers is different, too. That said, the process still holds, I believe, as an exercise in moving past easy impressions to better understand what the last year has provided us.