Can RateBeer’s Best Teach Us About Beer’s Hype Train?

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More: Read my first post on RateBeer’s best in 2016

There are a lot of layers when it comes to “best beer” lists. Subjective opinion, especially on experiential goods, is perfect for controversy. A limited list is going to leave something out of consideration, then it’s left to others and an almost innate need to fill in the gaps.

This is one of the reasons I love curating my annual “best beer” list, because as much as it can, it makes the process more objective by consulting numerous people and viewpoints. It may not be perfect, but it’s an excellent way to get a feel for the trends and topics that drive a year in beer.

An initial analysis of RateBeer’s top 100 beers from 2016 has seemingly added context to a growing body of evidence documented on this blog concerning the connection between beer styles, rarity and perception of quality. This is not meant to be seen as a “good or bad” thing, although you’re free to assume how you wish. But rather, as we’re able to compile data to support our experiences, it simply becomes “a thing” that we need to address.

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Hunt Whalez or Die Tryin: 2016’s Best of RateBeer

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Last month we took a look at 2016’s best beers as selected by writers, bloggers and beer enthusiasts.

Today, we step it up to an annual celebration of “best” by one of the Internet’s main beer reviewing websites, RateBeer. The site recently held their annual RateBeer Fest where it released a collection of best beers of the year, according to the reviews of users and weighted by performance within and outside of style.

As in years past, the list of 100 beers offers a good opportunity for analysis, especially as we gain a better understanding on the psychological impacts of choice when it comes to beer and perception of quality. This collection may not break new ground in terms of better understanding trends, but it does offer insight into preferences and beer culture.

So grab your abacus and put in your pocket protector, because it’s time to crunch some numbers.

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Making Snowflakes: An Exploration into Rarity, Beer Quality and Industry Authenticity

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We find ourselves in a unique time as beer lovers. Everything and anything is available to us. Whatever we want, whenever we want it.

With a record number of breweries nationwide, more than 5,000 businesses are creating a vast array of styles and flavor experiences, often nearby where we live. According to the Brewers Association, roughly three-quarters of drinking-age adults in the U.S. live within 10 miles of a brewery.

The flip side of this freedom of choice is the natural competition that comes with it. Keeping an IPA on tap is important to satiate American drinkers’ love for all things lupulin, but today’s brewery faces challenges presented by all the other entrants into the industry, roughly two a day. Finding a niche, or, at least, creating one, is a pivotal part of the business, whether it’s as a brewery as a whole or simply providing novel experiences every time someone walks through taproom doors.

Increasingly, the process of creating something “rare” is playing a larger role for brewers. This could be a celebrated one-off beer with limited quantities or a dedicated tap on-location that serves creations never to leave the premises. As businesses grow, evolve and consider how best to position themselves, the use of rarity in all its varieties has potential to impact breweries, industry tastemakers and drinkers.

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A ‘Definitive’ Guide to the Best Beer of 2016

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Ask friends and family. Look around the Internet. Talk to a stranger on the street. It seems just about everyone is over 2016.

But it wasn’t all bad, right? We drank some good beer.

With start of a new year, it’s time to reflect on the great ales and lagers we enjoyed in 2016. Just kidding. It’s only IPAs and imperial stouts.

What has become an annual tradition, I’ve compiled a collection of “best” American beer lists as a way to better determine some ground breaking brands found across the country. For all the subjectivity that goes into creating lists to rank our favorite movies, TV shows and more, I try to find some objective consensus to provide a clearer view of what pleased the palate of drinkers.

To do this, I found a collection of 15 “best beer” lists from a variety of sources, from social media to prominent magazines. Criteria for selection was simple: a list had to focus on 2016 releases (new beers or new, annual brews) with a preference toward a wide geographic representation.

That left me with 155 total beers to analyze with several clearly separating themselves as 2016’s best.

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Examining the Value of ‘Best’ Beer: BeerGraphs

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Quantifying aspects of beer is easy. We have definitive numbers that tell us about alcohol content, color, flavor and more.

But the question at the core of my last post, analyzing the value of “best” beer, asks about the potential of determining context for rarity. Given that the highest rated beers typically share common traits of style, ABV and availability, is there a way for us to better define what a lack of obtainable bottles or cans means to beer enthusiasts applying numbers to quality?

At worst, it’s a fool’s errand, trying to get into the minds of beer raters. At best, it’s an unscientific process that may scratch at the surface of a full effort, although we do have a good idea of what rarity means when it comes to product sales:

“Scarcity has this effect of making people perceive products as more valuable simply for the fact that they’re scarce,” business psychologist Nir Eyal told NPR in 2014, when, naturally, the network was covering the hype of Pliny the Elder, the sister beer of Pliny the Younger.

To build on the analysis of what we might have learned from Beer Advocate’s top 250 beers, I thought it’d be worthwhile to also peek at what we might learn from BeerGraphs.

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Examining the Value of ‘Best’ Beer

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As we close in on the end of the year, it means we’re soon to be swamped with a variety of “best of” lists. This website is no different … although a little.

In the last two years, I’ve created my own unscientific, objective-as-possible best beer lists analyzing the compiled efforts of others scattered across the internet. You can still read 2014 and 2015 results to find out which “best” beers you might’ve missed.

With my attention shifting in that direction in recent weeks, I’ve decided to get a head start in another corner of “best,” taking a look at ratings, style and rarity. As we’ve seen in the past, all three seem to be linked, and I’ve turned to two popular beer rating websites to gain a better understanding. First up: Beer Advocate. (You can read an analysis of BeerGraphs data here.)

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Carlos Brito and the Fallacy of Too Much Choice

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What a terrifying world we live in. Two breweries opening up each day. Stores stocking week-old beer. Shelves lined with bottles and cans as far as the eye can see.

“Our customers are thinking, ‘how much more of an assortment can you carry?'” AB InBev CEO Carlos Brito recently told Just Drinks, adding that consumers are “a bit tired of choice and go for fewer brands.”

The end is nigh. Or, at least, that’s how the leader of the world’s largest beer company would like you to see it. Because let’s be honest, beer drinkers aren’t taking to the streets to protest the volume of what’s available to them. In many ways, they’re embracing it.

There are specific problems facing beer sales, from maintaining flagship brands to warding off wine and spirits, but the idea of choice seems more like a welcomed challenge than worrisome threat. Brito’s belief that “[t]here’s only so much shelf space that you can share and cold box that you can split,” is a factually accurate representation of store layout, but presenting an array of options isn’t as cut and dry as he’d like you to think.

Instead let’s focus on what’s getting the most attention: the brunt of Brito’s assertion. Are consumers “tired of choice”?

Evidence suggests he’s wrong.

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The Perfect Tap List as Determined by Beer Nerds

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Over on VinePair, writer Will Gordon recently shared an interesting game/exercise: creating “16 Perfect Taps” at the hypothetical bar of your dreams. It gained some traction among beer enthusiasts across social media as drinkers compiled their own lists picking out their favorite ales and lagers to take up each tap.

I thought an interesting twist might be to make the process a little more objective, from my point of view, by using the subjective ratings provided by beer lovers across the world.

Taking Will’s outline from his post, which breaks the tap list down into 16 categories, I sourced choices from four rating sites: RateBeer, Beer Advocate, BeerGraphs and Untappd. Each website offers its own proprietary ranking system, whether a formula devised by RateBeer and Beer Advocate or the “Beers Over Replacement” of BeerGraphs. Untappd, of course, has the bottle cap rating system.

Using that base, I picked the top-ranked beers from each site with the caveat that choices from RateBeer or BeerAdvocate needed to have at least 100 rankings. I have no interest in including a beer that is very highly rated, but has only been “checked in” a dozen times.

Let’s take a look at what we’ll be drinking…

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Zymurgy’s “Best Beers” List Loves Hops, Clings to Heritage Brands

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Death, taxes and Pliny the Elder being voted as Zymurgy’s “best beer” in America. All the things you can count on for the past eight years.

In fact, to see any change at the top of this list, you’d have to go all the way back to 2009, the last year the top-two beers *weren’t* Pliny (#1) and Bell’s Two Hearted (#2).

What makes the annual poll unique, however, is that it’s voted on by members of the American Homebrewers Association, not the public at-large from around the world, like Beer Advocate or RateBeer. On that point of information alone, you can surmise why Zymurgy’s list always includes unforgettable heritage brands made by the likes of Sierra Nevada and Dogfish Head. In just about any other scenario, beers made by these breweries are long past their expiration date of relevance to the Beer Nerds controlling review boards. Not so much on this year’s list – again.

BUT … the results are still similar in at least one way: these voters love their IPAs. More than 18,000 online votes cast with up to 20 allowed per voter picked the favorite commercial beers available for purchase in the United States.

Let’s see what’s trending.

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The Best Breweries and Beer of 2015 are also the Best of 2016 (So Far)

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Back in January, I shared a two-part compilation of the “best” American breweries and beer of 2015, as selected through an unscientific method. In its second year, the effort offers something of a different view of what “best” is in the industry, trying to take a little subjectivity out of an otherwise very subjective effort. In February, I followed it up with a look at RateBeer’s “best” beers and what it showed us, too.

Now that we’re a quarter of the way through 2016 (!?), it seems the momentum carried by some businesses in 2015 is carrying right into this year.

Over on Beergraphs, Eno Sarris shared yesterday the At The Moment leaderboard of the best new beers of 2016 based on the data-driven site’s Beers Above Replacement methodology. In layman’s terms, it’s the top-20 new beers of 2016 as calculated by Untappd ratings and fancy math.

As I scoured the list, something stood out easily – 13 of the 20 were hop-forward beers, including seven double IPAs and five IPAs. Of course. But the breweries listed weren’t just the At The Moment darlings of the beer world, but they had also come up in my own analysis from a few months back.

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