The Data Behind Your GABF Beer Samples

Heading to Great American Beer Festival? Hope you like hops.

Thanks to Porch Drinking, festival goers have an advance preview at the many beers that will be served to thirsty enthusiasts descending on the Colorado Convention Center. Want an idea of what to expect? I crunched some numbers pulled from a continually updated list at Porch Drinking, as submitted by breweries.

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The High ABV Beer is Dead! Long Live High ABV!

tombstone header

Lagers make a comeback. Session IPAs steal share from their imperialized counterparts. Dogs live with cats!

It’s mass hysteria.

Or, at least, if you’re ready to buy into the latest publicized trend in beer by market research company Mintel, who noted the rise of high ABV beers in recent years. According to their estimate, just 6.6 percent of new beers globally were “high strength” in the early 2000s at an ABV above 6.5 percent. But in recent years, that’s jumped significantly:

  • 2012: 14 percent
  • 2013: 25 percent
  • 2014: 23 percent

Keep in mind those percentages reflect a global growth with new breweries opening nearly every day, so in America in 2013, it could be 25 percent of beers created by the 2,456 and then in 2014 it’s 23 percent from 2,917 breweries, per Brewers Association estimates.

“A potential backlash against this [high strength] trend is almost inevitable because there is far too much high ABV innovation happening,” said Jonny Forsyth, global drinks analyst for Mintel. “Beer remains fundamentally a volume and refreshment beverage and high ABV beers quickly take modern health-conscious consumers over the recommended limit.”

While it’s true beer’s success is partially driven by an opportunity for volume-based consumption, it feels a bit risky to contend that a backlash is on its way, especially when high-ABV beers are widely considered some of the best you can find. For example, look at the alcohol by volume of RateBeer’s top twenty-five best beers from their “Best Beer” lists covering 2006 to 2015:

top 25 avg ABV

Among the items RateBeer prides itself on is its global user base. Glancing at the website’s top user rankings, it’s easy to see that potential fans for these best beers are coming from all over.

So perhaps reports of high ABV’s death have been greatly exaggerated.

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We Are the 11%

sour beer

The above tweet and responses came from ESPN business reporter Darren Rovell, who, admittedly, has one of the most ardent collection of online trolls of any reporter personality.

But the reaction from several of his followers isn’t just a case of Angry Internet Stalkers emerging form under a bridge. It’s an honest representation of how many view beer – it’s a means to get drunk or access to some kind of WHALEZBRO dick measuring contest.

It’s easy to get caught up in our own world of beer enthusiasm, where like-minded people reverberate our passion and interests, but it’s also an insulation. The vast majority of beer sales are still macro lagers. Michelob Ultra is growing at a fast rate. Alcohol content does matter to people.

Craft beer is 11 percent of volume share. That leaves a lot of percents on the table … or in pint glasses.

So every time we have a conversation about whether craft lagers are A Thing or how hops impact what beers we drink, it’s even more important to remember that most drinkers are not us. They’re interested in how they can make beer bend to their wants and needs, whatever they may be, or how calories might impact their waistlines.

Perhaps this is why conversations with friends often lead to the importance of education with fellow beer drinkers, to show there is more out there than a hopped up IPA or barrel-aged stout. But many drinkers might not care, and that’s OK.

It’s just a reminder that the beer-drinking public goes far beyond blogs and online discussion threads where people actually know what’s a Pliny the Elder.

We can be a niche, but don’t ignore the rest. It’s our own educational opportunity waiting to happen.

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

RateBeer Ranked: A Historical Analysis of “Best Beers”

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After looking back at RateBeer user preferences for 2014 as all as a comparison of the last two years, it’s time to take a step even further back.

RateBeer’s “best beer” list goes back as far as 2002 – missing in 2004 and 2005 for some reason – so what I’ve done is taken the past 10 years of data from the annual rankings and selected the best of the “best” to try and gain some kind of insight.

What we have now is historical proof of our drunkenness. Or, at least, signs that demonstrate if we’re sipping on world-class beer, it better bring the heat.

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RateBeer Ranked: Comparing “Best Beer” of the Last Two Years

RateBeer-header 2013 vs 2014

In the first post analyzing RateBeer’s 2015 “best beer” list, which covers beers in 2014, a few things stood out:

The Expected

  • Imperial stouts, double IPAs and IPAs reigned supreme, making up 59 percent of the list.
  • The average ABV for the top-100 beers was well above average, clocking in at almost 10 percent.

The Unexpected

  • Decorah, Iowa-based Toppling Goliath produced beers that ranked #1 (Kentucky Brunch) and #5 (Mornin’ Delight) that tied or beat classic “best” beers like Westvleteren 12, Pliny the Elder and Hunahpu’s Imperial Stout.

One of the fun aspects of these lists is the ability to compare and contrast, so today we take a step back one year to see what 2014’s best beers looks like when compared to our tastes in 2013.

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RateBeer Ranked: An Analysis of 2014’s Best Beer

ratebeer header JPG

With the changing of the calendar, January didn’t just bring a new year, but new reasons to dissect the beer industry and what us enthusiasts are going crazy about these days.

While it took extra work to compile the best of the best beers in 2014, RateBeer, one of the two preeminent rating sites, along with Beer Advocate, has just released its own annual lists, which includes the top 100 beers in the world.

The collection of top-rated brews has evolved over the years, most notably taking a dramatic shift last year, when RateBeer stopped ranking the best beers in numerical fashion, but opted to simply provide an alphabetized listing.

But that won’t stop me from navel gazing at another “best beer” list, especially when it provides us with valuable insight into beer lovers and the liquid we love so much.

So even thought this year’s list may have flown under the radar because it doesn’t rank your favorite beers, that’s what I’m here for…

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Why You Should Care About Arkansas’ Beer

Arkansas beer state

Editor’s note: here’s a primer about why we’re exploring this topic.

With a combined “weighted rank” of 3.52 (out of 5) for it’s top-10 beers according to Beer Advocate users, Arkansas placed last out of 51 states and D.C. in my recent analysis of ratings from the website. To help prove that isn’t indicative of all that’s offered within The Natural State, I’ve enlisted the help of Jonas Schaffer and Josh Whitson, authors at Arkansas Beer Blog.

Before we get into a brief Q&A with Jonas and Josh, let’s recap some of the vitals of Arkansas as found through my Beer Advocate series:

Top 10 Beers (as of Nov 2014)

Beer Name Brewery Style ABV WR
Paradise Porter Diamond Bear Brewing Porter 6.24 3.76
Two Term Diamond Bear Brewing DIPA 8.5 3.51
IRISh Red Diamond Bear Brewing Red Ale 5.86 3.5
Pale Ale Diamond Bear Brewing Pale Ale 6.2 3.5
Presidential IPA Diamond Bear Brewing IPA 6.2 3.334
Southern Blonde Diamond Bear Brewing Pilsner 5.18 3.3
ESB Core Brewing ESB 6.1 3.68
Rockroberfest Diamond Bear Brewing Oktoberfest 5.98 3.68
Flaming Stone Boscos Restaurant Blonde 4.8 3.44
Oatmeal Stout Core Brewing Stout 5.6 3.5
 AVERAGES: 6.066 3.5204

According to results of the Beer Advocate research, the average ABV of all “best beers” was 8 percent, with states having an average of 5.5 beers at or below that threshold. Nine of Arkansas’ beers were below that threshold, which included one of the few blonde ales to get highlighted among 506 beers.

In terms of Beer Advocate user preferences, all this means not many people seem to care about Arkansas beer. Why should you? Let’s find out with Jonas and Josh.

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Why You Should Care About South Dakota’s Beer

South Dakota beer state

Editor’s note: here’s a primer about why we’re exploring this topic.

With a combined “weighted rank” of 3.529 (out of 5) for it’s top-10 beers according to Beer Advocate users, South Dakota placed 50th out of 51 states and D.C. in my recent analysis of ratings from the website. To help prove that isn’t indicative of all that’s offered within the Mount Rushmore State, I’ve enlisted the help of Landon Swanson, head brewer at Custer’s Bitter Esters Brewhouse and president of the state’s craft brewers guild.

Before we get into a brief Q&A with Landon, let’s recap some of the vitals of South Dakota as found through my Beer Advocate series:

Top 10 Beers (as of Nov 2014)

Beer Name Brewery Style ABV WR
Pile O Dirt Crow Peak Porter 6 3.7
Smoke Jumper Firehouse Dry Stout 4 3.62
11th Hour Crow Peak IPA 6.5 3.52
Red Firehouse Red Ale 4.1 3.44
Canyon Crow Peak Cream Ale 5 3.04
Chukkar Firehouse Pale Ale 5.3 3.73
Wilderness Wheat Firehouse Hefeweizen 3.8 3.23
Spearbeer Crow Peak Pale Ale 5.1 3.56
Naughty Redhear Sick N Twisted Red Ale 8 3.73
Buffalo Bitter Firehouse ESB 4.3 3.72
AVERAGES:  5.21 3.529

According to results of the Beer Advocate research, the average ABV of all “best beers” was 8 percent, with states having an average of 5.5 beers at or below that threshold. All 10 of South Dakota’s beers fell below that threshold, including one of the few cream ales to get highlighted among 506 beers. The state’s average ABV for it’s top-10 beers of 5.21 percent was the lowest in the country.

In terms of Beer Advocate user preferences, all this means not many people seem to care about South Dakota beer. Why should you? Let’s find out with Landon.

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Why You Should Care About Louisiana’s Beer

Louisiana beer state

Editor’s note: here’s a primer about why we’re exploring this topic.

With a combined “weighted rank” of 3.629 (out of 5) for it’s top-10 beers according to Beer Advocate users, Louisiana placed 46th out of 51 states and D.C. in my recent analysis of ratings from the website. To help prove that isn’t indicative of all that’s offered within the Pelican State, I’ve enlisted the help of Nora McGunnigle, a freelance beer and food writer living in New Orleans, focusing and the unique food and beer culture of Louisiana and the Gulf region.

Before we get into a brief Q&A with Nora, let’s recap some of the vitals of Louisiana as found through my Beer Advocate series:

Top 10 Beers (as of Nov 2014)

Beer Name Brewery Style ABV WR
IRISh Channel New Orleans Lager & Ale Brewing Stout 6.8 3.77
Mechahopzilla New Orleans Lager & Ale Brewing DIPA 8.8 3.74
Save Our Shore Abita Pilsner 7 3.67
Hopitoulas New Orleans Lager & Ale Brewing IPA 6 3.65
Turbodog Abita Brown Ale 6 3.64
Abbey Ale Abita Dubbel 8 3.62
Spring IPA Abita IPA 6.2 3.6
NOLA Brown New Orleans Lager & Ale Brewing Mild Ale 4 3.56
Andygator Abita Doppelbock 8 3.53
NOLA Blonde New Orleans Lager & Ale Brewing Blonde 4.9 3.51
 AVERAGES: 6.57 3.629

According to results of the Beer Advocate research, the average ABV of all “best beers” was 8 percent, with states having an average of 5.5 beers at or below that threshold. Louisiana has nine, including an odd choice for these kinds of lists – a pilsner.

In terms of Beer Advocate user preferences, all this means not many people seem to care about Louisiana beer. Why should you? Let’s find out with Nora.

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Why You Should Care About [THIS STATE]’s Beer

BA on US map as JPG

In November, I spent a good chunk of time analyzing data collected from Beer Advocate’s “best beer” lists, studying differences between states and finding patterns in our rating habits.

Among all the research for those posts, one thing stood out as clear as an American lager: some states aren’t getting any love.

Consistently, I’d find a handful of states ranked at the bottom of all 51 options, which included Washington, D.C., when considering Beer Advocate’s proprietary “Weighted Rank” scale.

But with more than 3,000 breweries spread across the U.S. and many more on the way, it’s important to put this outcome in context. Many states are still in their sudsy infancies or simply get lost among the attention thrown at California, Oregon, Colorado and more.

So this week I’m setting out to rectify that.

Over a few days we’ll hear from “representatives” of three states that performed rather poorly according to Beer Advocate’s raters: Louisiana, South Dakota and Arkansas. I reached out to folks from each state, offering them the chance to better explain their impressions of their state’s beer industry and what kind of tasty brews might be offered to people not ready to write-off a state’s beer.

Because heaven forbid we don’t do anything drastic for those brewers lagging behind…

(please note that’s a tongue-in-cheek joke)

Come back tomorrow when we hear from Nora D. McGunnigle, a freelance beer and food writer living in New Orleans who will tell us about the beer scene in Louisiana.

Related: Beer Advocate and the United States of Beer: The Complete Series!

Learn more about under-appreciated beer from:

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