Examining the Value of ‘Best’ Beer

HolyGrail-lager

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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The Perfect Tap List as Determined by Beer Nerds

beer taps

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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Why Lagers Will Never Be a “Best” Beer

HolyGrail-lager

There are always a typical set of reactions when discussing anything determined to be “best.” Even if the word isn’t always grounded in subjectivity – certainly there are quantifiable examples of what’s best – it does swing the gates wide open for a rush of discussions and arguments of what the word and its context means.

Which, perhaps expected, is what happened with a pair of posts analyzing RateBeer’s best 100 beers in the world and the best new entries of 2015.

Some people were surprised at specific beer choices, while a common question permeated throughout a series of other comments: where are the lagers?

From readers and fellow beer writers to this thread on Reddit, people wanted to know why their beloved bottom-fermenting beverages weren’t represented. The one bock that showed up – a weizenbock – isn’t even a lager.

Is it an intrinsic desire to find flavors that push boundaries? Is it driven by our own food culture? Or maybe, as beer continues to grow and evolve – sometimes literally – it’s part of an effort to simply move away from subtlety.

Why, when it comes to what’s “best,” might we find ourselves numb to nuance?

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A ‘Definitive’ Guide to the Best Beer of 2015: The Beer

best beer header file w coconut

Yesterday, we looked at the “best” breweries of 2015.

Today, we use the same unscientific process on the best beers we might have enjoyed last year.

To do this, I used a collection of 2015’s “best beer” lists from a variety of sources, from blogs to newspapers and prominent magazines. Criteria for selection was simple: a list had to focus on 2015 releases (new beers or new, annual brews) with a preference toward a wide geographic representation. There are more city/state best beer lists than we could shake a pint glass at.

That left me with an eclectic group of lists, ranging from three to 25 beers. In all, there were 193 total beers to analyze with a handful of beers vying for best of 2015.

Nine made the cut.

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Semantics and the Search for a ‘Perfect’ Beer

perfect beer world cloud

What is a perfect beer?

Ask the question and subjectivity runs amok.

Would it be our favorite beer? One that holds particular nostalgic value? A sum of specialized ingredients? Something that simply stands out as so different, it’s one of a kind?

There are many ways to consider what “perfect” means to us, especially in terms of a good or product. Generally speaking, when it comes to beer, the effort to define perfect often becomes a quantitative one, relying on beer rating websites that offer numeric value to a particular brew.

Westvleteren 12 is a perfect 100 on both Beer Advocate and RateBeer. Heady Topper and Pliny the Elder, too. Sorry, Dark Lord, you missed it by five points on Beer Advocate.

If those are examples of “perfect” beers, what does that mean for us? If a beer is perfect, should it also be a favorite? Or are those things utterly, completely, mutually exclusive?

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Reporter’s Notebook: The Hidden Game of Buying Beer

beer notebook_web2

We are all unique snowflakes.

We pride ourselves for the power of individual thought. Nobody else is like us. Nobody else can influence us.

We do what we want, what we like and what we need.

Except when we don’t.

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6 Charts That Show We Love Being Boozehounds, or: An Analysis of ABV and Ranking Bias

booze hound

In recent weeks, I’ve been slowly pulling together research for a special project to compile nearly all the work I’ve performed in regard to ABV, style and beer rating bias into one compendium of sorts.

As I put the finishing touches on the effort, I’ve created several new charts to help tell the story of drinker preferences based on research from Rate Beer and Beer Advocate.

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Why Beer Experts (Don’t) Matter

beer expert-apple

We are a fickle species, us humans.

From the dawn of time, we’ve been wired to look outward and find connections among others, but one of the greatest challenges we face is often looking beyond our own point of view. Communities make us feel whole and relationships empower us, but in truth, this same wiring that creates bonds with others can also strengthen our internal bias.

Which puts us in a precarious position in these days of democratic Internet expertise, when everyone is an expert and all the knowledge we need is just a few finger taps away. While our technology entitles us with information from across our digital communities, it can also reinforce the idea that “experts” – real, live human beings oozing knowledge – aren’t as necessary.

So when I read “Why Beer Experts Matter” by brilliant beer writer Jeff Alworth, I got to thinking … do we really need beer experts?

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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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