Homebrewers Vote, We Listen: Zymurgy’s “Best Beer” and National Trends

Pliny the Elder’s reign is over. Since 2009, the beloved double IPA has sat atop the annual “best beer” poll held by Zymurgy magazine, but no longer.

Over that same period of time, Bell’s Two Hearted has been Pliny’s #2. Always a bridesmaid, never a bride? No more.

The magazine of the American Homebrewers Association released this week its new rankings as voted on by AHA members, who were able to choose up to 20 of their favorite commercial beers available for purchase in the United States through an online voting system. The flip-flop of Pliny the Elder and Two Hearted isn’t the only thing worth paying attention to, however.

Per annual tradition, let’s take a walk through the results.

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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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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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The Big Beer Impact: Does ABV Influence Rankings?

Brass_scales_abvWhat’s beer without alcohol?

Perhaps more precise, what’s a top-ranked beer without high ABV?

Not much, perhaps.

If you love beer and have glanced at rankings from sites like Beer Advocate, you’ve probably noticed a certain trend: beers with higher alcohol content tend to win over drinkers pretty easily. Pack a punch with an imperial stout or IPA and there’s a chance it’s going to be a hit. In fact, some research has proven a direct connection between ABV and better ratings of beers.

In all my work with Beer Advocate’s rankings, I knew it was pivotal to address the 300 pound (or is that three-lettered) gorilla in the room. While we previously addressed the collection of styles and makeup of Beer Advocate’s “best of” rankings by state, now it’s time to really delve into the numbers.

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The United States of Beer (According to Beer Advocate)

BA on US map as JPGIt’s all in the details.

Yesterday, we took a look at the styles of beer included in my mega list of top beers by state, according to Beer Advocate. Today, the full list of beers and breweries is unleashed.

While we know that IPAs, DIPAs and imperial stouts are all the rage, now it’s time to find out where all these big hitters are coming from. If you need a refresher how I came up with these lists, I recommend this explainer.

But before we start scrolling to find our particular states and what’s represented, let’s have some fun.

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A State-by-State Analysis of Beer Advocate Rankings: Setting the Stage

beeradvocate-rank-logo-jpgAmong the more interesting parts of today’s beer industry is not just the increasing regionalism of the product, but the intrastate personalities that create each local culture.

From the Pacific Northwest and it’s conglomeration of hop-infused residents to Michigan and its blankets of high-alcohol brews perfect for cold winter nights, there are aspects of life just as much as there can be hops and barley. Ultimately, as we all happily look inward with our eat/drink local movements, the assumption should be that our home towns and states act as a means to offer a glimpse into the soul of our pint.

In a roundabout way, that’s what I hope to achieve over a series of posts this week.

I recently collected data from Beer Advocate’s “top beers” rankings of each of the 50 states in the U.S. as well as the District of Columbia. What does it all mean? Well, as I roll out my findings piece-by-piece, I hope we’re able to better understand the habits and behaviors of beer drinkers and what that means on a state and national level.

But first, we’ve got to get a broad idea of where we’re going.

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Is Sierra Nevada Overvalued? The Curious Case of the “Boring” Beer


Last week, we took a quick peek at some of the fallers and risers from the recently released “Best Beers in America” poll by homebrewing magazine Zymurgy.

For a sixth-straight year, Pliny the Elder topped the list, despite its relative distribution scarcity and what some described as an IPA that isn’t as good as the hype suggests. Even still, some of the biggest movers up the list from 2012 to 2014 were other specialty or rare beers like Founders Kentucky Bourbon Stout, Alchemist Heady Topper and Goose Island’s Bourbon County Brand Stout.

There’s a natural tendency for lists like this to function with a level of bias, but what I’ve become most interested in from looking over the “Best Beers” is also how it highlights our changing expectations and what we want from the beer industry.

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Are RateBeer’s “Best Beer” Rankings Destined to be Dominated by America?


“Here’s the deal. I’m the best there is. Plain and simple. I wake up in the morning and I piss excellence.”
– Ricky Bobby in Talladega Nights

This week, RateBeer releases its annual “best beer” compilation, spanning individual beers, beers by style and more. It culminates on Friday with the “top brewers in the world.”

Curiously, RateBeer decided not to rank their “best beers” in order from top to bottom – as far as I can tell the first time they’ve ever decided to go this route. The only other change over the years has been switching between ranking the top 50 and top 100.

So while we may not get to find out which imperial stout undoubtedly gave Westy 12 a run for its money in 2013, we at least have an idea of what RateBeer voters liked the most. No surprise, it’s a lot of big stouts and IPAs, with the occasional quad and barleywine thrown in for good measure. However, if you recall, there is a changing palate for beers of lesser heft, including some saisons, lambics and more.

This year’s list got me thinking, courtesy of a post over on Fuj on Tap, where The Fuj ponders Upstate New York’s place among the list. Or rather in this year’s iteration, it’s lack thereof despite the presence of many US-based brews.

As a native of that region I had particular interest and it got me to thinking … is it the manifest destiny of American breweries to become a hegemony of the RateBeer “best beer” lists?
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