Examining the Value of ‘Best’ Beer: BeerGraphs

HolyGrail-lager

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

beer cup

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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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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Bitter Rivalry: Is It Time to Name a New Region ‘King’ of the IPA?

Last week, we took a glance at the geographic evolution of the IPA, from the West to East Coast and its latest hotspot, the Midwest.

That research was inspired by work first done by Carla Jean Lauter, which prompted me to think about IPAs, rankings and where the interest for this popular beer style comes from. While Carla highlighted the Northeast, my research led to curiosity about the Midwest.

Which led me to think … is a new region ready to steal the throne from the West Coast and be anointed “King” of IPAs?

Previously, I used Beer Advocate rankings to weigh the value of IPAs on a geographical basis. To me, this data set represents the most enthusiastic of the beer community, which might better showcase the “best of the best” IPA options. But if the vast majority of beer drinkers aren’t overly active on beer rating websites, we can try another route to potentially get a greater cross-section of IPA lovers.

For that, we turn to fellow statistically-minded beer geeks at BeerGraphs.

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On Hoarding: Beer, Love and the Ability to Let Go

cool story bro beer

Perhaps the hardest thing to accept for many of us is that life is only takes place in the present moment. Our past glories are gone and the future is an unwritten story we want to believe will be nothing but spectacular.

In reality, however, we’re as clueless as the next person what our future holds. But for some beer lovers, that matters little.

Perhaps this is simply the time we live in. A time when rarities and one-offs are at an all-time high. When the greatest beers we can muster are heralded flashes in the pan.

But instead of gobbling them up, we hold them tight. We wait. We plan. We hoard.

Many of you may have seen the most recent treatise on fallacy of hoarding beer, pointing out the callousness of buying, buying, buying and the failure to really stop and smell the roses. Or is that hops?

But here’s the thing: hoarding is our modern, inalienable right. While there are certainly those that give into the obsession around the world, the act feels uniquely, capitalistic American. Not for TV shows that highlight our need for MORE, but for the feeling of excellence that comes with a well-stocked cellar and bragging rights that come with it.

If you care to boil it down, you could argue that hoarding is about status – whether to ourselves or someone else – and the ability to measure up. It’s equated with the thought that more is better and better always means more.

More bottles. More ABV. More regard as some kind of master of a coveted dungeon that doesn’t hold monsters or traps, but a treasure trove of liquid bliss.

When we hoard beer, who does it benefit? Ourselves, of course. It makes us feel good. It makes us feel ready for the day we can relive our past glories.

In the end, however, all it does is offer us some kind of euphoria between our perfected nostalgia of yesterday and the inevitability of tomorrow. Ignorance may be bliss, but my glass is empty and today’s just getting started.

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