A Whole New World? The Geography of RateBeer Rankings


Today we take a break from Monday’s RateBeer number crunching, but don’t worry, it’s back on Friday.

From part one of this series on our beer-related behavior, RateBeer.com’s rankings showed us how much beer nerds from around the world LOVE imperial stouts. Especially well-made rare ones.

Then again, don’t just take my word for it:

While limited-release imperial stouts will likely always end up high on beer rankings, that trend may be slowly changing. In the last couple years, other styles have been clawing their way toward top spots thanks to an increase of innovative breweries like Vermont’s Hill Farmstead and Florida’s Cigar City.

These tasty brews are important for changing the way we think about beer and what we like, but just as important is the geographical location. When we talk about global beer production – especially that of the top-ranked beers in the world – it’s increasingly becoming something of an “Old World” vs. “New World” situation.
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BeerHavior: Rankings, Biases and our Changing Palate

morpheus_beer_ipa_stout_ratebeerYou can check out part two of this series about the geography of the top-20 RateBeer beers here and part three on what the “bottom” best beers tell us about the top, here.

For the past couple weeks I’ve been looking through data from RateBeer.com, which releases a “best beers in the world” list each year. RateBeer has a full archive dating back to 2006, so I wanted to map out what I thought would showcase changes in behavior pertaining to beer.

My general thought? We’d see more variety not only in beer, but especially in the strength of top-ranked brews. On that front, I found myself to be both right and wrong.

First, a note about RateBeer’s rankings – they are incredibly consistent. From 2006 to 2013, the “best beers” are heavily skewed toward rare beers that are often imperial stouts. Why do these particular beers rank so well?

One reason is selection bias – not everyone can get a Dark Lord Russian Imperial Stout, so there are fewer ratings of that beer than Bells Hopslam, which typically performs well and is available across the country every year. The fewer ratings a beer has, the greater chance it has of compiling top scores. That’s because…

… there’s also motivational and cognitive bias. Beer nerds are famous for riding the hype train, which pushes beers like Dark Lord to holy heights. If, by chance, we are lucky enough to get a bottle, the sheer magnitude of the occasion has the ability to skew our judgment. We expect a beer to be amazing, therefore it’s more likely to be amazing once we have it.

ratebeer_beer_bottlecapSure, every person is a special snowflake, but these are general guidelines to keep in mind. It should come as no surprise that of the top-20 “best beers” from 2013’s list, 11 currently reside on the “most wanted” list of the site. (It should also be noted that these beers are also likely to taste great)

All that said, my methodology – for sake of time and effort – was to look at the top-20 of each year’s best beers, as rated by RateBeer users. The top-10 didn’t offer enough variety, so I simply doubled it up. You can see a full list of the beers here.

But enough about all that. Let’s do the numbers…
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