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

Bored_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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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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