Examining the Value of ‘Best’ Beer: BeerGraphs


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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Examining the Value of ‘Best’ Beer


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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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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You’re Only as Old as You Taste: That Time I Ruined Bottles of Hopslam Because SCIENCE!

bottle beard eyes large

So I’m probably kind of crazy.

I recently celebrated a birthday which concluded an experiment a couple years in the making. As my “special” birthday beer, I drank a Hopslam (yay!) that was two years old (boo!).

The reason? Why not? I’m doing this for you, dear reader.

When it comes to aging beer, I always point people to this handy set of rules supplied by the folks at Dogfish Head, which point out general guidelines for aging beer. The number one guideline they provide appeals to me: “a little experimentation goes a long way.” (Note: generally speaking, higher ABV beers are best for storage, but IPAs are not ideal because of the importance of hop freshness.)

Rudimentary searches online suggested that by aging Hopslam, which is made with honey, I may end up with some kind of mead-like drink, so what the hell?

Let’s put on our lab coats and hope time provides more of a eureka! moment rather than evil, maniacal laughter.
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Here’s a Dirty Little Secret About Russian River Pliny the Elder

russian river_russia_russian_river_beer_pliny_elder_ipa_india_pale_ale_IPA


Wanna know a secret?

Pliny the Elder isn’t as good as you think it is.

[Pause for audible gasps of shock and horror]

OK. Well, it is good. In fact, it’s kind of amazing. But it’s not for the reasons you might think.

And it’s not necessarily the best IPA or double IPA out there.

[Pause for screams of terror]
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Stone 16th Anniversary IPA

Enjoyed with a little light reading…

A couple weeks ago I was at my local bottle shop when I noticed this:

So that’s cool. I don’t know how much everyone else had been paying for bombers of Stone’s 16th Anniversary IPA, but $5.99 seemed like a steal to me. I had also committed blasphemy and not bought a bottle when it first hit shelves in August. No matter, because this overly-hopped West Coast IPA still came off fresh as a springtime breeze. To boot, it came with a score of 86 on Beer Advocate.

Ready for an in-depth look at this beer? Hit the jump to see how things turned out now that the anniversary series of brews is old enough to drive.
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Great Divide 18th Anniversary Wood Aged Double IPA

A barrel-aged double IPA you say? Why yes, I would like to try that. While I haven’t ventured deep into the selection of Great Divide, I can attest to the quality of Colorado brews. Great Divide’s 18th Anniversary Wood Aged Double IPA caught my eye for these reasons. It’s got an 85 on Beer Advocate.

I was surprised at the relative lack of good carbonation/head from the beer, but that didn’t stop the smell. There are lots of hops here, for sure, but blocked by something else. My initial impression is that it’s definitely from the barrel aging, but I can’t easily find what kind of barrel used for the aging process, as Great Divide only mentions “French and American oak” in their official info. The malt could definitely play into that, but again, no easily discernible information. In a grand, overall description, it does smell like a double IPA aged in wood. You get a whiff of hops and then the strong alcohol from the barrel. I just wish I could get some more specifics. The amount of hops must be pretty high to break through to this degree. I’d actually love to try a version of this that wasn’t aged. Hop-bomb galore.

On my first sip I really liked how the hop flavor takes away from the usual heavy alcohol-driven barrel bite. Like the smell, it’s easy to get “French and American oak” flavor, but the hops do a good job at knocking it out. It’s as if the amount of hops should make the beer sweet (hop-bomb galore) but then the barrel flavor takes over. As the beer warms, it made it harder for me to drink it. After a while the barrel just takes over any semblance of hops. It had been a while since my last barrel-aged beer, but this was probably a good reentry – at least for the first half of the bottle.

Overall, I think Great Divide does a really good job finding balance with this beer, considering the two extremes – the hopiness of a double IPA and the alcohol flavor of the barrel aging process. I feel like most of the time I’ll get one or the other, but at least initially, this is an ideal split between the two.