Zymurgy’s “Best Beers” List Loves Hops, Clings to Heritage Brands

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Death, taxes and Pliny the Elder being voted as Zymurgy’s “best beer” in America. All the things you can count on for the past eight years.

In fact, to see any change at the top of this list, you’d have to go all the way back to 2009, the last year the top-two beers *weren’t* Pliny (#1) and Bell’s Two Hearted (#2).

What makes the annual poll unique, however, is that it’s voted on by members of the American Homebrewers Association, not the public at-large from around the world, like Beer Advocate or RateBeer. On that point of information alone, you can surmise why Zymurgy’s list always includes unforgettable heritage brands made by the likes of Sierra Nevada and Dogfish Head. In just about any other scenario, beers made by these breweries are long past their expiration date of relevance to the Beer Nerds controlling review boards. Not so much on this year’s list – again.

BUT … the results are still similar in at least one way: these voters love their IPAs. More than 18,000 online votes cast with up to 20 allowed per voter picked the favorite commercial beers available for purchase in the United States.

Let’s see what’s trending.

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RateBeer Ranked: A Historical Analysis of “Best Beers”

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After looking back at RateBeer user preferences for 2014 as all as a comparison of the last two years, it’s time to take a step even further back.

RateBeer’s “best beer” list goes back as far as 2002 – missing in 2004 and 2005 for some reason – so what I’ve done is taken the past 10 years of data from the annual rankings and selected the best of the “best” to try and gain some kind of insight.

What we have now is historical proof of our drunkenness. Or, at least, signs that demonstrate if we’re sipping on world-class beer, it better bring the heat.

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RateBeer Ranked: Comparing “Best Beer” of the Last Two Years

RateBeer-header 2013 vs 2014

In the first post analyzing RateBeer’s 2015 “best beer” list, which covers beers in 2014, a few things stood out:

The Expected

  • Imperial stouts, double IPAs and IPAs reigned supreme, making up 59 percent of the list.
  • The average ABV for the top-100 beers was well above average, clocking in at almost 10 percent.

The Unexpected

  • Decorah, Iowa-based Toppling Goliath produced beers that ranked #1 (Kentucky Brunch) and #5 (Mornin’ Delight) that tied or beat classic “best” beers like Westvleteren 12, Pliny the Elder and Hunahpu’s Imperial Stout.

One of the fun aspects of these lists is the ability to compare and contrast, so today we take a step back one year to see what 2014’s best beers looks like when compared to our tastes in 2013.

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RateBeer Ranked: An Analysis of 2014’s Best Beer

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With the changing of the calendar, January didn’t just bring a new year, but new reasons to dissect the beer industry and what us enthusiasts are going crazy about these days.

While it took extra work to compile the best of the best beers in 2014, RateBeer, one of the two preeminent rating sites, along with Beer Advocate, has just released its own annual lists, which includes the top 100 beers in the world.

The collection of top-rated brews has evolved over the years, most notably taking a dramatic shift last year, when RateBeer stopped ranking the best beers in numerical fashion, but opted to simply provide an alphabetized listing.

But that won’t stop me from navel gazing at another “best beer” list, especially when it provides us with valuable insight into beer lovers and the liquid we love so much.

So even thought this year’s list may have flown under the radar because it doesn’t rank your favorite beers, that’s what I’m here for…

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Here’s the Best Beer from Every State. Hold onto Your Livers.

bottle_Flag_new“The price of greatness is responsibility.”
– Winston Churchill

“All right, brain. You don’t like me and I don’t like you, but let’s just do this and I can get back to killing you with beer.”
– Homer Simpson

Looking for something great to drink? Start with the ABV.

Just kidding. Sort of.

As we continue to look at data from Beer Advocate’s best beers state-by-state, it seems two things are clear: people like high ABV styles and rate high-alcohol beers well.

But what does that mean when looking for a top-notch, truly great beer? While we’ve so far kept these rankings in a vacuum, I wanted to put see what would happen with our “best” beers if we put them in more of a head-to-head scenario.

Which is why today we look at the best of the “best” beers from every state and what particular aspects reinforce the belief that to enjoy a great beer, you may not be drinking responsibly.

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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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One Nation, Under Hops: A Geographical Evolution of IPA

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When it comes to understanding craft beer, perhaps the only thing bigger than the idea of its “cultural movement” is ironically one, singular brew – the IPA.

The India pale ale has become synonymous with craft beer and stands tall as arguably the most popular style for Americans picking up bottles or downing pints of Sierra Nevada, Lagunitas, New Belgium or any local option down the street.

As the IPA has taken hold of our pints and wallets, it’s become the cornerstone style for breweries young and old. The IPA has shifted from a novel connection to the West Coast to a beer found everywhere across the country.

So if California, Oregon and Washington no longer reign over the IPA-loving masses like they used to, where exactly are today’s best IPAs coming from?

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What Do the “Best Beers in America” Say About the Beer Industry?

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Also: check out this post about how these rankings may show bias toward Sierra Nevada brews.

Yesterday, Zymurgy, the official magazine of the American Homebrewers Association, released results of its annual “Best Beers in America” survey, completed by members of the organization. The list, which I’ve written about before, typically gears toward expectations: lots of IPAs and imperial stouts.

While I’ve only had a few hours to look over this year’s list with an advance digital copy of Zymurgy, I’ve already started comparing and contrasting between previous iterations of the “Best Beers” lists, which are determined by popular vote. To determine the rankings, voters selected up to 20 of their favorite beers in an online poll.

I plan to offer up full details of this year’s list next week, but I wanted to share a few initial reactions when comparing lists from 2012, 2013 and 2014. While Russian River’s Pliny the Elder and Bell’s Two Hearted IPAs have held the #1 and #2 spots, respectively, in each of the past three years, there has been some shift with other brews. (you can also see the top-10 beers for 2014 here)

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December 2013 Beertography

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I’ve made a pledge to myself. One that I hope will force my creative juices to flow a bit more freely.

Each month, I want to share a “beertography” roundup of four or five shots I’ve taken. While I love writing about beer, it’s nice to mix it up.

Below you’ll find some of my favorite, recent shots, which you may also come across on my Instagram page, Twitter account or even Untappd. All my shots are taken with my iPhone 5 and because I typically shoot right where I drink, my inventiveness can sometimes be kept to a minimum.

Obligatory: Sound Brewery Entendez Noel – The Sound of Christmas

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Spiegelau IPA glass – Beer is proof God loves us and he sent an angel to prove it

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Spiegelau IPA glass – A Vanishing Act

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Pliny the Elder – A White Whale, Found

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Ithaca Apricot Wheat – A Taste of Home, Here

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Got any photo tips or stories to share? Please post them below. I’m excited to see what I come up with next month!

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

Here’s a Dirty Little Secret About Russian River Pliny the Elder

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Psst.

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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