Can RateBeer’s Best Teach Us About Beer’s Hype Train?

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More: Read my first post on RateBeer’s best in 2016

There are a lot of layers when it comes to “best beer” lists. Subjective opinion, especially on experiential goods, is perfect for controversy. A limited list is going to leave something out of consideration, then it’s left to others and an almost innate need to fill in the gaps.

This is one of the reasons I love curating my annual “best beer” list, because as much as it can, it makes the process more objective by consulting numerous people and viewpoints. It may not be perfect, but it’s an excellent way to get a feel for the trends and topics that drive a year in beer.

An initial analysis of RateBeer’s top 100 beers from 2016 has seemingly added context to a growing body of evidence documented on this blog concerning the connection between beer styles, rarity and perception of quality. This is not meant to be seen as a “good or bad” thing, although you’re free to assume how you wish. But rather, as we’re able to compile data to support our experiences, it simply becomes “a thing” that we need to address.

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Hunt Whalez or Die Tryin: 2016’s Best of RateBeer

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Last month we took a look at 2016’s best beers as selected by writers, bloggers and beer enthusiasts.

Today, we step it up to an annual celebration of “best” by one of the Internet’s main beer reviewing websites, RateBeer. The site recently held their annual RateBeer Fest where it released a collection of best beers of the year, according to the reviews of users and weighted by performance within and outside of style.

As in years past, the list of 100 beers offers a good opportunity for analysis, especially as we gain a better understanding on the psychological impacts of choice when it comes to beer and perception of quality. This collection may not break new ground in terms of better understanding trends, but it does offer insight into preferences and beer culture.

So grab your abacus and put in your pocket protector, because it’s time to crunch some numbers.

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The Perfect Tap List as Determined by Beer Nerds

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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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Why Lagers Will Never Be a “Best” Beer

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There are always a typical set of reactions when discussing anything determined to be “best.” Even if the word isn’t always grounded in subjectivity – certainly there are quantifiable examples of what’s best – it does swing the gates wide open for a rush of discussions and arguments of what the word and its context means.

Which, perhaps expected, is what happened with a pair of posts analyzing RateBeer’s best 100 beers in the world and the best new entries of 2015.

Some people were surprised at specific beer choices, while a common question permeated throughout a series of other comments: where are the lagers?

From readers and fellow beer writers to this thread on Reddit, people wanted to know why their beloved bottom-fermenting beverages weren’t represented. The one bock that showed up – a weizenbock – isn’t even a lager.

Is it an intrinsic desire to find flavors that push boundaries? Is it driven by our own food culture? Or maybe, as beer continues to grow and evolve – sometimes literally – it’s part of an effort to simply move away from subtlety.

Why, when it comes to what’s “best,” might we find ourselves numb to nuance?

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Trend Spotting: What Can RateBeer’s Best New Beers of 2015 Tell Us?

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In my previous post about RateBeer’s latest collection of “best” beers, we focused on the overall top 100, as released annually by the beer review site. But new this year, RateBeer has also shared a list of 50 best new beers released in 2015.

This is exciting because it not only gives us a better glimpse into trends and preferences for the subgroup of active reviewers on the website, but it also provides an opportunity to compare with my previous “best of 2015” list compiled from a collection of writers and beer enthusiasts.

Like RateBeer’s overall list analyzed in my last post, this one is a wide collection of rare and hard to find beers. As mentioned in a previous piece about the rising price of beer, expensive and speciality brews cater to “snobconsumers, “for whom the acquisition of scarce goods generate ‘signaling effects’ on consumption, increasing their utility when the good consumed is uncommon and generates status.”

In an age of accumulating badges on Untappd and standing among beer loving peers, a list like this isn’t representative to Average Jane Sixpack, but it’s still useful to look at to get a better grasp on the socio-cultural preferences shown by beer lovers.

So let’s once again get to crunching some numbers.

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Crunching Numbers: An Analysis of RateBeer’s Best in 2015

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Note: You can also find an analysis of RateBeer’s best new beers of 2015 here.

Earlier this month we took a look at 2015’s best beers as selected by writers, bloggers and beer enthusiasts.

Today, we step it up to an annual celebration of “best” by one of the Internet’s main beer reviewing website, RateBeer. Over the weekend, the site released their annual collection of best beers of the year, according the reviews of users from the last year and weighted by performance within and outside of style.

As in years past, the list of 100 beers offers a great opportunity for analysis, trying to seek out changing tastes, preferences and insight into beer drinkers and our culture.

So grab your abacus and put in your pocket protector, because it’s time to crunch some numbers.

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A ‘Definitive’ Guide to the Best Beer of 2015: The Beer

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Yesterday, we looked at the “best” breweries of 2015.

Today, we use the same unscientific process on the best beers we might have enjoyed last year.

To do this, I used a collection of 2015’s “best beer” lists from a variety of sources, from blogs to newspapers and prominent magazines. Criteria for selection was simple: a list had to focus on 2015 releases (new beers or new, annual brews) with a preference toward a wide geographic representation. There are more city/state best beer lists than we could shake a pint glass at.

That left me with an eclectic group of lists, ranging from three to 25 beers. In all, there were 193 total beers to analyze with a handful of beers vying for best of 2015.

Nine made the cut.

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Semantics and the Search for a ‘Perfect’ Beer

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What is a perfect beer?

Ask the question and subjectivity runs amok.

Would it be our favorite beer? One that holds particular nostalgic value? A sum of specialized ingredients? Something that simply stands out as so different, it’s one of a kind?

There are many ways to consider what “perfect” means to us, especially in terms of a good or product. Generally speaking, when it comes to beer, the effort to define perfect often becomes a quantitative one, relying on beer rating websites that offer numeric value to a particular brew.

Westvleteren 12 is a perfect 100 on both Beer Advocate and RateBeer. Heady Topper and Pliny the Elder, too. Sorry, Dark Lord, you missed it by five points on Beer Advocate.

If those are examples of “perfect” beers, what does that mean for us? If a beer is perfect, should it also be a favorite? Or are those things utterly, completely, mutually exclusive?

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Reporter’s Notebook: The Hidden Game of Buying Beer

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We are all unique snowflakes.

We pride ourselves for the power of individual thought. Nobody else is like us. Nobody else can influence us.

We do what we want, what we like and what we need.

Except when we don’t.

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The High ABV Beer is Dead! Long Live High ABV!

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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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