Homebrewers Vote, We Listen: Zymurgy’s “Best Beer” and National Trends

Pliny the Elder’s reign is over. Since 2009, the beloved double IPA has sat atop the annual “best beer” poll held by Zymurgy magazine, but no longer.

Over that same period of time, Bell’s Two Hearted has been Pliny’s #2. Always a bridesmaid, never a bride? No more.

The magazine of the American Homebrewers Association released this week its new rankings as voted on by AHA members, who were able to choose up to 20 of their favorite commercial beers available for purchase in the United States through an online voting system. The flip-flop of Pliny the Elder and Two Hearted isn’t the only thing worth paying attention to, however.

Per annual tradition, let’s take a walk through the results.

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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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Copy Cat: A ‘Best Beer’ List Loves IPAs, ABV. Again.

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Last week, Zymurgy, the official publication of the American Homebrewers Association, released its latest update to its annual “Best Beers in America” list.

The compilation of top-50 beers, voted on every year by readers of the magazine, typically stands out slightly from other such lists from Beer Advocate or RateBeer because of general lack of imperial stouts, which so often dominate other polls. There were seven this year and one imperial porter.

Despite that difference, Zymurgy’s voters do have one thing in common with just about any other “best beer” list you’d find – they love IPAs.

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After last year’s dissection of Zymurgy’s list, I took additional data with hope to better analyze the outcome of historical votes, offering context to any shifting preferences and patterns from over the years.

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A Year in ‘Drunkenness’

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This post is the 409th I’ve written at This Is Why I’m Drunk. In truth, I never thought I’d make it this far.

It was an experiment, you see. A trial of writing concocted in the laboratory of my mind and harnessed at my fingertips, where verbal ingredients mix together in a simple exercise of prose. It was all supposed to be nothing more than a running diary that nobody ever saw.

Then I figured out what this all was: a therapeutic mechanism torn from the web of the Internet. It was an opportunity to not just release my thoughts, but hone them and make them better and more sound.

And you came along, too.

2014 has been an incredible year for me personally and professionally and this blog is a big part of that. I know I say it often, but I can’t echo it enough, thank you for being a part of it.

This post is my 95th of this year. The 95th chance to test myself creatively and intellectually. It was a good reason to look back at the other 94 pieces of content I’ve offered in 2014 and give consideration to all that’s happened to me and the beer industry.

So today I offer you an abbreviated look back at what I consider to be some of the more important work I’ve done this year, picking highlights from each month along the way. There are things I completely forgot about, so chances are it’ll be new to you, too.

For you, dear reader, a year gone ‘bye.’ A year in ‘drunkenness.’

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Zymurgy’s “Best Beers” Ranking and the Search for a Non-Boring Beer

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Who knew so much interesting stuff could come out of a simple “best beer” list?

First, we saw how Zymurgy’s best beers that have been around for some time may lose favor with beer drinkers when compared to all the changing options they have today. Then, it became clear that beer lovers might overvalue their adoration of Sierra Nevada brews.

The common thread between the two seemed to be the threat of becoming “boring” to consumers in an industry that is constantly shifting and adjusting products to offer beer enthusiasts.

So what’s left now is the question: what isn’t boring these days?

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

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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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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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