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Examining the Value of ‘Best’ Beer

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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.

What follows is a breakdown of Beer Advocate’s top 250 beers based on the status of the list on Nov. 12. While RateBeer tends to have a mostly static group of their best beers, Beer Advcoate seems a little more ebb and flow, often based on trends of the day. You can see my analysis of New England IPA as an example.



As you’d expect from such a list, it’s almost completely dominated by imperial stouts and variations of IPA. In fact, 170 of the 250 are imperial stout, IPA or double IPA, a number that grows to 181 if we care to count the 11 beers that drink like IPAs but are simply masquarading stylistically as pale ales. The “other” category includes 11 styles of beer that had six or fewer beers on the list, including Eisbock (1), Berliner weisse (2), quad (4) and gueuze (6).

ABV Breakdown

Alcohol content is often discussed (including on this blog) as part of consideration when it comes to “best” beers. Typically, that’s because it’s connected to other aspects of a beer, whether it be style, as seen with the prominence of high-ABV stouts and IPAs above, or rarity.

To further analyze the set of beers from Beer Advocate, I took all of the top 250 beers and placed them into seven ABV ranges. Of note, five beers on the list did not have ABVs listed, nor could I easily find them online. In each case, it appears it’s because of being a one-off beer with the content not being publicly shared.


An interesting curve, mostly driven by IPAs and DIPAs in the 6.1 to 8 and 8.1 to 10 range. No surprise here, as New England IPA (specifically, Tree House) dominate those portions of the chart.

The Value of ABV

A more interesting way to take this data is then to add in the ratings provided by Beer Advocate users to find out where the truly “best” beers are found. For each ABV section mentioned above, I averaged the weighted rank of all beers, which offered this result:


For the most part, all the beers across every ABV category are essentially perceived at the same quality.

But when we’re discussing best beers, we better use those examples, right?

From there, I took the top-10 rated beers in every ABV section – the best of the best – and once again pulled the averaged weighted rank for each set. Now we have some differentiation:


Once again, it’s those New England IPAs that are pushing up the scores for beers between 6.1 and 10 percent ABV, likely aided by the rarity of actually getting a Tree House beer in your hands. Based on this singular analysis alone, you’d think Tree House was the best brewery in the country, uncontested. Maybe they are, but as we’ve seen before, the idea of rarity and difficulty of getting a beer is an important aspect to consider.

To that end, I did a quick “WHALEZ” check for the top 10 of each section, which revealed that eight to 10 of each list of 10 were beers that require standing in a line for hours or, at a minimum, a blood sacrifice. Some brands like Pliny the Elder or Heady Topper are certainly able to be procured, but some effort is still needed.

The Value of Style

The stranglehold of imperial stout and IPA is emphasized when you compare these styles to others on Beer Advocate’s list.

From the total 250, I pulled a collection from the 245 that had their ABV listed. I then used the averaged weighted rank for any style that had four or more beers, leaving me with 232 beers across 10 styles. For the purposes of this example, I put IPA, DIPA and those hopped-to-heaven pale ales in the same category – the weighted rank actually stayed the same whether they were all in one or separated between IPA/DIPA and pale ale.


Again, the ratings of these beers are evenly split with four quads (St. Bernardus Abt 12, Westvleteren 12, Rochefort 10, Firestone Stickee Monkee) actually scoring the highest  averaged rank. That might be expected, however, due to the effort one would have to go through in order to acquire those beers.

But this type of listing is somewhat expected when the imperial stout (79) and IPA/DIPA/pale ale (99) categories represent 76.7% of all the beers included in this data set.

To try and “normalize” a bit, I then took the top-10 beers from both the imperial stout and IPA/DIPA/pale ale categories to even out the number of beers included in each grouping. The chart changes quite a bit afterward:


Not even close.

For reference, here are those top-10, best beers American breweries can offer, as determined by Beer Advocate users:

IPA Imperial Stout
Alchemist Heady Topper Tree House Good Morning
Tree House King Julius Toppling Goliath Kentucky Brunch
Tree House Very Hazy Toppling Goliath Mornin’ Delight
Russian River Pliny the Younger Cigar City Double Barrel-Aged Hunaphu
Tree House King JJJuliusss 3 Floyds Bourbon Barrel Aged Vanilla Bean Dark Lord
Maine Beer Dinner Founders Canadian Breakfast Stout
Tree House Julius Bottle Logic Fundamental Observation
Tree House Juice Machine Perennial Barrel-Aged Abraxas
Russian River Pliny the Elder Goose Island Bourbon County Coffee Stout
Tree House Very Green Founders Kentucky Breakfast Stout

What Does It Mean?

This analysis is rather timely, as writer Aaron Goldfarb recently wrote this article asking the question “When Did Rarity Start to Equal Greatness in Beer?

Aaron found that beginning around 2003, the top beers listed on Beer Advocate started to share the trait of rarity, an aspect that hasn’t changed since:

The greatness of rare beer became self-fulfilling. Drive all the way across the country to Munster, Indiana, or queue up for hours in Vermont to land some Heady Topper, and how could the resulting beer not be stellar? Fetishization quickly became a fast-track to the top.

A similar conclusion was recently reached by Eno Sarris at Beergraphs when examining the potential impact of brewery acquisitions on perceived value.

Even though Beer Advocate’s list of 250 best beers may fluctuate with new additions here or there, it’s still compiled of brands that take time, patience and, quite often, a bit of money to procure. The raters on Beer Advocate aren’t Average Joe or Jane Drinker, which can lead to the inclusion of so many beers a normal beer lover would never even see with their own eyes.

It also reinforces what kind of beers people will go crazy for, with high-ABV stouts and orange juice-IPA leading the charge. Would a limited release lager get as much love? Not likely. It may be fair to assume that only rarity isn’t enough. Obviously a beer has to be good, but the act of obtaining any kind of uncommon object could be psychologically pleasing enough to boost the assumption of quality. Even still, brewers can start loading up bourbon barrels and buying oats in bulk, as those kinds of stouts and IPAs really seem to push things at the moment.

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

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17 days ago
Once again @BryanDRoth has compiled the data so we don't have to and we can enjoy the result.
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Carlos Brito and the Fallacy of Too Much Choice

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What a terrifying world we live in. Two breweries opening up each day. Stores stocking week-old beer. Shelves lined with bottles and cans as far as the eye can see.

“Our customers are thinking, ‘how much more of an assortment can you carry?'” AB InBev CEO Carlos Brito recently told Just Drinks, adding that consumers are “a bit tired of choice and go for fewer brands.”

The end is nigh. Or, at least, that’s how the leader of the world’s largest beer company would like you to see it. Because let’s be honest, beer drinkers aren’t taking to the streets to protest the volume of what’s available to them. In many ways, they’re embracing it.

There are specific problems facing beer sales, from maintaining flagship brands to warding off wine and spirits, but the idea of choice seems more like a welcomed challenge than worrisome threat. Brito’s belief that “[t]here’s only so much shelf space that you can share and cold box that you can split,” is a factually accurate representation of store layout, but presenting an array of options isn’t as cut and dry as he’d like you to think.

Instead let’s focus on what’s getting the most attention: the brunt of Brito’s assertion. Are consumers “tired of choice”?

Evidence suggests he’s wrong.

When discussing variety of choice and what it does to consumers, the most popular study cited is this one, about jam. The TL;DR version of that study is that when shoppers were presented with a collection of jams to buy using a coupon, fewer options (six jams) tallied more sales than more options (24 jams). Sheena Iyengar, a professor at Columbia University who oversaw the work, has done other experiments in this realm and evenwritten a book.

But what if the reality of choice wasn’t as simple as Iyengar’s studies suggest? Additional research and commentary suggests that at worst, more choice may create a neutral impact, and with some further analysis, may even be better for beer drinkers.

Sorry, Carlos.

A key part of Brito’s comments – whether purposeful or not – is something of a brilliant psychological maneuver. His claim that consumers are tired of too much choice can be left to the subjective reaction of anyone, but it is indeed fact that we have never had so much choice. Stockholders or Average Drinkers alike may hear this comment and think to themselves, “yes, the grocery store does seem to have way more beer than ever before,” but it’s action that counts. The volume of brands wouldn’t be rising if people weren’t interested, let alone if distributors thought they couldn’t sell them.

sku for distribs

Brito’s claim of consumer fatigue, not backed by specific examples and data, falls more into the realm of pseudoscience than hardened fact. Instead, we can likely find a truer middle ground of what is applicable when it comes to consumer choice.

That’s exactly what Benjamin Scheibehenne, a psychologist at the University of Basel, set out to explain in this 2008 paper, “The Effect of Having Too Much Choice.” The incredibly in-depth research parses a variety of studies on the topic and comes to a conclusion that “having many options to choose from does not automatically lead to choice overload.” Instead, the threat of options is more of an individualized issue dependent on person, environment and other variables unique to each decision.

To Barry Schwartz, professor of psychology at Swarthmore College, excessive choice leads to “choice paralysis” and can decrease satisfaction with whatever choice is made. In today’s language, that can be parlayed into “fear of missing out.” Schwartz writes that the time and effort associated with too many choices can lead to “anxiety, regret, excessively high expectations,” but again, this all depends on what the decision is.

In the case of a grocer or bottle shop, presentation and packaging options completely change what a consumer can do. At a store where you can buy a single bottle/can and create a mix-a-six, the negative impact of choice is mitigated by an ability to have as much choice as your wallet allows. Best of all, time and effort can easily be minimized with today’s technology. According to marketing and advertising agency XenoPsi, nearly 60 percent of craft beer drinkers use a smartphone to aid purchase decisions. RateBeer, Beer Advocate, Untappd and more are at our fingertips. As needed, an abundance of choice can be impacted by qualitative and quantitative reasoning that can provide real-time education.

“People are always interested in what experts think, whether it’s from a website or magazine,” Jack Soll, associate professor of management at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, told me for a 2015 story for All About Beer. His research focuses on psychology of judgment and decision making. “Taste is very subjective, so if a rating is very high, you might think of that beer as more special and perceive it as better, too.”

From the get-go, the argument of “choice is bad” for beer is threatened:

It is hard to find much evidence that retailers are ferociously simplifying their offerings in an effort to boost sales. Starbucks boasts about its “87,000 drink combinations”; supermarkets are packed with options. This suggests that “choice demotivates” is not a universal human truth, but an effect that emerges under special circumstances.

Most important, as Scheibehenne points out, “[t]aken together, there are convincing arguments that prior preferences can prevent choice overload.” Because beer is an experiential product, people have the chance to create their own expectations and assumptions about breweries, brands and styles. In some sense, they’ve decreased the potential number of options they might choose from, making selection easier. Even if a beer drinker is faced with a cooler stocked with beers they’ve never tried, chances are they’ll be able to pick out keywords and qualifying phrases that will match with past experiences. Suddenly, that choice is a bit easier.

Even still, beer enthusiasts may flock to the perceived “threat” of too many choices. Millennials are certainly keen to this, as they try 5.1 different beer brands a month with 15 percent of craft beer-drinking Millennials choosing 10 or more brands a month. Nearly half of craft beer purchases made by Millennial men include brands they’ve never heard of or seen advertised.

There is clearly joy to be found in the potential of too many choices for some drinkers, who ultimately seek new experiences. This doesn’t even consider the attitude shown toward smartphone apps like Untappd, which reward portfolio drinkers who can fill their profile with badges and bragging rights.

Or, as Scheibehenne notes:

Despite the growing body of empirical evidence in favor of the too-much-choice effect, its theoretical explanation is still sparse and thus far, promoters of the effect have put little effort into developing a coherent framework that explains when and why an increase in the number of options leads to negative consequences. This lack of theory is in sharp contrast to the numerous explanations for the opposite effect—in which decision makers benefit from an increase in assortment size…

There are certain facts of the current beer industry we can’t ignore, which include the rise of a record number of brands being sold and finite space from which they can be sold (except maybe taprooms, that is). As drinkers continue to let their curiosities lead their wallets, it seems we still have a way to go until we become “tired of choice.”

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

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38 days ago
Choice is a good thing for the drinkers! (maybe just not the big brewers) @BryanDRoth has insights
North Carolina USA
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How Committed is Your State to ‘Drinking Local’?

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buy fresh-local-farmers market-local beer-beer(1)

By now it’s probably no surprise: people love to drink at brewery taprooms.

The opportunity to get fresh, from-the-source beer is always a big draw, but there’s certainly an additional layer of excitement about visiting the physical space itself. It’s a deeper connection to the liquid in the glass.

In many places, it’s also simply part of the drinking culture.

Recently, the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) released a new set of statistics related to beer: the aggregated data of sales state-by-state. The information includes numbers from 2010 to 2015, highlighting the breakdown of sales related to bottles and cans, barrels and kegs and “premise use,” the stuff that’s sold on-site and tracked by the TTB. This particularly relates to the “rise of own-premise” business models I wrote about for Good Beer Hunting.

Because of the qualitative and quantitative evidence that consistently appears related to greater customer interest in on-site drinking, I wanted to see if parsing the numbers might offer any new insight into how things look on a state-by-state basis.

Programming note: because of quirky interpretations of policies, business practices and state law, numbers reported to the TTB may not always be 100 percent, guaranteed accurate. In conversation with Bart Watson, the Brewers Association’s economist, he pointed out to me that reported premise use numbers are likely lower than reality. All the same, I’m taking the figures at face value for purposes of this post because it’s the data presented.

Cultural Impact

It’s impossible to deny that in several states, the act of going straight to the source for beer has become part of the culture for local residents. We often hear about people living in San Diego, for instance, taking advantage of the more than 100 beer-making businesses in the county alone. To put actual numbers to this, I pulled the information for states we may most closely associate with this behavior, using Brewers Association-defined craft breweries..

For example, here’s the data from California:

2014 2015 Percent Growth
No. of breweries 431 518 20%
Own-premise barrels sold 66,582.57 121,961.79 83%

Perhaps it should come as no surprise that Golden State drinkers keep California as the top premise-use sales state in the country, a number that is certain to grow as it surpassed 700 total in-state breweries this past summer.

But what’s really interesting is California’s comparison to another beer-loving state. Despite having roughly half the number of breweries in 2015, Colorado had nearly identical on-site sales:

2014 2015 Percent Growth
No. of breweries 235 284 21%
Own-premise barrels sold 75,759.99 120,964.79 60%

Maybe it’s all those biking trails that lead straight to breweries?

Those state figures may not come as anything new, but what really interested me were states that might also attract a large number of tourists. In a previous post, I highlighted the very real financial impact of beer tourism, which is most definitely felt in states like Oregon:

In the most recent (2014) survey by Travel Portland, a tourism office for the Oregon city, results showed that 11 percent of US adults visited Portland for a leisure trip in 2013 or 2014 … Among those who visited, 68 percent participated in some beer-related experience.

Despite just a 5.5 percent growth in number of breweries from 2014 to 2015, own-premise sales more than doubled:

2014 2015 Percent Growth
No. of breweries 216 228 5.50%
Own-premise barrels sold 35,542.33 86,834.95 144%

You can also find this kind of drastic contrast in Vermont, land of Hill Farmstead and Heady Topper:

2014 2015 Percent Growth
No. of breweries 40 44 10%
Own-premise barrels sold 2,786.29 10,846.17 289%

And to a lesser extent, Washington:

Washington 2014 2015 Percent Growth
No. of breweries 256 305 19%
Own-premise barrels sold 18,363.50 43,219.71 135%

A common denominator for all these states would certainly be their unique beer cultures, which are deep and ingrained in each state’s connection to food, beverage and “what’s local.” Some of these brewery numbers are so large, the percentage growth remains relatively low, but there’s no denying how impressive the actual sale of pints looks.

Programming note: Because some of the jumps in on-site sales seem drastic from 2014 to 2015, I emailed the TTB to ask if any reporting or data collection changed. If I hear back, I will update this post with that info.

Growing Interest

While some states have always had great interest in their own beer scene, it’s easy to see that kind of attention spreading to other areas across the country. The number of breweries is growing everywhere and with it, the number of people checking out these new additions to their community.

To better understand this change, I tracked the top-15 states for on-site sales based on numbers reported to the TTB. Using all six years of data offered by the organization, here’s what a year-to-year chart looks like, highlighting the up-and-down shift of states. Note the key of this chart, which uses red to indicate a year-to-year drop, yellow to show an increased rank, but one for a state already on the list, and blue to show a new appearance in the top 15:


Obvious note on the quirkiness of reporting, as mentioned above, as Illinois somehow took over the top spot from California and Colorado solely for 2014. I have a note in with the TTB communications staff to help clarify this instance.

Aside from that, I’d like to draw your attention to the column for 2015, where we see four new states appear in the top-15. This is an important aspect to recognize, as it clearly helps illustrate the new brewery and beer cultures expanding in states like Texas, Florida and others.

Adding Capacity

To help reinforce this idea, I pulled two collections of states to focus on the increased number of breweries, as reported to the Brewers Association, and the total barrels sold on-site at breweries.

From 2014 to 2015, here are some of the top states in terms of percentage growth of breweries, according to numbers collected by the Brewers Association:

State 2014 Breweries 2015 Breweries Percentage Growth
Texas 117 189 61.5%
New Jersey 32 51 59%
North Carolina 101 161 59%
Virginia 78 124 59%
Maryland 40 60 50%
Indiana 80 115 44%
Minnesota 73 105 44%
Arizona 53 78 40%
Florida 111 151 36%
Tennessee 39 52 33%
Michigan 159 205 31%
Pennsylvania 136 178 31%
Ohio 110 143 30%
Iowa 46 58 26%
Wisconsin 97 121 25%

Additionally, here are the same states with percentage growth of own-premise barrels sold, using figures from the TTB:

State 2014 Barrels Sold 2015 Barrels Sold  Percentage Growth
Texas 9,848.20 62,622.83 536%
Florida 7,140.24 35,277.93 394%
Iowa 5,775.54 17,917.21 210%
New Jersey 6,060.97 18,359.01 203%
Minnesota 12,806.87 35,898.89 180%
North Carolina 18,424.66 51,543.68 180%
Virginia 12,526.11 32,092.47 156%
Maryland 7,541.10 17,543.58 132%
Ohio 13,732.61 31,530.96 130%
Tennessee 9,264.57 20,735.79 124%
Indiana 16,300.90 32,287.43 98%
Wisconsin 17,984.10 35,039.17 95%
California 66,582.57 121,961.79 83%
Michigan 32,038.96 56,749.17 77%
Arizona 17,667.95 29,762.28 68%

For fun, a look at those two lists side-by-side:

Brewery Growth Barrels Sold Growth
Texas Texas
New Jersey Florida
North Carolina Iowa
Virginia New Jersey
Maryland Minnesota
Indiana North Carolina
Minnesota Virginia
Arizona Maryland
Florida Ohio
Tennessee Tennessee
Michigan Indiana
Pennsylvania Wisconsin
Ohio California
Iowa Michigan
Wisconsin Arizona

The key here is to better identify the places that are making the jump toward where long-tenured beer loving states may be. In the past couple years, Texas has certainly been a state to keep an eye on and these stats certainly emphasize that. As you go down the list, consider the states shown with new, hot breweries you’ve heard about.

The Pacific Northwest and West Coast have long been known as big beer places, but this collection of states helps to show why so many people are talking about just about every region of the country as something to offer. New breweries are doing some pretty great things, which is attracting plenty of people to not only open and expand these beer communities, but bringing beer lovers to the source. A lot of this has to do with growing interest, but it certainly also deals with modernizing laws in many of these states that for a long time impeded aspects of industry growth.

In the end, that final note will continue to play a pivotal role in how these kinds of stats grow and change in the years to come.

The Full List

In case you were interested in finding the data for certain states, the full list is pasted below. Note that the number of breweries per state, as shared on the Brewers Association website state-by-state, goes back five years. The TTB data goes back to 2010. In some cases, like Mississippi, data for a year may be missing.

2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015
No. of breweries 6 10 13 19 24
Own-premise barrels sold 0.00 0.00 0.00 130.55 226.25 5,760.63
No. of breweries 20 22 22 22 27
Own-premise barrels sold 1,666.84 1,994.17 2,007.52 2,556.31 2,656.27 5,049.98
No. of breweries 34 45 47 53 78
Own-premise barrels sold 14,982.81 16,668.08 14,427.63 18,562.39 17,667.95 29,762.28
No. of breweries 6 10 13 19 26
Own-premise barrels sold 518.25 535.25 524.00 558.14 776.12 1,319.67
No. of breweries 270 319 381 431 518
Own-premise barrels sold 29,464.37 38,249.35 27,645.89 62,653.99 66,582.57 121,961.79
No. of breweries 126 151 175 235 284
Own-premise barrels sold 39,224.46 50,434.80 43,769.12 61,841.82 75,759.99 120,964.79
No. of breweries 16 21 23 27 35
Own-premise barrels sold 695.72 1,006.90 471.10 2,411.30 2,076.35 13,478.12
No. of breweries 7 9 10 11 15
Own-premise barrels sold 0.00 569.00 0.00 3,051.08 3,089.73 5,981.02
No. of breweries 45 57 66 111 151
Own-premise barrels sold 5,072.64 4,679.22 3,189.01 6,370.49 7,140.24 35,277.93
No. of breweries 21 22 28 40 45
Own-premise barrels sold 2,121.72 2,489.06 1,853.20 4,658.16 4,435.57 17,961.44
No. of breweries 7 9 8 10 13
Own-premise barrels sold 1,329.75 1,367.08 1,134.11 1,972.63 1,380.60 4,234.55
No. of breweries 24 31 34 43 50
Own-premise barrels sold 3,783.23 4,994.57 4,354.86 6,006.63 4,573.66 13,792.75
No. of breweries 54 68 83 103 157
Own-premise barrels sold 12,011.12 15,552.91 14,890.69 25,269.76 91,945.35 44,535.02
No. of breweries 46 55 63 80 115
Own-premise barrels sold 6,072.24 9,611.42 8,564.63 15,006.35 16,300.90 32,287.43
No. of breweries 27 34 40 46 58
Own-premise barrels sold 3,316.93 4,356.60 3,593.09 6,175.74 5,775.54 17,917.21
No. of breweries 17 19 20 22 26
Own-premise barrels sold 3,461.57 4,906.29 3,403.46 7,451.96 7,579.47 6,540.63
No. of breweries 11 14 15 18 24
Own-premise barrels sold 279.60 1,277.50 749.81 6,465.48 6,234.52 7,190.18
No. of breweries 8 8 11 15 20
Own-premise barrels sold 1,775.20 1,536.07 1,606.10 1,723.51 1,579.10 5,933.60
No. of breweries 34 37 47 52 59
Own-premise barrels sold 2,980.25 3,754.47 3,814.16 8,036.58 7,936.21 14,797.04
No. of breweries 25 31 34 40 60
Own-premise barrels sold 7,145.62 6,929.68 5,586.80 7,771.25 7,541.10 17,543.58
No. of breweries 45 49 57 61 84
Own-premise barrels sold 9,881.01 8,377.22 7,691.57 12,570.98 10,352.66 15,277.04
No. of breweries 105 122 131 159 205
Own-premise barrels sold 12,998.13 14,199.86 11,527.15 28,569.48 32,038.96 56,749.17
No. of breweries 35 47 52 73 105
Own-premise barrels sold 1,715.22 3,058.91 1,238.71 11,110.35 12,806.87 35,898.89
No. of breweries 2 3 4 7 8
Own-premise barrels sold 0.00 3.00 0.00 0.00 6,294.62
No. of breweries 43 45 49 55 71
Own-premise barrels sold 8,431.39 10,596.85 10,804.23 13,003.37 13,743.88 18,183.66
No. of breweries 33 36 39 44 49
Own-premise barrels sold 2,708.02 3,042.40 3,236.79 4,373.97 6,203.14 26,374.60
No. of breweries 18 19 22 32 33
Own-premise barrels sold 3,020.29 2,083.32 1,132.00 6,449.30 3,657.26 6,412.13
No. of breweries 18 22 22 25 34
Own-premise barrels sold 12,111.63 14,930.03 14,025.70 14,187.08 16,234.04 21,479.94
New Hampshire
No. of breweries 15 19 22 26 44
Own-premise barrels sold 4,698.22 5,352.00 5,653.58 6,072.36 6,381.32 8,636.34
New Jersey
No. of breweries 24 25 26 32 51
Own-premise barrels sold 2,120.18 2,293.27 905.64 5,280.34 6,060.97 18,359.01
New Mexico
No. of breweries 25 28 31 36 45
Own-premise barrels sold 8,436.52 8,424.92 6,140.71 13,997.52 13,976.38 13,352.96
New York
No. of breweries 75 92 165 181 208
Own-premise barrels sold 8,095.67 10,455.01 7,839.08 25,407.21 39,154.22 44,669.50
North Carolina
No. of breweries 59 71 91 101 161
Own-premise barrels sold 11,792.64 12,674.72 12,987.41 22,091.10 18,424.66 51,543.68
North Dakota
No. of breweries 2 4 6 6 9
Own-premise barrels sold 0.00 132.00 47.98 1,376.15 1,350.78 2,325.95
No. of breweries 45 58 76 110 143
Own-premise barrels sold 7,220.57 8,084.49 8,244.44 11,927.23 13,732.61 31,530.96
No. of breweries 10 10 13 10 14
Own-premise barrels sold 1,575.34 1,753.78 937.96 2,381.47 2,459.74 9,950.59
No. of breweries 124 145 181 216 228
Own-premise barrels sold 23,123.20 28,137.03 29,193.32 38,267.28 35,542.33 86,834.95
No. of breweries 88 104 108 136 178
Own-premise barrels sold 13,405.80 20,844.85 17,818.02 32,031.70 30,646.77 41,040.29
Rhode Island
No. of breweries 6 8 8 11 14
Own-premise barrels sold 787.84 902.50 716.47 830.80 987.13 974.43
South Carolina
No. of breweries 16 16 20 31 36
Own-premise barrels sold 2,001.43 1,708.77 652.55 2,738.72 3,184.64 9,666.53
South Dakota
No. of breweries 5 7 10 12 14
Own-premise barrels sold 253.50 165.00 0.00 913.96 1,433.02 1,802.72
No. of breweries 24 30 35 39 52
Own-premise barrels sold 9,010.41 5,529.06 4,987.68 10,180.52 9,264.57 20,735.79
No. of breweries 59 84 96 117 189
Own-premise barrels sold 4,914.36 5,396.15 2,356.02 9,709.23 9,848.20 62,622.83
No. of breweries 16 16 16 20 22
Own-premise barrels sold 4,240.25 4,790.98 3,359.90 3,953.10 5,875.72 4,001.39
No. of breweries 22 27 29 40 44
Own-premise barrels sold 2,431.46 2,267.61 1,183.31 2,606.85 2,786.29 10,846.17
No. of breweries 40 50 61 78 124
Own-premise barrels sold 8,866.98 9,306.00 7,561.59 12,460.13 12,526.11 32,092.47
No. of breweries 136 170 201 256 305
Own-premise barrels sold 13,847.68 15,650.91 14,729.64 17,833.16 18,363.50 43,219.71
Washington DC
No. of breweries 6 6 9 8 10
Own-premise barrels sold 3,574.26 1,676.75 1,572.75 2,250.90 4,630.30 7,860.31
West Virginia
No. of breweries 5 6 7 11 12
Own-premise barrels sold 0.00 0.00 8.10 422.15 420.50 3,759.35
No. of breweries 73 84 90 97 121
Own-premise barrels sold 6,506.06 10,881.64 8,332.10 19,023.34 17,984.10 35,039.17
No. of breweries 13 15 18 22 23
Own-premise barrels sold 2,551.51 2,993.18 3,266.23 3,740.07 3,305.07 4,710.50


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

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52 days ago
Another enjoyable (and enlightening) article from @BryanDRoth #ncbeer
North Carolina USA
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How Big Craft Breweries Are Keeping Share of Mind – and Pint Glass

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Back in December 2015, I wrote about an important pivot “legacy” breweries were being forced to make as the beer market continued to diversify, led by many of the smaller and more agile breweries.

Examples like Dogfish Head, Founders and Highland – an NC brewery with Mid-Atlantic footprint – were all businesses that had been around for a while. Looking at their 2016 production schedules, something seemed clear: they were trying to find more ways to keep attention on their brands. That meant new products, new packaging and a new pattern of beer releases to keep things fresh and interesting for drinkers.

“In any industry, businesses run the risk of falling behind if they don’t innovate and experiment,” I wrote. “Considering the incredible growth in beer over the last few years, this feels doubly so.”

If anything, what we’ve seen since that initial post has only reinforced this necessary action for long-tenured breweries. No surprise, they’re the ones big enough to heavily influence the supermarket numbers mentioned above in Kate’s tweet.

In some ways, 2016 has been very kind to breweries like New Belgium, Sierra Nevada and Sam Adams, but there’s always another side to the story.

The nation’s top two craft brewers, Boston Beer and Sierra Nevada, “are now both in decline” and “combined volumes for the top 12 craft brewers grew only 1% for the three months to May,” Sanford C. Bernstein stated this week citing Nielsen figures in a report titled “The Dramatic Slowdown of Craft Beer Continues.”

Ouch. Some harsh words in an Ad Age post titled “Is the Craft Beer Boom Ending?

The answer is most decidedly “no,” but that doesn’t mean things aren’t perfect for some of the country’s biggest craft breweries. What it does mean is that these businesses increasingly find themselves in a position where they’ll need to bring new products to market to keep up with other breweries and stay fresh in the eyes on consumers.

Per IRI, 15 of the top 30 craft brands showed sales decline in the first half of 2016, including names we all recognize like Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, New Belgium Fat Tire and Samuel Adams Boston Lager. Six of those 15 brands have seen declines of 10 percent or more.

As we watch this slow fade, it’s hard not to think it may be because of the threat of flailing flagships or a simple cannibalization of “heritage” brands based on the success of new ones.

According to Beer Marketer’s Insights’ Craft Brew News, about 900 new craft brands have been half of craft beer dollar sales growth in IRI-tracked outlets through mid-August. Of that, 18 new craft beer brands surpassed the $1 million mark in sales, making up nearly half the sales for all new brands.

Where is most of that growth coming from? New, widely distributed brands from some of the biggest breweries:

  • New Belgium’s Citradelic and gluten-free beers
  • Sam Adams’ Rebel Grapefruit and nitro line
  • Sierra Nevada’s Otra Vez

(Also of note: Ballast Point Pineapple Sculpin is around $3 million in sales through mid-August and Watermelon Dorado, Mango Even Keel and Sculpin Variety Pack are about that combined.)

The success of these new brands is necessary to offset declines elsewhere in these breweries’ portfolios.

In the case of Sam Adams, where Boston Lager, Rebel IPA and their top-two seasonal SKUs account for 70 percent of volume, those brands have dropped $25.4 million year-to-date in sales. Otra Vez may be doing well for Sierra Nevada right now, but that’s been needed to buoy declines in just about any Sierra brand other than their seasonal and a few other new, 2016 brands, all numbers according to Craft Brew News.

It’s a good thing New Belgium has the $11.5 million in sales from Citradelic IPA to lean on as the top-selling new craft brand (and on pace to be one of the biggest craft debuts ever) because their Ranger and Slow Ride IPAs are both down. Luckily, their Glutiny Pale and Golden ales are both among those 18 new brands that are over $1 million in sales.

All this, combined with New Belgium’s increase in distribution this spring and summer into states like Connecticut, New Jersey and New York, has certainly helped, too.

The biggest benefit for all these breweries is the classic “location, location, location.” These new brands are well liked by drinkers, otherwise they wouldn’t be selling so much or winning blind taste contests, but it’s hard to ignore that you can find these beers across the spectrum of supermarkets, convenience stores, Wal-Mart and more, which helps to drive those impressive sales and is a big reason why 51 percent of craft growth is from new brands.

With the base of craft beer drinkers ever expanding – and the expectation of finding something new and exciting that comes with that – there’s a constant need to innovate and create. It’s a good thing these big breweries are up for the challenge, using their own research and development staff to stay on top of trends as best they can and offer these new tastes to fans. Or, at least, trying to create the next one.

When we enter the beer aisle, we’re now bombarded with a wild collection of choice unlike ever before. In our hunt for what’s new, the breweries that we “grew up” with are trying their best to make sure we don’t forget about them, too.

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

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96 days ago
The ever insightful @BryanDRoth provide more insight into the trends that help quench our thirst!
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Let’s Talk Doom, Gloom and Craft Beer Bubbles

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popping bubble

In an industry with such monumental growth in recent years, it’s no wonder people are asking all sorts of questions these days. Interest for beer is at an all-time high, which means curiosity among enthusiasts is right there to match.

Lately, however, if people aren’t asking “what’s the next IPA?” it’s been something along the lines of “when do you think this bubble will burst?” The fate of beer is a popular armchair quarterback activity, often based on ideas of vanity stats like the number of breweries in the country instead of where things stand culturally and economically.

In 2011, there was fear of a bursting bubble because 2010 offered record growth for craft beer. Then again in 2012. And 2013. Of course in 2014. Definitely in 2015. And the song plays on.

Sometimes I feel this discussion is almost as ubiquitous as putting beer into cans.

At the core of each of those news stories – and most conversations I’ve had on the topic – is that people see the fast growth in overall number of US breweries, try to translate what that number means to them personally and assign a judgment based on their expectations and experiences, assuming things must be heading in a bad direction.

But what if Sam Calagione’s “bloodbath” of fallen craft brewers isn’t coming? That was a prediction made two years ago, after all.

Instead, what we’ve seen over the last five years is an influx of smartly created businesses increasing sales andprices – all the while met by demand.

My first thought when discussing a “bubble” isn’t necessarily an economic take, but a psychological one. The people who are often crying wolf on the impending crisis are typically media covering the industry. Not intense, card carrying Beer Nerds such as myself, but a traditional reporter with an average knowledge of beer who may care to ask questions about a bubble when local brewery numbers creep upward, like these examples for Los Angeles or Minneapolis-Saint Paul.

Even when beer enthusiasts do ask about bubbles, it comes from our unique point of view, trying to combine what we know and see about our local and regional market with context of the national scene to create some mental conglomeration of impending doom.

On a whole, unfamiliar things make us more afraid than familiar ones, especially things that have been mythologized as “scary.” Discussions of past bubbles – whether the tech or metal or beer industries – adds to a mounting collection of references that tell us we should be wary weary when something grows fast. On top of that, add ongoing coverage asking about a bubble and why we should be worried and we begin to inch toward instructional fear acquisition, a social cost of fear, whether rational or not.

The process of layering public perception, often seen through continuous coverage or mention of our beer bubble, on top of mirroring the fear of others can lead to irrationality, hardly an uncommon attributefor humans in all aspects of life.

In an unrelated field, perhaps we can take a cue from Indiana University telecommunications professor Andrew Weaver: “When you leave it up someone’s imagination, we can conjure things that can frighten us much better or effectively than what most filmmakers can invent and put onscreen.”

The most common area from which people base their fear of a beer bubble comes from the rising number of breweries, but a vanity stat doesn’t tell the whole story. If we were to have a thousand regional breweries making 50,000 barrels a year coming online, that would most certainly sound like a problem. But it’s commonly the exact opposite.

According to estimates by the National Beer Wholesalers Association (NBWA), the beer industry added about 700 new breweries in 2015, which aligns with the Brewers Association’s estimate of about two breweries opening each day. As the NBWA’s Lester Jones points out, “starting small is the name of the game.”

Brewery counts by size 2015_Page_1

Most breweries entering the marketplace these days are small. “Nano” isn’t just a descriptive word for a brewery’s size, but it’s a trend in the industry.

From 2007 to 2015, the average barrel production for microbreweries (less than 15,000 barrels a year and selling at least 75 percent off-site) declined from 2,290 to 1,638 barrels, according to Brewers Association estimates. That can be because of factors like some breweries scaling up and leaving the “microbrewery” label behind, but is mostly driven by the entrance of small businesses.

Not only does staying small offer greater potential for business success based on scale and margins, but it’s simply a return to normalcy for America’s brewing industry. The neighborhood breweries of the 19th century have returned, offering intimacy and authenticityat a time when expectations among the beer drinking public are changing, especially craft beer lovers.

“Fears about the number of breweries are often overblown because people haven’t wrapped their head around what the new brewery business model really is for these businesses,” Brewers Association economist Bart Watson recently mentioned on the Business of Craft Beer podcast.

Small is increasingly playing a bigger role in beer. In the same conversation, Watson mentioned the contrast between craft brewery growth 20 years ago versus today. Back then, brewery geography was focused on places like college towns and urban areas. Now, with a reported 78 percent of drinking-age adults living within 10 miles of a brewery, those locations have diversified.

“You don’t get a stat like that unless you have breweries in the vast majority of communities around the country,” Watson said. Given that the popular business model of focusing on staying small and local has taken hold, “that’s something that a neighborhood in a city or small town can support,” he added.

One of the biggest differences between the beer industry’s “Shakeout” of 20 years ago and today is demand.

Overall, the rise in number of craft breweries simply parallels the increase of “craft” goods and services in other industries. This doesn’t just apply to the United States, but acts as a global movement as well. In one study looking at 118 countries, findings showed that “most regions and markets worldwide last year saw consumers trading up to higher value products across a wide range of categories.” There’s a rise of craft producers everywhere.

Most important, people are willing and able to pay for the increased amount of beer available in the marketplace. The high-end segment of beer – crafts and imports that cost more than $30 a case – is growing steadily, according to the National Beer Wholesalers Association. Wages may need to grow a little faster, but overall consumer spending is healthy.

In terms of Brewers Association-defined “craft” beer, volume and dollar sales are up. Breweries charging $20 for a four-pack of New England IPA are selling out on a daily basis. While some beer is most certainly sitting on store shelves longer than before – an unfortunate side effect of the power and volume of choice – stale beer we find at our local bottle shop isn’t necessarily indicative of national trends.

Yet, at least.

Just remember, we’ve been sounding this alarm for some time. Even in 1994, when Portland, Maine was getting ready to open its fifth brewery, the end was nigh.

With any business system, there are always economic aspects to consider and worry over, but even though we only have to look back 20 years to see a busted bubble in the beer industry, we shouldn’t start pounding the alarm just yet. It’s not all doom and gloom. It’s not all threatening. It’s actually kind of exciting.

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

Header image via bioedge.org

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110 days ago
Started my week with a bubbling, thought-provoking article from @BryanDRoth
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The Perfect Tap List as Determined by Beer Nerds

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beer taps

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…

Tap 1, House IPA

  • RateBeer: Tree House Julius
  • BeerAdvocate: Tree House Julius
  • BeerGraphs: Trillium Double Dry Hopped Congress Street IPA
  • Untappd: Tree House Julius

Tap 2, House Pale Ale

  • RateBeer: Three Floyds Zombie Dust
  • BeerAdvocate: Three Floyds Zombie Dust
  • BeerGraphs: Lagunitas Born Yesterday
  • Untappd: Toppling Goliath pseudoSue

Tap 3, House Saison

  • RateBeer: Hill Farmstead Ann
  • BeerAdvocate: Hill Farmstead Ann
  • BeerGraphs: Hill Farmstead Arthur
  • Untappd: Sante Adairius Rustic Ales West Ashley

Tap 4, House Cheapie*

  • RateBeer: Stone Imperial Russian Stout
  • BeerAdvocate: Founders Breakfast Stout
  • BeerGraphs: Alpine Nelson
  • Untappd: N/A

*A note about the “cheapie” category, which is supposed to represent cost efficient choices. Instead of going that road, I looked at each listing and found the highest ranked, widely available beer, in that order. It isn’t “cheap,” in terms of cost, but it is “cheap” in terms of time and effort to find. It also speaks to these kinds of ranking systems when these are the beers that fill that qualification. Of note: Untappd did not have such a beer in its top-ranked list, which only offers one page of 36 beers.

Tap 5, House Pilsner*

  • RateBeer: Heater Allen Pils
  • Beer Advocate: The Bruery Humulus Lager (American Double/Imperial Pilsner)
  • BeerGraphs: Hertog Jan Pilsener
  • Untappd: Other Half Grits ‘n’ Greens (American – Other)

*Each site had different categorizations for pilsner, including the style specific to countries of origin. Where possible, I focused on American pilsner, but added the site category for Beer Advocate and Untappd.

Tap 6, House Porter

  • RateBeer: Hill Farmstead Everett
  • BeerAdvocate: Funky Buddha Morning Wood
  • BeerGraphs: Funky Buddha Last Snow
  • Untappd: Funky Buddha Last Snow

Tap 7, House Blue Moon Alternative

  • RateBeer: Three Floyds Gumballhead
  • BeerAdvocate: Three Floyds Gumballhead
  • BeerGraphs: Three Floyds Gumballhead
  • Untappd: Perennial Artisan Ales Funky Wit Apricot

Tap 8, House Session Beer*

  • RateBeer: Hill Farmstead Walden
  • BeerAdvocate: Alpine Hoppy Birthday
  • BeerGraphs: Maine Beer 2
  • Untappd: Lawson’s Finest Liquids Super Session #2

*Let’s be honest. Considering the popularity and proliferation of IPAs, of course these picks would be session IPAs.

Tap 9, Rotating IPA*

  • RateBeer: Tree House Alter Ego
  • BeerAdvocate: The Alchemist Focal Banger
  • BeerGraphs: Trillium Hundred Thousand Trillion
  • Untappd: The Alchemist Focal Banger

*Each of these picks were the second-highest ranked IPA on each list.

Tap 10, Rotating IPA*

  • RateBeer: Hill Farmstead Susan
  • BeerAdvocate: Tree House Green
  • BeerGraphs: Tree House Curiosity Twenty Three
  • Untappd: Trillium Double Dry Hopped Congress Street

*Each of these picks were the third-highest ranked IPA on each list.

Tap 11, Rotating Local (N/A)

If you’re interested in local options for all 50 states, I recommend visiting each ranking site’s webpage for those options.

Tap 12, Rotating Lager*

RateBeer: Great Lakes Eliot Ness (Amber/Vienna)
BeerAdvocate: Jack’s Abby Hoponius Union
BeerGraphs: Carton Brewing Sit Down Son
Untappd: Jack’s Abby Triple Dry Hopped Hoponius Union (IPL)

*Like pilsner, each site had different categorizations for lager.

Tap 13, Rotating Legend

(N/A – for best “heritage” brands, I suggest checking out this listing and analysis)

Tap 14, Rotating Wild Card*

  • RateBeer: AleSmith IPA
  • BeerAdvocate: New England Brewing Fuzzy Baby Ducks IPA
  • BeerGraphs: Other Half Street Green
  • Untappd: Tree House Alter Ego

*The first wild card tap is just the fourth-highest ranked IPA. Because IPA, duh.

Tap 15, Rotating Wild Card*

  • RateBeer: Belgian Quad
  • BeerAdvocate: Imperial Stout
  • BeerGraphs: American Pale Ale (but really IPA)
  • Untappd: Imperial Stout

*Instead of a specific beer, this rotating tap reflects exactly what a rotation should be. I took the top-ranked style from each site to reflect what that kind of style would appear to be in my make believe bar. Westy 12 has long stood atop RateBeer’s rankings and Zombie Dust kills on BeerGraphs. All stouts all the time on Beer Advocate and especially Untappd, thanks to Bourbon County Brand Stout and all its variants.

Tap 16, Rotating Craft Superstar*

  • RateBeer: AleSmith
  • BeerAdvocate: Founders
  • BeerGraphs: Goose Island
  • Untappd: Goose Island

*Like the above wild card option, I picked the most prevalent, easily found brewery on each list. Untappd is skewed because of BCBS.

What does this all mean?

It all reflects an easily expected outcome, showing that what’s new is what’s powerful. Tree House and Trillium seem to be the darlings of the beer world at the moment, thanks to their IPAs, both regular and of the New England variety. Hill Farmstead isn’t going anywhere thanks to the hype and power the brewery wields over drinkers and ratings alike.

If anything, looking at this full list of beers makes me kind of sad, although not surprised, at the repetition of brands and what they represent. It feels like a whole lot of hegemony here, but that’s how things go in consumer driven industries.

What say you, dutiful reader?

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

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150 days ago
And thanks to @BryanDRoth I'm now *very* thirsty!
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