Wednesday, July 2, 2014

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love "Top Beers" Lists

Zymurgy, a popular homebrew/craft beer magazine, came out with its annual reader’s poll list of the top 50 beers in America. It’s an interesting list. Check it out here if you’d like.

The thing that strikes me most about the list is that it’s comprised mostly of “hoppy” beers. By that I mean beers in which the balance in the aroma and flavor are shifted towards hops (not to mention a scale tipped slightly towards hop bitterness). I decided to break down the list even further to see exactly what the numbers are:

Note: All styles are categorized using Beer Advocate     

The third beer on the left is considered the best
"commercially available" beer in the United States,
according to Zymurgy readers

American IPA: 16
American Double/Imperial IPA: 12
American Double/Imperial Stout: 4 (3 are barrel-aged)
American Pale Ale: 3
American Wild Ale: 2 (all are barrel-aged)
American Porter: 2
Russian Imperial Stout: 2
American Black Ale (Black IPA): 1
American Pale Wheat Ale: 1
American Strong Ale: 1
Saison: 1
Milk/Sweet Stout: 1
Oud Bruin: 1
American Amber/Red Ale: 1
Quadrupel: 1
Scotch Ale/Wee Heavy: 1 (barrel-aged)

Wow. 28 out of 50 beers are either an IPA or an Imperial IPA. Add in sub-categories of IPA, American Pale Ale and beers that are “hoppy” for their style and you get 34 total. 

That’s 68% of the list!!!

It got me thinking...what about the other top beer lists? How do they compare? I looked no further than two of the most popular beer websites on the planet: RateBeer and Beer Advocate. Let’s break them down:

According to Beer Advocate, Heady Topper is the best beer
in the world. This guy agrees.

American Double/Imperial Stout: 16 (13 are barrel-aged)
American Imperial IPA: 13
American Wild Ale: 6 (all are barrel-aged)
Russian Imperial Stout: 4 (3 are barrel-aged)
Lambic - Fruit: 3
English Barleywine: 2 (all are barrel-aged)
Quadrupel: 2
American Pale Ale: 2
Old Ale: 1 (barrel-aged)
American Porter: 1

RateBeer users have rated this the number one beer
in the world. 

Imperial Stout: 32 (19 are barrel-aged)
Imperial IPA: 7
Sour/Wild Ale: 3 (all barrel aged)
Quadrupel: 2
Belgian Strong Ale: 2
American Strong Ale: 1 (barrel-aged)
Fruit beer: 1 (Kuhnhenn Raspberry Eisbock. Beer Advocate lists as an Eisbock)
Lambic - Fruit: 1
Barleywine: 1 (barrel-aged; North Coast Old Stock Cellar Reserve Brandy Barrel. Beer Advocate lists this example as an Old Ale)

For the sake of my observations (which will be laid out in a future blog post), let’s make the following simplifications:

  • Beer Advocate’s “American Imperial Stout” and “Russian Imperial Stout” classifications will be combined to match RateBeer’s “Imperial Stout” category.
  • RateBeer’s “Belgian Strong Ale” will be compared to Beer Advocate’s “Belgian Dark Strong.” “Quadrupel” will also be grouped in with these styles.
  • RateBeer’s “Barleywine” in the top 50 will NOT be compared against Beer Advocate’s “Barleywines” in the top 50. North Coast Old Stock Cellar Reserve Brandy Barrel is number 48 on RateBeer’s list and they have it classified as a “Barleywine” when Beer Advocate has it listed as an “Old Ale.” 
  • RateBeer’s “fruit beer” in the top 50 will probably be thrown out as well since Beer Advocate classifies this beer as an “Eisbock.” (Gotta love the never-ending argument about style classification.)
  • Lambics - Fruit will not be included in any “barrel-aged” statistics. Barrel-aging is essential to this style of beer. The styles of beer that I reference “barrel-aged” statistics for don’t require barrel aging for that particular style. For example, neither “American Wild Ales,” “Sour/Wild Ales” nor “Imperial Stouts” need to be barrel-aged in order to be classified as such.

There will be some interpretation on my end based on my palette and what I’ve tasted. I haven’t tasted all of the beers on these list, but I have sampled quite a few of them. Those interpretations will most apply to the Zymurgy list.

Again, I’ll save my observations for my next blog post. I want the information to sink in before I start commenting on the lists. 

I will, however, leave you with an interesting breakdown - the percentages of beers from each list that fall under these 3 categories: IPA, Imperial Stout, or barrel-aged beers.


IPA (Including Imperial): 58%
Imperial Stout (Including Russian): 12%
Barrel Aged Beers: 12%

Beer Advocate:

IPA (Including Imperial): 26%
Imperial Stout (Including Russian): 40%
Barrel Aged Beers: 50%


IPA (Including Imperial): 14%
Imperial Stout (Including Russian): 64%
Barrel Aged Beers: 50%

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