Sam Adams: From Poke to Woke… And You’re Next

A wise man can hear profit in the wind.

-22nd Rule of Acquisition

Last year we published an article entitled Sam Adams: The Waking Giant.  In it, we compared The Boston Beer Company, commonly referred to as “Sam Adams” after its flagship beer, to a slowly waking giant, and made the case that the brewery was poised for a rebound particularly in regards to the company’s stock price (NYSE: SAM).

At that time, the company’s valuation was taking a beating with shares trading for around $150 a piece down from a high of around $315 just two years prior despite being the second-largest craft brewery in the U.S. ¹  We suggested that co-founder, billionaire, and Harvard grad Jim Koch was making some noticeable and innovative changes to his typical play-it-safe brewing philosophy which could spell big profit for the company.

For general readability, we focused more on a shift in the spirit of the company instead of an in depth discussion of the fundamental and technical analysis behind the reasons why we felt a course-change was underway at Sam Adams.

The bear that is Sam Adams (read: Jim Koch) was getting pokes from both external forces but more importantly from folks within the company encouraging Koch to compete with other craft breweries with flavorful trending beer styles including a juicy, hazy New England IPA of its own (Boston is in the heart of New England, after all).

Moment of Truth

So how did our prediction turn out?

Let’s put it this way: if someone had invested in Sam Adams at the time we ran the article, that someone would be up about 100% right now.  Not too shabby.

For comparison’s sake, if that same someone had instead put their money into a Bank of America savings account back then, they’d be up about .01% today.

To be fair, given enough time the money in the savings account would eventually yield the same return as that investment in Sam Adams.  Of course, that would only take about 10,000 years, but who’s counting.

Joking aside, this article isn’t really about how we predicted a winner, but more importantly, how you can.

Channeling Your Inner Profit

Back in 1923, Edwin Lefèvre wrote what is now considered a classic investment book titled Reminiscences of a Stock Operator.  Some of the most successful stock traders of the modern era include that book in the syllabus of required reading for both Wall Street newbs and gurus alike. ²

Similar to the investment philosophy of legendary money manager Peter Lynch³, Lefèvre offered a practical common-sense approach to stock trading, insisting that savvy traders use their knowledge of the world to elicit profit in the market.

Predicting that Sam Adams’ share price would bounce back wasn’t magic.  It was simply the result of being immersed in the world of beer and then intersecting that knowledge with an understanding of the stock market (20 years’ experience in trading stocks doesn’t hurt either).

If you made a bundle by investing in Sam Adams recently, cheers.  If you missed that boat, don’t sweat it because as seasoned investors know the deal of the century comes along once a week.

The more important message to you, my dear beer-loving reader, is this: be mindful not to discount the value of your passion for beer, homebrewing or whatever else your thing might be.  Often times, there’s substantial profit to be had for those who seek opportunity by applying their personal interests to the market appropriately.

This is increasingly true in today’s side-hustle economy where fortune commonly shines its face on the business-ninja who aligns their passion with market conditions.

From Poke to Woke

A year ago, we suggested that Sam Adams was a bear with the passion and talent to lead again. The bear’s eyes were just starting to open.  It just needed a little poke.  That the bear is now woke.

Today, we’re suggesting that the same is true for many of us.  Some of us just need a little poke.

Poke.


Hi, I’m Dan: Advocate of day-seizery, dream-manifestification and community giving-back-ery.

References:
1. “Brewers Association Releases 2017 Top 50 Brewing Companies By Sales Volume.” Brewers Association, 23 Mar. 2018, www.brewersassociation.org/press-releases/brewers-association-releases-2017-top-50-brewing-companies-by-sales-volume/.
2. Schwager, Jack D. Market Wizards: Interviews with Top Traders. John Wiley & Sons, 2013.
3. Lynch, Peter, and John Rothchild. Beating the Street. Easton Press, 1993.

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BeerSyndicate’s Top Beers and Breweries of 2018

Our list of “The Best Beers and Breweries of 2018” is the result of a combined analysis of the top rated beers as determined by over 10 million collective beer reviews as reported by the three separate beer rating websites BeerAdvocate, Untappd and RateBeer.

Here’s how it works:

In order to rank the top beers from Untappd, RateBeer, and BeerAdvocate, we started by combining all of the top 50 beers from all three websites into a single super list, and then removed any meads, retired beers and any duplicate beers including multiple vintages.

This brought the total number of beers on the list down to 75.  Next, we assigned a score to each remaining beer on the list by averaging a given beer’s score from Untappd, RateBeer and BeerAdvocate.  Finally, we arranged all the beers on the list from highest to lowest score, and identified the top 50.

The Top 10 Beers are listed below, however the entire top 50 can be found here.

The Top 10 Beers of 2018

RANKNAMEBREWERYSCORE
1.Kentucky Brunch Brand StoutToppling Goliath Brewing Company4.666
2.Dark Lord - Marshmallow Handjee3 Floyds Brewing Co.4.63
3.Hunahpu's Imperial Stout - Double Barrel AgedCigar City Brewing4.623
4.Zenne y FronteraBrouwerij 3 Fonteinen4.586
5.Mornin' DelightToppling Goliath Brewing Company4.576
6.Pliny The YoungerRussian River Brewing Company4.573
7.Barrel-Aged AbraxasPerennial Artisan Ales4.566
8.Barrel Aged Imperial German Chocolate Cupcake StoutAngry Chair Brewing4.543
9.Juice MachineTree House Brewing Company4.536
10.Trappist Westvleteren 12 (XII)Brouwerij Westvleteren4.53

[Note: Untappd lists beers of different vintages as separate individual entries such as with the many “Bourbon County” vintages from Goose Island, whereas BeerAdvocate and RateBeer simply combine all the vintages and assigns a single entry and single score.  To simplify our list, we combined all vintages of the same label on Untappd, averaged the score, and then averaged that score with the scores from RateBeer and BeerAdvocate.]

Determining The Top Breweries of 2018

To calculate our list of top breweries, first we combined all of the beers that appeared on RateBeer, Untappd, and BeerAdvocate’s top 50 into a single super list.  Then, each brewery was awarded a single point for each beer it had on the super list, excluding meads and retired beers.

Finally, the breweries were ranked by the number of points they had, with tiebreakers being determined by the average score(s) of the beer(s) per brewery. To determine the average score of a given beer, we simply averaged that beer’s individual score from RateBeer, BeerAdvocate and Untappd.

The Top 10 Breweries of 2018

RANKBREWERY# OF BEERSAVERAGE
SCORE
1.Tree House Brewing Company184.42
2.Toppling Goliath Brewing Company104.53
3.3 Floyds Brewing Company74.40
4.Cigar City Brewing64.54
5.Hill Farmstead Brewery64.43
6.AleSmith Brewing Company64.40
7.Founders Brewing Company54.48
8.Goose Island Beer Co.54.43
9.Russian River Brewing Company54.41
10.Funky Buddha Brewery44.47
[All rating data was pulled from RateBeer, BeerAdvocate and Untappd on 3/19/18.]

And of course no beer list would be complete without somebody explaining why it sucks.  So for your entertainment, we’ve included a conversation with the dreaded “Critique Master” below who does an utterly thorough job of destroying our beer list and possibly every other beer list there is.

Enjoy! 


A Conversation with Critique Master about the Top Beers:

Critique Master: First things first: we’re barely a third of the way through 2018, so how the heck can you make any semblance of a claim about the year’s “top beers and breweries” when the year isn’t even over yet?  Even if you combine all the data from BeerAdvocate, RateBeer and Untappd, that data is subject to change at any moment, right?  So isn’t this just a list of what’s best at this very second and not really useful? Just sayin’…

BeerSyndicate: Wow, coming straight out the gate swinging, huh?  Fair enough, I guess.  So yes, you’re partially correct, the beer ranking of top beers on RateBeer, BeerAdvocate and Untappd is subject to change.  But just because something can change, doesn’t mean that it will.  At least not much in this case, anyways.

For example, looking back almost one year ago today, 10 of the first 11 beers of BeerAdvocate’s top beers back then were the very same beers on the top of its list today. In fact, if one beer in the top 11 hadn’t been retired (namely King JJJuliusss from Tree House Brewing), the beers on that list from a year ago would be exactly the same as it is today with just a slightly different order. Other data points from RateBeer and Untappd were similar.

Critique Master: That’s all well and good, but do we really need another “best of” beer list?  I get it, beer ratings can influence buying decisions sometimes in a major way like in the case of Westvletern, but I mean, can’t you spend your time doing something more important?  Just sayin’…

BeerSyndicate: Yes and no, in that order… or some other order.

Critique Master: Very cute.  Come to think of it though, technically this isn’t even really “your” list of “top beers”, is it? I mean, I think you guys are actually being really misleading because you’re basically just relying on all of the reviews from BeerAdvocate, Untappd and RateBeer, to which you’ve contributed exactly zero reviews.

Just sayin’…

BeerSyndicate: Well, our list was more about compiling and analyzing a larger amount of data in an attempt to get a more complete picture of the top rated beer and breweries. I don’t know, we thought it was a pretty cool idea, but you are the Critique Master, and we respect your title.

Critique Master: I am indeed the Critique Master, and you will tremble at my critiquing powers.  Speaking of which, you mentioned that you excluded meads, retired beers, and different vintages of the same beer from your list?  That doesn’t seem fair.   Care to explain why you’re cherry picking the data?

BeerSyndicate: As tasty as mead can be, it’s a honey wine made only with honey, water and yeast.  In other words, it’s not a beer.  Beer, on the other hand, has to contain at least some grain.  That said, if there was a braggot on any list, which, as you know, is a kind of mead made with the addition of barley malt, then we would have included it.  But there wasn’t, so we didn’t.

As for excluding retired beers (which encompasses previous vintages of a given beer), we simply wanted to give a representation of the best beers currently being produced on the market and also make all of the data consistent since Untappd is the only site of the three that separates out certain vintages of the same beer.

This is just one way of looking at the data.  You could certainly do it some other way.

Critique Master: Yeah, I’d probably do it a different way.  Or actually I wouldn’t do it at all, because your entire dataset is flawed.  Just sayin’…

BeerSyndicate:  Here it comes.

Critique Master: For starters, Untappd doesn’t seem to have any set guidelines for how its users should rate a beer, so the justification for the average score of any beer is unclear, though my guess is that most users determine a rating based on how much the user “personally enjoys” a given beer, which is subjective. 

On the other hand, BeerAdvocate has its users rate beer according to how well they think a beer represents the definition of the beer style listed on the BeerAdvocate website.  And RateBeer is somewhere in the middle.

In other words, your list of “top beers” confusingly blends reviews that are based on purely subjective personal enjoyment like many on Untappd and also reviews that are rated according to some more fixed standard.  Apples and oranges.

In addition, the varying levels of individual experience and palate acuity of the reviewers determining the score for a given beer on any social beer rating site is also problematic.

Not only that, but I bet it’s mainly Americans who are doing the beer reviews, so that limits your results to mainly the American beer scene and palate, and to a lesser extent non-American English speakers.  Just sayin’…

BeerSyndicate: It’s true— we’re taking the data from BeerAdvocate, Untappd and RateBeer at face value.  And though we can’t say for certain, you’re probably right that the user base of all three websites is likely mainly American, and then non-American English speakers.

You’re also right to question the level of experience any users has on any of those sites and how that might affect the relative objectivity of any beer’s score.

That said, we never claimed that our list is a list of the “best beer in the world”.  It could be, but all we said was this is a list based on an analysis of the top beers per RateBeer, Untappd and BeerAdvocate.

But you have a valid point when it comes to the subjectivity of scoring a beer based on personal enjoyment as you assume many users on Untappd do.  People have different personal preferences, so beer scores based on those kinds of reviews may not necessarily be very useful to everyone.

If you think reviews from Untappd are too subjective or more of a social app than a serious rating site, we could show you what the top 10 beers would look like if we totally excluded Untappd’s data, and only show you the combined results of the top beers from RateBeer and BeerAdvocate?

Critique Master: I’m mildly interested.  Go ahead and show me your findings, but make it quick.

BeerSyndicate: Right away, but only because you’re mildly interested:

[Below are the top 10 beers based only on BeerAdvocate & RateBeer data]

RANKNAMEBREWERYSCORE
1.Kentucky Brunch Brand StoutToppling Goliath Brewing Company4.685
2.Zenne y FronteraBrouwerij 3 Fonteinen4.58
3.Hunahpu's Imperial Stout - Double Barrel AgedCigar City Brewing4.565
4.Mornin' DelightToppling Goliath Brewing Company4.55
5.Dark Lord - Marshmallow Handjee3 Floyds Brewing Co.4.535
6.Pliny The YoungerTree House Brewing Company4.525
7.Trappist Westvleteren 12 (XII)Brouwerij Westvleteren4.515
8.Barrel-Aged AbraxasPerennial Artisan Ales4.505
9.Barrel Aged Imperial German Chocolate Cupcake StoutAngry Chair Brewing4.495
10.Canadian Breakfast Stout (CBS)Founders Brewing Co.4.485

Critique Master: Huh, 9 out of 10 beers from the list without Untappd’s data were the same as the list with it. But that could mean anything. And anyways, the source data from all of these beer review sites— and even your data— could still be untruthful, corrupt or suspect in some way.

For example, Anheuser-Busch InBev acquired a minority stake in RateBeer back in 2016, so even if we assume RateBeer’s data was otherwise perfect, I now have at least a minority reason to be skeptical.

Funny— you’d think that with the glut of AB-InBev-owned Goose Island beers in Untappd’s top 50, it was Untappd that was being influenced by Anheuser-Busch. Anyways.

But here’s an even bigger problem with all of these “top beer” lists: they’re just lists of over-hyped beer. And this is largely because few if any of the beer reviews on Untappd, etc. are done blind.

BeerSyndicate: It’s a fair point to make that the “hype factor” may have some effect on some of the beer reviews that appear on BeerAdvocate, RateBeer and Untappd.  But exactly how to account for the “hype factor” and to what degree that hype even has an effect on those reviews is up to speculation.

Sure, some folks might over-score a hyped beer, but some might unfairly under-score a hyped beer because it doesn’t live up to mountains of hype. And then some might be impartial and not let the hype influence their judgment either way.

So it seems reasonable that blind tastings are potentially helpful for eliminating some of the elusive “hype factor”, though someone doing a blind tasting may think they know what beer it is that they’re sampling, and somehow that could affect their scores.

Nevetheless, most professional and homebrewing competitions in the U.S. are judged blind.

If you like blind beer reviews, you might like the ones Paste Magazine puts out.

Critique Master: Actually, even though Paste Magazine does blind reviews, they score beer according to “personal enjoyment” similar to many Untappd reviews, which, like I said, is pretty darn subjective.

I mean, why go through all the trouble of doing a blind review in the name of objectivity just to introduce subjectivity back into the equation by judging beer according to personal enjoyment instead of some independent publicly established standard like the BJCP Beer Style Guidelines?

Just sayin’…

BeerSyndicate: Not sure.  We still like Paste beer reviews, but you might have a point.

That said, beer styles can change over time, so a fixed definition of beer would also have to be subject to change.  Paste might be trying to account for the real-time evolution of beer styles by not strictly adhering to past publications of the BJCP Beer Style Guidelines.

Critique Master: Nice try, but basing a beer review on “personal enjoyment” isn’t the same thing as trying to account for a possible subtle development of a particular beer style.  Just sayin’…

BeerSyndicate: Alright, so to sum up your position thus far: You have a problem with the beer reviews from Paste and Untappd because they base their reviews on personal enjoyment, which is subjective.

You’re suspect of RateBeer reviews because AB InBev owns a minority stake in the company.

You have a problem with BeerAdvocate because similar to Untappd and RateBeer, their users aren’t necessarily preforming blind tastings to rate beer.

And you obviously don’t like our list of top rated beers because, well, you don’t like the data it’s based on.

Does that about cover it?

Critique Master: Almost.  Rating a beer based on personal enjoyment is obviously problematic due to the subjectivity of personal preference, so to make things less subjective, it’s better to rate beer according to a fixed standard like the BJCP Beer Style Guidelines.

Even if you view the style guidelines as purely conventional, sort of like the common convention of using inches or centimeters on a ruler, it’s still better to have a common public standard to rate beer than whatever private reasons an individual has for determining their personal level of enjoyment.

But even then, people still have to judge a beer based on their individual physiological sense of taste, which can vary from person to person.  For example, people may perceive the intensity of certain taste sensations differently.  About 25% of the population are supertasters and perceive certain flavors more intensely than other people, 50% are normal tasters, and 25% are non-tasters who perceive flavors less intensely than normal tasters and far less intensely than supertasters.

In other words, if you’re a supertaster, then your review of a given beer may not be as relevant to normal tasters, and even less so to non-tasters.  Therefore, you should get tested to determine if you’re a supertaster using a $5 test.

BeerSyndicate: No offense Critique Master, but hardly anyone will get tested to determine if they’re a supertaster, normal taster or a non-taster.

Not only that, but you’re gonna end up with three sets of beer reviews: one for supertasters, one for normal tasters, and one for non-tasters.  Not to mention, the person reading the review would also have to be tested to know which beer review applies to them.

Then you’d also have to control for other conditions including the serving temperature of the beer, the kind of glass it the beer is served in, environmental distractions, the level of experience of the taster, the level of intoxication of the taster, maybe the diet of the individual like they do with professional coffee tasters, and I’m sure there are other factors we haven’t thought of.

It’s too prohibitive, especially just for the sake of beer reviews.  It’s simply easier for the public to buy a given beer and try it for themselves.

Critique MasterExactly.  And because of this, most or maybe all beer reviews have very little practical application to the individual— except for maybe a blind review done by an experienced individuals with trained palates according to a fixed standard and intended for their own personal use.  I suppose this also goes for wine and food reviews too.

By the way, this also means that you’ve wasted your time doing your little analysis of the so-called top beers and breweries of 2018, assuming you were trying to generate any meaningful data in the first place.

Just sayin’…

 

Next on tap on the BeerSyndicate Blog: Ranking the Beers of Rodenbach!


Hi, I’m Dan: Beer Editor for Beer Syndicate, Beer and Drinking Blogger, Beer Judge, Gold Medal-Winning Homebrewer, Beer Reviewer, American Homebrewers Association Member, Shameless Beer Promoter, and Beer Traveler.

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Data Chug: An Analysis of RateBeer’s Top 50 Beers

Beginning in 2000 as a general beer forum, RateBeer developed into one of the largest beer rating websites in the world, with a listing of more than 470,000 different beers in its database as of early 2013.  Similar to other beer rating websites, RateBeer maintains an ongoing list of its top rated beers, 50 to be exact.

As with our previous analyses of BeerAdvocate and Untappd, we reviewed RateBeer’s Top 50 beers in an attempt to identify any trends regarding brands, beer styles, alcohol content, breweries etc.

For fun, we created a sortable list of RateBeer’s Top 50 Beers which can be arranged by brewery, country/state, ABV, etc.  This is the same list that we used to generate most of the results below.

And now, on with the show.

1. The Top 10 Highest Rated Beers on RateBeer

1) Kentucky Brunch Brand Stout -Toppling Goliath Brewing Company
2) Trappist Westvleteren 12 (XII) – Brouwerij Westvleteren
3) Mornin’ Delight – Toppling Goliath Brewing Company
4) Hunahpu’s Imperial Stout – Double Barrel Aged – Cigar City Brewing
5) Bourbon Barrel Aged Dark Lord Imperial Stout – 3 Floyds Brewing Co.
6) Pliny the Younger – Russian River Brewing Company
7) Dark Lord Russian Imperial Stout – Bourbon Vanilla Bean – 3 Floyds Brewing Co.
8) Speedway Stout – Bourbon Barrel-Aged – AleSmith Brewing Company
9) Bell’s Black Note Stout – Bell’s Brewery, Inc.
10) CBS (Canadian Breakfast Stout) – Founders Brewing Company

Interestingly, Toppling Goliath’s Kentucky Brunch Brand Stout is the top rated beer on both RateBeer and BeerAdvocate, and Mornin’ Delight from the same brewery also appears in the top 10 on both lists.  The three other beers appearing on both the top 10 from RateBeer and Beer Advocate were Russian River’s Pliny the Younger, Three Floyds’ Dark Lord Russian Imperial Stout – Bourbon Barrel Aged and Cigar City’s Hunahpu’s Imperial Stout – Double Barrel Aged.

The only beer that RateBeer and Untappd’s share in the top 10 was Double Barrel Hunahpu’s from Cigar City.

2. The Most Popular Beer Style Listed on RateBeer’s Top 50

Of the more than the 100 different beer styles in the world, only 9 appeared in RateBeer’s list of its Top 50 beers.   Of those 9 beer styles, it was Imperial Stout that stood out by far with 26 examples of this dark and boozy beer in the Top 50.  Examples of Imperial Stout dwarfed the next most popular beer style, Double IPA, by almost 400%, making it a statistically significant outlier as represented by the green data point below.

Clearly, Imperial Stouts dominate RateBeer’s Top 50, comprising more than half of the beers on the list, which was nearly identical to the percentage of Imperial Stouts on Untappt’s Top 50 (52% vs 54%, respectively).

3. Analysis of the Alcohol Content of RateBeer’s Top 50

The majority of beers in RateBeer’s Top 50 had an alcohol content of greater than 9%, as can be seen in the chart below.

The average ABV of all the beers listed on Untappd’s Top 50 beers was a boozy 11.39%, which is similar to the 11.55% average ABV of Untappd’s Top 50.

The beer with the lowest ABV on RateBeer’s Top 50 was “Ann” from Hill Farmstead Brewery weighing in at 6.5%, while the most potent beer on the list was “Buba Extreme Jack Daniels BA” (16%) from the Polish brewery Browar Szałpiw.

These figures exclude the unlisted ABVs of “Trademark Dispute (Green),” an Imperial Stout from Cycle Brewing, and “Aaron,” a Barley Wine from Hill Farmstead.  But seeing as how these beers were on the boozier end of the ABV spectrum, the average ABV of the Top 50 is not likely to be affected much.

4. Analysis of the States/Countries of  RateBeer’s Top 50

Similar to both BeerAdvocate and Untappd, the majority (82%) of beers in RateBeer’s Top 50 were from American breweries.  As shown in the chart below, only 9 beers in the Top 50 came from non-American breweries; Poland had 1, Sweden 2, and both Denmark and Belgium had 3 each.

The average number of beers per state/country listed above is 3.33, and the only state with a statistically significant number of beers in the Top 50 was California with 8, which is considered a statistical outlier.  In three impressive cases, all the beers from a given state came from just one brewery, including Toppling Goliath in Iowa, 3 Floyd’s in Indiana, and Bell’s in Michigan.

When identifying outliers like California, we try to look for explanations as to why it is performing at a statistically significant level than other states or countries.  One possible explanation for this is the number of breweries in California compared to other states/countries.

For example, some states have more breweries than others, which could potentially increase the number of beers from a given state or country listed in the Top 50.  As mentioned, California has the highest number of beers in the Top 50 with a total of 8, which seems rather high at first glance.  However, if you consider that there are just over 800 breweries in California as of this writing, the relative number of beers contributed by California to the Top 50 based on the number of breweries in the state was just 1.00%.

As shown in the chart above, no longer is California leading in relative terms, but rather Vermont is with 4 from a total of 84 breweries, or 5.48%.  Interestingly, 3 out of 4 of the beers from Vermont appearing in the Top 50 were from Hill Farmstead, namely Aaron, Abner, and Ann.  In other words, a large part of the reason why Vermont is performing at a statistically significant level is due to Hill Farmstead’s individual level of success.

5. Most Popular Breweries on RateBeer’s Top Rated Beers

Below is a chart of the number of beers per brewery appearing in RateBeer’s Top 50.

The average number of beers contributed per brewery was 1.92.  On the face of it, not a single brewery stuck out as contributing a statistically significant number of beers to RateBeer’s Top 50.

However, some breweries produce a greater variety of beers than others, which might create a greater potential for breweries that brew a larger variety of beer to have more beers in the Top 50 than others.  So let’s take a look at what happens when we consider the relative percentage of beers contributed by a particular brewery based on the number of beers that brewery produces.

As shown in green above, there were three breweries with a statistically significant percentage of beers in the Top 50 relative to the total number of beers they produce.  These outlier breweries were Toppling Goliath (8.16%)Rochefort (33.33%) and Westvleteren (66.67%).  The Belgian breweries of Rochefort and Westvleteren are special cases in that they produce only three beers each which they’ve perfected over hundreds of years, whereas Toppling Goliath is a relatively new American brewery (2009) that produces 49 different beers, one of which sits in first place on both BeerAdvocate and RateBeer’s top 50.

Not only is one of Toppling Goliath’s beers the highest rated on both RateBeer and BeerAdvocate’s lists (selling for upwards of $1,000 per bottle on the secondary market), but Toppling Goliath is the only brewery that was consistently determined to be contributing a statistically significant number of beers to the Top 50 relative to the number of beers it produces on BeerAdvocate, Untappd and RateBeer.

In other words, a statistical analysis of three separate beer rating sources with more than 10 million reviews combined have shown that Toppling Goliath is living up to its name in a pretty serious way.

But this wasn’t the only data-driven revelation we discovered after chugging all the numbers.  In the final episode of Data Chug, we put it all together and deliver to you:

The Best Beers and Breweries of 2018.

Nah, the year ain’t over yet, but we’re just gonna go ahead and let the numbers speak for themselves.


Hi, I’m Dan: Beer Editor for Beer Syndicate, Beer and Drinking Blogger, Beer Judge, Gold Medal-Winning Homebrewer, Beer Reviewer, American Homebrewers Association Member, Shameless Beer Promoter, and Beer Traveler.

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Data Chug: An Analysis of Untappd’s Top Rated Beers

Founded in 2010, Untappd is a popular beer rating mobile phone application among other things.  Untappd has exactly 50 beers on its Top Rated Beers list, and of course that data is subject to change over time.

We pulled the Untappd’s Top Rated Beers data on 3/7/18, and for your convenience, we created a sortable version of that list which can be used to arrange the results by brewery, beer style, state/country, ABV, etc.

That sortable list is available here: Untappd’s Top Rated Beers

Now on with the show…

1. The Top 10 Highest Rated Beers on Untappd

1) Proprietor’s Bourbon County Brand Stout (2014) – Goose Island Beer Co.
2) Rare Bourbon County Brand Stout (2010) – Goose Island Beer Co.
3) Bourbon County Brand Stout Vanilla Rye (2014) – Goose Island Beer Co.
4) Rare Bourbon County Brand Stout (2015) – Goose Island Beer Co.
5) King JJJuliusss – Tree House Brewing Company
6) King Julius – Tree House Brewing Company
7) Fundamental Observation (2016) – Bottle Logic Brewing
8) Very Hazy – Tree House Brewing Company
9) Double Barrel Hunahpu’s – Cigar City Brewing
10) Barrel-Aged Abraxas – Perennial Artisan Ales

As you might have noticed, Goose Island’s Bourbon County line of beers dominate the Top 10, gobbling up the first four places in part because of how Untappd often counts different vintages of the same beer as unique entries in the rankings.

In fairness to Untappd, the different vintages of Bourbon County are arguably unique beers utilizing a unique set of ingredients.  For example, the top rated beer, Proprietor’s Bourbon County Brand Stout (2014), is made in rye barrels with cassia bark, cocoa nibs, panela and coconut water, and weighs in at 13.2% ABV.  Compare that to Proprietor’s Bourbon County Brand Stout (2017) aged in bourbon barrels with bananas, roasted almonds, and cassia bark, with an ABV of 14%.

Other beer rating websites like BeerAdvocate often collapse a beer of different vintages into one entry, as with Bourbon County Brand Coffee Stout.  Not to mention, Untappd leaves beers that are no longer brewed in the Top 50 including the top four beers, whereas such “retired beers” are removed from BeerAdvocate’s Top 50.

With that in mind, the flat out leader of Untappd’s Top Rated Beers remains Goose Island, a brewery that is no longer considered a craft brewery by the Brewers Association as of 2011 when the brewery was sold to Anheuser-Busch InBev for a reported $38.8 million.

2. Analysis of the Beer Styles Listed on Untappd’s Top Rated Beers

Of the more than the 100 different beer styles in the world, only 10 appear in Untappd’s list of its Top 50 beers.  The chart below shows the number of examples of beer styles in Untappd’s Top 50, where both the “Double IPA” and “American Imperial Stout” data points are colored green to indicate that there are a statistically significant number of examples of those beer styles in the Top 50.

The variety of beer styles in the Top 50 is even less diverse if you lump “triple IPA” and “Double IPA” under the same category as BeerAdvocate and others do, and likewise combine “Milk Stout” and “Imperial Milk Stout” as one style.  The diversity of beer styles shrinks even further if you remove “Melomel Mead,” a kind of fruit honey-wine, as shown in the chart below.

As you can see in chart above, American Imperial Stouts make up fully 54% of the beers in Untappd’s Top 50, while Double IPAs account for 27%, which means that 4 out of 5 beers in Untappd’s Top 50 was one of those two styles of beer.  American Imperial Stouts and Double IPAs were also by far the most popular beer styles in both BeerAdvocate’s Top 250 and Top 50.

3. Analysis of the Alcohol Content of Untappd’s Top Rated Beers

The majority of beers in Untappd’s Top 50 tend to be a bit on the boozy side, as you can see in the chart below.

The average ABV  is right at 11.55%.  The beers with the lowest ABV on Untappd’s Top Rated Beers are “Julius” and “JJJULIUSSS” both from Tree House Brewing Co. and weighing in at 6.8%, while the most potent beer on this list was “Black Tuesday Reserve (2015)” from The Bruery with an alcohol content of 20.5%.

These figures exclude the unlisted ABV of “Rare Scoop” from Cycle Brewing.  But seeing as how that beer is an American Imperial Stout, the average ABV is not likely to be affected much.

4. Analysis of the States/Countries of Untappd’s Top Rated Beers

With the exception of a single Lambic style beer from Brouwerij 3 Fonteinen of Belgium, all of the beers that appear in Untappd’s Top Rated Beers were from 13 American breweries, which may simply be a result of a predominantly American user base.

The average number of beers per state/country listed above was 3.57, and the only state with a statistically significant number of beers in the Top 50 was Massachusetts with 11.  Interestingly, 10 out of the 11 beers from Massachusetts came from one brewery: Tree House Brewing Company.

Of course, some states have more breweries than others, which could potentially increase the number of beers from a given state in the Top 50.  For example, California has the third highest number of beers in the Top 50 with a total of 5 beers, which may seem rather high at first glance.  However, if we consider that there are just over 800 breweries in California as of this writing, the relative number of beers contributed by California to the Top 50 based on the number of breweries in the state is a mere 0.63%, which is the third lowest relative percentage as shown in the chart below.

Even when we look at the numbers this way, Massachusetts is still leading the pack with 11 beers in the Top 50 coming from a possible 168 breweries in the state, or 6.55%.  Iowa follows close behind with 5 beers in the Top 50 in a state of 82 total breweries.  Similar to Massachusetts, all 5 beers from Iowa came from just one brewery, namely Toppling Goliath Brewing Co.

5. Most Popular Breweries on Untappd’s Top Rated Beers

There were a total of 23 different breweries with at least one beer in Untappd’s Top Rated Beers, as shown in the chart below.

The average number of beers contributed per brewery was 2.17. However, any brewery with more than 3 beers in the Top 50 was considered a statistical outlier, which is indicated with a green data point in the chart above.

There were exactly four breweries contributing a statistically significant number of beers to Untappd’s list of Top Rated Beers: Tree House Brewing Co. with 11, Goose Island Beer Co. with 7, Toppling Goliath Brewing Co. with 5, and Side Project Brewing with 4.

Since some breweries produce a greater variety of beers than others, this might create a greater potential for breweries that beer a larger variety of beer to have more beers in the Top 50 than others.  For instance, Goose Island had 7 beers in the Top 50, which was the second highest number of all.  However, it turns out that Goose Island produces a whopping 250 different beers, which means just 2.8% of the beers that the brewery makes appeared in the Top 50.

Following this line of reasoning, below is a chart showing the percent of beers contributed by a particular brewery based on the number of beers that brewery produces.

There were four breweries with a statistically significant percentage of beers in the Top 50 relative to the total number of beers they produce.  These outlier breweries are indicated with green data points in the chart above, namely Tree House (16.13%), Toppling Goliath (10.2%), and Side Project (7.55%).

The average percentage of beers contributed per brewery relative to the total number of different beers produced was 3.19%, and any brewery with more than 6.78% was considered to be an outlier.

Tree House and Toppling Goliath were also found to be contributing a statistically significant number of beers to both BeerAdvocate’s list of Top 250 and Top 50 Beers, which suggests that both of these breweries are of particular note.

However, there is at least one more major data point to consider in our quest to uncover the ultimate breweries: RateBeer.

Next on Tap Data Chug: An Analysis of RateBeer’s Top 50 Beers

Disclaimer: (Click to Expand)

While the data obtained from Untappd is taken at face value for the purposes of this analysis, one is well within reason to further analyze that source data in terms of appropriate beer style grouping for the given commercial examples, ranking methodology, verification of actual breweries in production, etc.  In addition, considering that much of the data collected by Untappd is added by its users, one may further wish to question how that user group may affect the overall data (% of English-speakers, % of American users, etc.).

Also, the methods and parameters of data analysis herein are but one way of looking at the given information. Furthermore, all of the data collected from Untappd occurred in March, 7th, 2018, and therefore represents a single time-slice of the beer landscape, which of course is subject to change in the future.

Lastly, interpretation of the data above is up to the individual, for as the old adage goes, there’s more than one way to brew a beer.


Hi, I’m Dan: Beer Editor for Beer Syndicate, Beer and Drinking Blogger, Beer Judge, Gold Medal-Winning Homebrewer, Beer Reviewer, American Homebrewers Association Member, Shameless Beer Promoter, and Beer Traveler.

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Data Chug: The Outlier Breweries in BeerAdvocate’s Top 250

Previously on Data Chug, we took a broad look at the Top 250 beers listed on the beer ranking website BeerAdvocate.  We highlighted the top 10 beers, identified popular beer styles, ABV trends, the countries and states with the most beers in the Top 250, and more.

There were charts, jokes, and a cliffhanger ending that revealed two breweries that appeared a rather curious amount of times in the Top 250.

Today, we pick up where we left off by taking a closer look at what we affectionately refer to as “the outlier breweries.”

Now on with the Q & A…

The Outlier Breweries

Q1. Last time you mentioned that there were 210,023 different beers listed on BeerAdvocate, so to have a brewery with even a single beer in the Top 250 was impressive.  But there were actually several breweries that had more than one beer in the Top 250. What can you tell me about those breweries?

A1. Right, so there were 86 breweries in total in the Top 250, and 45 of those breweries had more than one beer on the list.  In fact the average number of beers per brewery in the Top 250 was 2.91, so it wasn’t all that unusual for a brewery to have more than one beer in the Top 250.

However, what was unusual was that two breweries, namely Trillium Brewing Co. and Hill Farmstead Brewery, both had exactly 20 beers each in the Top 250. This means that nearly 1 out of every 6 beers in the Top 250 was either from Trillium or Hill Farmstead.  If having one beer in the Top 250 is impressive, what do you call having 20?

Q2. Really impressive? I don’t know— it seems a little bit more than unusual to me.  But Trillium and Hill Farmstead weren’t the only outlier breweries with a statistically high number of beers in the Top 250, so what were the other ones?

A2. We identified a total of 8 outlier breweries.  Basically any brewery with more than 6 beers in the Top 250 would be considered a statistical outlier as you can see in the box plot graph below:

Of the outlier breweries, there were four that had 7 beers each in the Top 250 which included Russian River, Toppling Goliath, 3 Fonteinen, and Prairie Artisan Ales.  Next, you had Brasserie Cantillon with 8, Tree House with 13, and as you know, both Hill Farmstead and Trillium both had 20 beers each in the Top 250.  By the way, 3 Fonteinen and Cantillon are both Belgian breweries, the rest are American.

Interestingly, even though there are only 8 outlier breweries out of a total of 86 breweries in the Top 250, those 8 breweries contributed a combined total of 89 beers to the Top 250, or 35.60%.

Q3. Okay, so there are 8 outlier breweries. But still, having 20 beers in the Top 250 like Hill Farmstead and Trillium did just seems crazy. So what’s going on with those breweries?

A3. Alright, so imagine that Hill Farmstead and Trillium only produced 20 beers per brewery, and also imagine that every single one of those beers were in the Top 250. Basically, we thought it would be pretty strange if 100% of the beers brewed by any given brewery were all in the Top 250.

Q4. So that’s what you found? Every beer brewed by Hill Farmstead and Trillium were in the Top 250?

A4. Not exactly. After we looked at the total number of beers currently brewed by each outlier brewery, we found there wasn’t anything necessarily unusual about either Hill Farmstead or Trillium when compared to most of the other outlier breweries.

For example, when we pulled the numbers in mid-February of 2018, Hill Farmstead was currently producing 124 different beers, and of those 124, 20 were in the Top 250. In other words, 16.1% of the beers currently produced by Hill Farmstead were in the Top 250.

Trillium was at 14.9%. As for the rest of the outliers, 3 Fonteinen was at 26.9%, Cantillon at 22.86%, Tree House was at 20.96%, Toppling Goliath at 14.28%, Russian River at 11.67%, and Prairie Artisan Ales was relatively low in comparison at 4.7%.  If you look at it this way, both Trillium and Hill Farmstead weren’t sticking out, but were right in the middle of the pack of the outliers.  The average percentage of beers contributed per brewery of the outliers was 16.54%.

Q5. So what you’re saying is that it’s just a numbers game?  Basically, the more variety of beers that a brewery produces, the more that the chances increase that one of those beers will make it into the Top 250?  If that’s true, then those percentages that the outlier breweries were putting up would be similar for every brewery, including the non-outliers in the Top 250.  So what do the percentages for the non-outlier breweries look like?

A6. Okay, so there were initially 8 outlier breweries identified out of a total of 86 breweries in the Top 250, which means there were 78 non-outlier breweries.

The Lost Abbey was one of the non-outliers, producing a total of 57 beers, 2 of which appeared in the Top 250.  In other words, 3.5% of the beers The Lost Abbey produced were in the Top 250.  Likewise, Avery was at 1.7%, Deschutes at 0.56%, Firestone at 3.2%, Other Half Brewing Co. was at 2.02%, etc.

After chugging the numbers, it turned out that an outlier brewery was now any brewery that had more than 9.79% of its beers it currently produced in the Top 250.

Q7. Wait, so where does that leave Prairie Artisan Ales?  It was originally an outlier brewery because it had 7 beers in the Top 250.  But because those 7 beers represented only 4.7% of the brewery’s total production, it’s not considered an outlier anymore?

A7.  That’s right.  However, looking at the numbers relative to the quantity of different beers produced per brewery just reinforced the fact that the other outlier breweries were unusual, and appearing in the Top 250 wasn’t just a numbers game.  In other words, greatness in the brewing world isn’t simply a matter of throwing enough stuff at the wall until something sticks, at least not according to an analysis of BeerAdvocate’s data.

What’s more, we identified 4 new outlier breweries that had more than 9.79% of the beers they currently produced appearing in the Top 250. Those breweries were Alpine Beer Company at 10.71%, Brouwerij Rodenbach N.V. at 12.5%, Brasserie de Rochefort at 33.33%, and Brouwerij Westvleteren at a staggering 66.66%. Of the now 11 outlier breweries, 5 were Belgian, and the other 6 were American.

Q8. Alright, these percentages just seem insane. I mean, is there some conspiracy type stuff going on? What does all this mean?

A8. Ah, now there’s a question. In statistical analysis, sometimes the juiciest information can be obtained by looking more closely at the outliers.

In this case, if you take the data from BeerAdvocate at face value, it could mean that the outlier breweries like Tree House, Toppling Goliath, Trillium, Hill Farmstead, etc. are simply out-preforming all other breweries in the world at a statistically significant level, with respect to specific beer styles.

There’s certainly a case to be made that a brewery like Cantillon, founded in 1900, simply specialized and excelled in a limited number of beer styles over many years, and became a world leader par excellence in those specific and relatively sparsely produced categories like Gueuze and Lambic, which are the only kind of beers Cantillon makes.  8 out of 35 beers from Cantillon appear in the Top 250.

This pattern is similar for the other Belgian outlier breweries such as Brouwerij Westvleteren, a brewery that at first glance seems remarkably unusual with 66.66% of its beers appearing in the Top 250. However, we should also consider that the brewery, founded in 1838, only currently produces 3 beers in total, 2 of which were in the Top 250. One of those beers, Westvleteren 12, was rated a perfect 100/100 by RateBeer, and is considered by some sources to be the best beer in the world.

You may include Rochefort (founded 1595), Rodenbach (1821), and 3 Fonteinen (1887) into that list of Belgian breweries that produce a relatively small variety of beers, but have perfected those beers over generations, and are consistently recognized as world-class breweries, often epitomizing the beers styles they produce.

Similar to the production range of Brouwerij Westvleteren, Rochefort only produces 3 beers, 1 of which (or 33%) was in the Top 250. Rodenbach essentially invented and mastered the Flanders Red style, the only style of beer it brews, so it wasn’t surprising to see 1 of the 8 beers it produces (Caractère Rouge) in the Top 250.  Likewise, 3 Fonteinen specializes predominately in Lambic and Gueuze, and contributed 7 of its 26 beers to the Top 250.

Q9. Okay, maybe that explains the Belgian breweries somewhat, but what about the American outliers?

A9. Unlike the Belgian outlier breweries that typically only brew a small variety of beer styles, most of the American outliers brew a wider range, but they tend to specialize or excel at one particular beer style.

For example, the majority of beers contributed by Alpine (founded 1999), Tree House (2012), and Trillium (2013) in the Top 250 are hop-forward beer styles.

Russian River, founded in 1997, is widely known for its Pliny the Elder and Pliny the Younger double and triple IPAs, both of which appear in the Top 250 and were also rated 100/100 by RateBeer.  In addition to mastering the double IPA, a beer style the brewery is credited with inventing, Russian River was one of the first American breweries to specialize in sour and barrel-aged beers, and led in the American Wild Ale category with 5 beers in the Top 250.

Toppling Goliath (founded in 2009) is a bit of a mixed bag with 3 examples of imperial stout in the Top 250, along with 4 examples of hop-forward styles. Likewise, Hill Farmstead (founded 2010) has 12 hop-forward styles in the Top 250, and the rest are a mix of saisons, stouts and a single porter.

But even though Hill Farmstead produces a variety of beers compared to most of the other outliers, it was awarded the title of “Best New Brewery in the World” by RateBeer in 2011, and “Best Brewery in the World” every year from 2013-2017.

Q10.  Interesting, but when I looked at BeerAdvocate’s list of all American IPAs and there were literally beers there with PERFECT scores.  None of those perfect scoring beers appeared in the Top 250, so what gives?

A10. You’re correct, you might find several beers with perfect scores listed under many different beer style categories, but many of those perfect scores came from only one reviewer.   The fact is that BeerAdvocate’s ranking algorithm weights a beer’s score based on the number of reviews the beer has had, which is why those higher rated beers don’t appear in the Top 250.

What this means is that there very well could be and probably are better commercial examples of certain beer styles out there than those that appear in the Top 250, but it may take a little while until more of the BeerAdvocate user base has a chance to weigh in on those beers.  What this suggests is that the many of the current outlier breweries will not be there forever.

Nonetheless, we should probably expect to see some of the Belgian outlier breweries in the Top 250 for a while, particularly those breweries producing time-intensive beers styles like Lambic, Gueuze and Flanders Red.  These beer styles often take upwards of three years to produce, not to mention the perhaps generations of knowledge needed to perfect those styles.  All of this makes it cost-prohibitive for other breweries to attempt, which limits the respective competition.

For now, what we can say with certainty is that there are a relatively small number of breweries on BeerAdvocate’s Top 250 that are contributing a statistically significant number of beers to that list.

And outliers typically demand attention especially in situations where it’s clear that the outliers were not due to simple data collection errors.  By the way, the data we used is open to the public to independently verify.  We’ve even made it easy to sort the data by state, country, brewery, score, etc.  In other words, feel free to chug the numbers yourself.  Here’s the link: BeerAdvocate’s Top 250.

Q11. You know, we spent all this time talking about the “Top 250 beers,” but did you ever consider the source of that data?  What I mean is that if the user base is predominately English-speaking Americans, doesn’t that skew the data in favor of American breweries?

A11. You’re not wrong.  I wonder, is that the same as saying “you’re not not not wrong?”  Anyways, what I mean is that you’re right, or not not right.

Basically, it’s more likely that the results of the beers in the BeerAdvocate’s Top 250 had less to do with a conspiracy, and more to do with the demographics of the website’s user base and how the algorithm functions.  Even so, outliers still exist within this particular data set, and statistically speaking, those outlier breweries deserve a spotlight.

Of course, interpretation of that data can be tricky.

Q12. Okay, so you’re admitting that BeerAdvocate’s Top 250 is just one data set and it may be limited by certain factors including its user base which you speculate is dominated by American English-speakers.  Rarity and hype might also be factors.  Come to think of it, if you’re trying to independently verify if there is anything special about those outlier breweries you mentioned, don’t you think you should look more thoroughly at other data sets?

Like, did you even think to analyze Untappd’s list of Top Rated beers to see how it compares to BeerAdvocate’s list?

A12. “Untappd” you say?  You mean the geosocial networking service and mobile phone application that allows its users to rate beers and earn digital badges to increase the users average time spent on the app?  That Untappd?  Why, yes, we did think to analyze that data.

In fact, we did more than just think about it.  We pulled the data, chopped it up, ran a statistically analysis, and put it all together just for you.

Q13. Alright, let’s have it.  Anything juicy?

A13. Oh, it’s juicy alright— juicy like a big hazy NE IPA.  Let me see, I know I put that article somewhere for you…

Ah, there it is:

Next on Tap… Data Chug: Analysis of Untappd’s Top Rated Beers


Hi, I’m Dan: Beer Editor for Beer Syndicate, Beer and Drinking Blogger, Beer Judge, Gold Medal-Winning Homebrewer, Beer Reviewer, American Homebrewers Association Member, Shameless Beer Promoter, and Beer Traveler.

Daniel J. Leonard and Jean-Pierre van Roy of Cantillon Brewery

Dan with Owner and Brewer Jean-Pierre van Roy of Brasserie Cantillon Seen Sporting a Hill Farmstead T-Shirt.

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