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The Beers of Summer

Matt Murphy, July 22, 2013 -   

Summer. Afternoons by the beach. Fishing out on the lake. Bocce and Cornhole on the lawn.

Whatever your Summer activity of choice, one thing is for sure: it's always better with a beer in your hand. (Unless your activity involves driving, of course.)

While Summer beers come in a variety of styles, they have a number of shared characteristics. Most of them are relatively low in alcohol and light bodied. These are beers to drink after (or during) a day out in the hot sun, so you'll see terms like "crisp" and "refreshing" used not only by beer drinkers, but also on the beer labels or in marketing campaigns. These characteristics also make Summer beers more approachable to the average beer drinkiner, making them gateways to craft beer by providing a stepping stone to those who might be turned off by super-hoppy IPAs or high ABV imperial stouts.

While there are a lot of Summer seasonals out there, today I'll be focusing just on those that contain the word "summer" in the beer name. A quick search for "summer" shows that Victory's Summer Love ranks at the top by BAR. However, at just 1.82 BAR, it comes in at #1872 on the overall leaderboards. The simple explanation for this is that it's still relatively early in the Summer (the current data set only extends to the beginning of July), so the check-in total is still relatively low for the Summer seasonals. As we enter August, expect to see a significant jump in the volume of Summer beer check-ins, causing them to shoot up in the rankings. Here's the list of "Summer" beers with at least 50 check-ins.

Beer Brewery Style ABV Check-Ins wOBAR BAR
Summer Love Victory Blonde Ale 5.2 173 0.280 1.818
Summerfest Sierra Nevada Czech Pilsener 5 240 0.231 1.609
Summer Solstice Anderson Valley Cream Ale 5 332 0.202 1.554
Samuel Adams Summer Ale Boston Beer Company American Pale Wheat Ale 5.3 564 0.175 1.389
Twilight Summer Ale Deschutes American Pale Ale 5 135 0.203 1.314
Summer Ale Brooklyn Brewery English Pale Ale 5 203 0.106 0.690
Summertime Goose Island Kölsch 4.9 147 0.080 0.495
Citra Blonde Summer Brew Widmer Brothers American Blonde Ale 4.3 72 0.092 0.475
Summer Beer Harpoon Kölsch 5 60 0.000 0.000
Anchor Summer Beer Anchor American Pale Wheat Ale 4.5 81 -0.123 -0.679
SummerBright Ale Breckenridge Golden Ale 4.5 79 -0.157 -0.849
Newcastle Summer Ale Caledonian (Heineken) English Bitter 4.4 94 -0.286 -1.617
Blue Moon Summer Honey Wheat Coors American Pale Wheat Ale 5.2 97 -0.322 -1.845

This list includes just thirteen beers. I merged the two Summerfests into a single listing, and left off "Never Summer Ale" by Boulder Beer Company, which is is a Winter Warmer. The average ABV for this group comes in at 4.9%, well below the average beer rated on Untappd (just above 6.5%). This list also confirms that the relatively low check-in volume is hurting the BAR for this group of beer. Lastly, we see that that "Summer Love" not only has the highest BAR, but also the highest wOBAR.

Looking at wOBAR, however, brings us to an interesting observation. Among these thirteen beers, we have ten different styles represented. This means that each beer is being compared to a different replacement level, which will in turn affect its wOBAR and BAR numbers. While many of these beers are technically different styles, they all fall under the umbrella of a "Summer Beer," so how do these beers fare when we compare them to each other instead of relative to their style? There aren't any huge variations in replacement level, but even small differences can add up over hundreds of check-ins.

We can use the style replacement levels to calculate the actual average scores, and use these numbers to recalculate a "Summer Beer" replacement level. Sticking to this sample size, our replacement level beer is Harpoon Summer Beer, with an average rating of 3.25 (which is very close to the average replacement level of the 10 styles represented in our list). How will this affect our list?

Beer Brewery Style Check-Ins wOBAR BAR
Summer Solstice Anderson Valley Cream Ale 332 0.315 2.267
Summer Love Victory Blonde Ale 173 0.305 1.950
Twilight Summer Ale Deschutes American Pale Ale 135 0.306 1.860
Samuel Adams Summer Ale Boston Beer Company American Pale Wheat Ale 564 0.191 1.498
Summerfest Sierra Nevada Czech Pilsener 240 0.194 1.318
Summer Ale Brooklyn Brewery English Pale Ale 203 0.083 0.544
Summertime Goose Island Kölsch 147 0.080 0.495
Citra Blonde Summer Brew Widmer Brothers American Blonde Ale 72 0.035 0.184
Summer Beer Harpoon Kölsch 60 0.000 0.000
Anchor Summer Beer Anchor American Pale Wheat Ale 81 -0.108 -0.589
SummerBright Ale Breckenridge Golden Ale 79 -0.161 -0.875
Newcastle Summer Ale Caledonian (Heineken) English Bitter 94 -0.282 -1.589
Blue Moon Summer Honey Wheat Coors American Pale Wheat Ale 97 -0.307 -1.741

Surprisingly, of the ten styles represented, Cream Ale had the highest replacement level (3.36). Unsurprisingly, American Pale Ale was right behind (3.35). Therefore, it shouldn' t be a shock that the two biggest climbers here are Summer Solstice and Twilight Summer Ale, who also leapfrogged Summer Love and Summerfest in wOBAR. Meanwhile, Sierra Nevada Summerfest, which had the benefit of the second lowest replacement level as a Czech Pilsener (3.21), suffered the most, with a 37-point drop in wOBAR.

What does this tell us? First and foremost, style matters. Small differences between style replacement levels may not always seem significant, but they do have an impact on wOBAR, which is amplified in BAR for beers with many check-ins. We chose to focus in wOBAR because of the large differences often seen in average ratings between different styles. However, the lines between similar styles are often blurry. In cases like these, it might be helpful to include an option on the leaderboards to view the raw average score to allow for better comparison of beers that are similar but are different styles.

As I mentioned earlier, the number of check-ins for Summer beers will be increasing substantially in the near future. To give you an idea of just how much, here's a sneak peek at how five of the most popular Summer beers from above will look once the leaderboards get updated to reflect data through early July:

Beer Brewery Check-Ins wOBAR BAR Summer wOBAR Summer BAR
Summer Solstice Anderson Valley 4376 0.209 2.321 0.322 3.346
Summer Love Victory 2168 0.332 3.208 0.356 3.396
Twilight Summer Ale Deschutes 1466 0.185 1.779 0.288 2.601
Samuel Adams Summer Ale Boston Beer Company 7246 0.251 2.787 0.266 2.933
Summerfest Sierra Nevada 2742 0.272 2.616 0.235 2.309

Everyone has their own way to decide which beer to buy. You might use BAR or wOBAR, RateBeer or BeerAdvocate, or maybe you just look at the label. But at the end of the day, we can all agree on one thing: that beer is as much a part of summer as baseball, beaches, and hot weather.

When he's not writing about beer, Matt works at the NYU Medical Center where he does cancer and stem cell biology research. You can find him on Twitter at @murphym45.

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