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Better Know a Beer Region: New England

Greg Sasso, August 19, 2013 -   

Recently, Michael Donato wrote a nice post about how beer quality (or more specifically, untapped users rating of said quality) affects the likelihood of a beer receiving a rating at check-in. Today, we’ll see a variant of that idea when looking at the number of check-ins for certain New England beers and breweries. We’ll also wax philosophical about what it means for a beer to be from a certain place, and how that might affect check-ins.

First, here’s a look at the most popular breweries from New England:

name

Freq.

Percent

Cum.

Boston Beer Company (Samuel Adams)

101,194

35.51

35.51

Magic Hat Brewing Company

22,553

7.91

43.43

Harpoon Brewery

18,433

6.47

49.90

Allagash Brewing Company

12,015

4.22

54.11

Smuttynose Brewing Co.

9,605

3.37

57.48

Clown Shoes

8,119

2.85

60.33

Shipyard Brewing Company

6,723

2.36

62.69

Long Trail Brewing Company

6,633

2.33

65.02

Maine Beer Company

6,355

2.23

67.25

Woodchuck Cider

6,161

2.16

69.41

The Alchemist Pub & Brewery

6,134

2.15

71.56

Hill Farmstead Brewery

5,746

2.02

73.58

Otter Creek Brewing (Otter Creek & Wola

5,667

1.99

75.57

Thirty-five percent of all check-ins come from Sam Adams. In one sense, this isn’t surprising. They’re easily the largest brewery based in New England, and they make up one percent of the total U.S. beer market.  Interestingly, they’re also way above other macro brews in check-ins. Miller, for example, only has around 40,000 check-ins while occupying a much larger percentage of the overall U.S.  market. Sam is the single most checked-in brewery in this sample.

This gets to a larger question though. Should we consider a national brewery like Sam Adams part of the New England grouping? This is not simply a distribution question; Sam brews much of its beer in Cincinnati and Breinigsville, PA. They certainly try to maintain their connection to Boston through commercials, brewery tours, etc, but does the marketing mean much if the beer is produced elsewhere? 

For me, Sam Adams represents Boston in a way that Coors doesn’t represent Colorado or Budwesier does not represent St. Louis. However, Harpoon is even more Boston to me than Sam Adams. Harpoon IPA was the first craft beer I really loved while in college at Brandeis. For me, Harpoon IS Boston, even though they have a brewery in Vermont as well. I’ll expand on these questions in future posts.

Moving from the largest brewery to a much smaller one, check out the beers from the 11th most popular brewery (10th if we take out Woodchuck). Alchemist.

name

 

.5

1

1.5

2

2.5

3

3.5

4

4.5

5

Alena

1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1

Celia Saison

25

1

5

 

21

 

40

6

32

1

5

136

Double Dry Hopped Heady

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1

 

1

2

Edddy Toppah O'er Eee

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2

2

Heady Topper

376

3

1

1

7

5

35

19

580

379

4,558

5,964

Headynuggslam

1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2

3

Heretic

 

 

 

 

 

 

1

 

1

 

 

2

Holy Cow IPA

1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1

 

1

3

Luscious

2

 

 

 

 

 

1

 

12

 

4

19

Moose Knuckle

1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1

SassMouth

1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1

Total

408

4

6

1

28

5

77

25

627

380

4,573

6,134

Those are all of Alchemist’s beers we have.  Fully 97% of Alchemsts check-ins come from Heady Topper.  Now, Heady Topper has the highest BAR of any beer in our leader board, one of the highest ratios of 5 star ratings to check-ins, and has almost a mythical status among beer geeks (side note: it’s also overrated). That’s also a ton of check-ins for a brewery with almost no distribution outside of Vermont:

Compare that to Magic Hat which has about four times as many check-ins with distribution in 35 times the states:

In fact, Heady Topper is the second most checked-in New England beer (non-Sam division) behind #9 while Alchemist is only the 10th most popular brewery. For all its many faults, #9 has serious longetivity. I wonder if in future years Heady Topper will have the same cachet it has now. How much of both the check-in rate and the incredibly high ratings stem from the rarity and how much from absolute quality? We’ll need a much longer panel of data to answer that question.

The limited distribution definitely increases the rarity factor and thus the specialness of the check-in. We also know that people are more likely to rate a good beer than rate a bad beer. However, we do not yet know how much of the rarity increases the rating.  I mentioned in another post that I felt people judge beers relative to their style expectations. As more people drink these rare beers and the expectations are normalized, I wonder if the ratings will fall.

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