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Searching for the Replacement Level Beer

Eno Sarris, June 10, 2013 -   

The idea in baseball is that we can't value baseball players over the average player -- the average baseball player is not readily available to all teams, so a baseline set to average isn't common to all teams. The average baseball player is an accomplishment, and it gets much worse.  There is such a thing as a readily available baseball player, though -- the quad-A slugger, the minor league free agent, the backup shortstop, the Delmon Youngs, the righty bench bat -- players you can get without giving up anything other than a couple hundred thousand bucks.

That player has become the baseline for a baseball stat called Wins Above Replacement. We're trying to refine Beers Above Replacement here. We forced a replacement level on our beers last week, but this is a new week, so let's jump into that concept here.

Which beer is Delmon Young (career -0.5 WAR)? Which beer is the replacement-level beer?

It's the readily available beer. The replacement-level beer has to be style-specific -- the replacement-level shortstop looks very much different from the replacement-level first baseman, and the replacement-level pale ale will be very different from the replacement-level pilsner. Like we try to find 'scores relative to position,' let's look at the scores relative to beer style.

First up: Pale Ale.

Our sample here -- over two million check-ins downloaded from Untappd, a beer check-in app, joined with industry information -- provides the following top-ten pale ales by number of check-ins, which we'll use as a proxy for availability.

Brewery Beer Check Ins Rating
Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. Pale Ale 17399 3.080982
Deschutes Brewery Red Chair NWPA 5013 3.331737
Oskar Blues Brewery Dale's Pale Ale 4841 3.358397
Boston Beer Company (Samuel Adams) New Albion Ale 4548 2.791777
Three Floyds Brewing Company Zombie Dust 4164 4.26489
Deschutes Brewery Mirror Pond Pale Ale 2564 3.060452
Kona Brewing Company Fire Rock Pale Ale 2194 2.738377
SweetWater Brewing Company 420 Extra Pale Ale 2127 3.199342
Three Floyds Brewing Company Alpha King 2100 3.647619
New Belgium Brewing Company Dig 2007 2.850523

Sierra Nevada Pale Ale trounces the rest of the crew. But its average rating -- over three -- means there are plenty of pale ales that come below it. And yet we know it's readily available.

What do we make more important, the rating or the availability? There are 3,527 pale ales in our sample, and only 207 of them have more than 100 check-ins. Using the lowest-rated beer in that sample gives us: Chamberlain Pale Ale from Shipyard Brewing, with a 2.27 rating. 101 of them have more than 200 check-ins. Using that cut-off, our replacement level pale ale would be: Lord Chesterfield Ale from Yuengling, with a 2.33 rating.

Certainly a rating in the low twos suggest that 1) It gets worse and 2) It's low enough to pass the sniff test. If you want just any old pale ale, reach for the Lord Chesterfield, our National Replacement Level Pale Ale. Yuengilng seems like a nationally distributed brewery, so maybe that's right.

But then check out this map from Seekabrew.com, which highlights distribution regions for given breweries, and it doesn't look national at all, what was I thinking:

But if we make the requirement 'true national distribution,' we might be limited to number one on the list -- Sierra Nevada pale Ale. Or Samuel Adams' lesser-rated New Albion Ale. If the replacement level seems too high with those, it might not be. There are very many great pale ales, and by the time you go national, you probably have a decent beer on your hands.

But the sample here is tiny. Why would our replacement level pale ale come from a sample of two? New Belgium is about 15 states short of National distribution, should we include their Dig and make it a sample of three? Goose Island just signed with InBev, and may more may not have national distro, but you get the picture. We aren't going to push this sample into double-digits.

This is an argument to go regional. California has checked into twice as many pale ales as New York. (2.32 times as many, to be exact.) The replacement level in California by definition has to be higher. That's another argument to go regional.

So that's what's next, at least for me: regional replacement level for the pale ale. Because there are only about five national pale ales anyway.

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