The Battle for Chicago

Eno Sarris, October 01, 2013

When we did the Battle for San Francisco, we relied on an outsider's list to determine which breweries were truly San Francisco. That doesn't make any sense. We have a database here. So, in order to determine the best brewery of Chicago, we first started by simply querying which brewers used Chicago in their home address.

48 breweries! 48 breweries. You've heard of Goose Island and Half Acre and maybe even Pipeworks. But there's also Moonshine, Whipple, Inebriated, Torrentional and knobru. Among others. 48 breweries.

Now that we're beyond a simple leaderboard, we're going to have to think about our qualifications for best brewery. If it's just a simple sum of their leaderboard Beers Above Replacement, well we can do that pretty quickly thanks to pivot tables.

Brewery Total
Goose Island Beer Co. 168.34
Revolution Brewing Company 83.54
Pipeworks Brewing Company 59.9
Half Acre Beer Company 56.54
Piece Brewery & Pizzeria 10.54
Spiteful Brewing 7.1
Local Option Bierwerker 5.84
Virtue Cider 5.78
Begyle Brewing 4.23
Metropolitan Brewing 3.34

It's a blowout. Goose Island has long been associated with Chicago craft, so it's no surprise.

But take a look at this Chicago-centric leaderboard. Bourbon County Stout -- in its many variations -- is fueling the domination. What happens if we give Goose Island credit for the top variation of the beer, and that number alone? That seems to level the playing field a bit, since people seem to love Bourbon County Stout no matter what adjunct is thrown in there. It's as if Ballast Point had fifteen different versions of Sculpin instead of just two.

Okay, the new leaderboard, with one Bourbon County Stout in there:

Brewery Total
Goose Island Beer Co. 86.56
Revolution Brewing Company 83.54
Pipeworks Brewing Company 59.9
Half Acre Beer Company 56.54
Piece Brewery & Pizzeria 10.54

That makes things a lot closer.

But! Guess which brewery has the most beers on the leaderboard. Three guesses and the first two don't count. We probably don't want to crown the most prolific brewery as the best just because they've been brewing the longest or have the backing of a major corporation and can pump out new beers at any moment.

Wouldn't BAR per individual beer make for a good metric? We'd want to limit it to the top five breweries so that no one-off nano-nano-brewery with one good beer trumps the little bigs in the city. So, here's the BAR per beer for the top five brewing companies by number of beers on the leaderboard. (Still counting only one Bourbon County Stout.)

Brewery Total Beers BAR/beer
Revolution Brewing Company 38 2.198
Half Acre Beer Company 28 2.019
Goose Island Beer Co. 52 1.665
Pipeworks Brewing Company 36 1.664
Piece Brewery & Pizzeria 11 0.958

Hey there! That does something interesting to the leaderboard. All hail Revolution Brewing, king of Chicago! Thanks to the Anti-Hero and the Mad Cow and their other excellent beers, as well as their excellent brew pub, it's not crazy to call them the best Chicago craft beer label. Heck, some people don't even call Goose Island a craft beer any more, so if they get DQ'ed without all of those arithmetic calisthenics, that group can call Rev Brew a legit champion.

But for our purposes, it is worth noticing something. If you add all those Bourbon County Stouts back in... even if you don't add the different vintages... Goose Island has a 2.295 BAR per beer. Uh-oh.