California's Most Solid Brewery

Eno Sarris, October 17, 2013

When we used variance to try and identify the most solid breweries, we inevitably had to break it down to the regional level. Crowning Cantillon -- a brewery that produces some of the rarest and most sought-after beers in the craft community -- the most solid brewery and then moving on doesn't really make the most of that stat. And yet, when we broke it into regional kings, we still got some responses that centered on availability: "I live in this region and can't get this beer."

So, naturally, the easiest idea is to come up with leaderboards for each state. Where better to start than the state with the biggest sample size?

And so, your top 15 most solid breweries of California.

Brewery BMSE
Firestone Walker Brewing Company 12.68
Societe Brewing Co. 6.67
Russian River Brewing Company 5.75
Pizza Port 5.17
FiftyFifty Brewing Co. 4.09
AleSmith Brewing Company 3.65
Knee Deep Brewing Company 3.49
Stone Brewing Co. 2.85
Alpine Beer Company (CA) 1.36
Port Brewing Company 1.22
The Lost Abbey 0.77
Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. 0.46
Lagunitas Brewing Company 0.17
Anchor Brewing Company -0.15
The Bruery -0.40

Firestone Walker used to make wine, yes, but they've been making beer a while, and yeah, this seems correct. It's remarkable that Societe has risen so quickly -- they were founded in 2011 in San Diego, which is sort of like pinch hitting in the ninth inning of a tie game in the World Series. But they've swum with the sharks and are obviously keeping their heads above water (to mix metaphors). The rest of the top 15 is a who's who, really, a checklist for people wishing to taste California.

But noticing that this state goes so deep makes you wonder how to use this stat correctly. If we compare nationally, we'll find that this stat will make some decent breweries look bad. Sweetwater Brewing in Georgia, for example. Three breweries make the minimum ten beers in that state, and Sweetwater ranks last among those three with a -2.3 score. But if you're in Georgia, you should probably try some Sweetwater.

Two questions emerge. 1) Do we lower the minimums? How do you calculate variance for a brewery that has fewer than five beers on the leaderboards? That seems like folly.

2) How do we use this stat best? We would like to use this stat to represent the quality of a brewery in our future plans, but how best to use it? Do we turn this into a state-relevant score? Or perhaps a rank? Or an index? If we do use an index, should we index by state or by region or by country -- in other words, is the 'average' brewery by solid-ness set by the state, the region, or the country?

We haven't figured this all out yet, but it's an interesting way to look at a brewery. Especially if you're encountering a new beer from a brewery that you're not completely familiar with, a one-stop look at the leaderboards might help a lot: "Oh look at that, Societe is about twice as solid as Knee Deep, so I think I'll reach for the Societe beer today if I have to choose one."

But no other state has 41 qualifying breweries like California. So that's something we have to keep in mind as we figure out how best to use this information.