The Relationship Between Ratings and Sales

Eno Sarris, December 17, 2013

When we looked for the next Samuel Adams, we found some worthy candidates. New Belgium, Lagunitas, Stone and Sierra Nevada all, to varying degrees, showed the distribution and popularity needed to be on the edge of the national consciousness. We broke the tie with beer ratings, which favor Stone heavily.

Was that right?

Stone came in last in sales in that group, after all. They've been critically acclaimed for a while now, but sales haven't followed, at least not yet.

Are ratings important for sales?

This probably can't be determined right now. We don't have raw sales numbers right now. But we have some proxies, and some rankings, and we can try to make a go of it. The breweries in the following table are ranked by 2012 sales according to the Brewers Association. In the next field you have the sum of that brewery's beers' BAR -- our in-house stat that combines rating in style with a credit for check-in numbers, and therefore is both a rating and a counting stat. The next field has number of beers -- that is relevant to the sum of those beers' BAR, after all. Then I divided sumBAR by Beers to get an idea of their 'average beer score.' The next field is the brewery's ranking in our "Solid" rankings, which took a look at the variance in beer scores and rewarded breweries that made the most beers that were positively ranked. Last, you have the number of states in which you can find that brewery.

Num Brewing Company SumBAR Rnk Beers BAR/Beer Solid Rank States
1 Boston Beer Co. 322 105 0.25 325 51
2 Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. 15 131 1.57 92 51
3 New Belgium Brewing Co. 51 103 1.03 322 32
4 The Gambrinus Co. N/A N/A N/A N/A  
5 Deschutes Brewery 26 86 1.85 161 21
6 Lagunitas Brewing Co. 19 77 2.22 98 37
7 Bell's Brewery, Inc. 16 110 1.84 327 20
8 Matt Brewing Co. 5001 41 -0.85 280 24
9 Harpoon Brewery 199 55 0.70 136 27
10 Stone Brewing Co. 1 224 2.76 50 39
11 Brooklyn Brewery 64 77 1.17 190 26
12 Boulevard Brewing Co. 22 61 2.66 78 26
13 Dogfish Head Craft Brewery 7 138 2.55 52 30
14 Abita Brewing Co. 355 37 0.65 299 48
15 Shipyard Brewing Co. 2291 35 0.05 311 44
16 Alaskan Brewing Co. 148 31 1.57 192 14
17 New Glarus Brewing Co. 20 46 3.66 20 1
18 Long Trail Brewing Co. 560 43 0.36 206 12
19 Great Lakes Brewing Co. 43 55 2.16 19 13
20 Firestone Walker Brewing Co. 12 85 3.80 5 19

So, yeah, look at Firestone Walker. Killing it with critics, not selling incredibly well. In fact, there seems to be very little relationship between untappd ratings and sales at first. The top breweries are okay, but they sit comfortably in the 'one BAR average beer' territory until you get to the middle of the rankings.

What the top beers to have, though, are great distribution. And that's not a brain-buster, but it's fun to see it here: to sell a lot of beers, you have to be in a lot of places. It's sort of amazing that we see New Glarus on this list at all, given it's sold in one state. Not surprisingly, it has one of the highest per-beer ratings. And so ratings have to be important at the beginning, as you try to put your mark on the map.

There's more to tease out here once we gather more data. Do smaller breweries with great ratings get distribution and become bigger breweries with lower ratings? This would be an argument for the hype factor, that smaller, harder-to-get beers get higher ratings just because the drinker is busy patting himself on the back. The cognitive dissonance in doing so much to get a bad beer is too great to overcome. Once we have sales numbers, could we predict sales numbers using a regression formula that uses these inputs? Sales ranks don't work as well because we don't know the gaps between each tier here.

But all it takes is one look at Saranac Brewing to realize: it doesn't *always* take well-rated beers to become a player in the craft beer industry. As much as we liked Stone to move forward based on its solid ratings and distribution, can we be sure that Abita might not make a big move in this year's sales numbers? It wouldn't look at all out of place next to Harpoon Brewing.

Thanks to Wiki Commons user Paul Glazzard for his picture of Tetley's Brewery in Leeds.