Zombie Dust's Dirty Little Secret

Eno Sarris, August 26, 2014

First: I love Zombie Dust. None of what follows is meant as an indictment of the beer or of Three Floyds. 

But look at the top five on our leaderboards, and you'll notice that Zombie Dust is a little different. It's the only beer in the top five that's not an Imperial/Double India Pale ale. 

By the definitions of our statistics, both Style+ and BAR are calculated with respect to the style of each beer. We found this necessary because we didn't think it made sense to compare a pilsner to an imperial stout. But of course that leaves our leaderboards open for these kinds of moments. 

The replacement level for an American Pale Ale is high at 3.44. That's 73rd of 144 styles in our database. But the replacement level for DIPAs is higher. At 3.81 stars out of five, DIPAs have the 12th-highest replacement level on BeerGraphs. 

Looking at this one way, it's really impressive for the top DIPAs to have made it. We're measuring their greatness against a rating of almost four stars! For them to pile on stars and check-ins above that average, they're kicking butt. Their popularity in the face of a high replacement level is my answer for why there are so many DIPAs on the list when we tried to keep them down. 

But looking at it another way... and you wonder. Is Zombie Dust a straight pale ale? 

The Beer Judge Certification Program has guidelines for each style which include original gravity, final gravity, alcohol by volume, international bitterness units, and color benchmarks: 

10. AMERICAN ALE          
A. American Pale Ale 1.045-60 1.010-15 4.5-6.0 30-45 5-14
14. INDIA PALE ALE (IPA)          
B. American IPA 1.050-75 1.010-18 5.5-7.5 40-70 6-15
19. STRONG ALE          
C. American Barleywine 1.080-120 1.016-30 8.0-12.0 50-120 10-19

On our leaderboards, Zombie Dust has a 6.4% ABV. You'll see it listed as having a 60 IBU on some sites. And if you ask the homebrewers, the orginal gravity is around 1.065 and the finaly gravity is around 1.018, with an SRM around nine (and an IBU above 60). Looks a lot more like an American IPA than an American Pale Ale. The OG, FG, ABV and IBU numbers are all beyond the upper range of the BJCP definitions. 

If you average out the 18k American Pale Ales in our database that don't have zeroes in the ABV column, you get a 5.48 average ABV, though. A full 3096 American Pale Ales have an ABV over six, and those beers average an ABV over seven. So, if Zombie Dust is not an American Pale Ale, then around one in six American Pale Ales is not an American Pale Ale. 

In other words, it's not really Zombie Dust's dirty little secret. It's the industry that's changing. 

Perhaps craft brewers have known longer than us that adding more alcohol to your beer makes it more popular. And they've been adding alcohol to our beers. We need more longitudinal data to say that definitively, but the way current APAs stack up against the APA definitions gives us a hint that the market is moving in a certain direction. 

After all, BJCP doesn't have a Triple IPA category -- heck, it doesn't even have a Double India Pale category. By them, you're a Barleywine by the time you start leaving 8% ABV behind. All of the 10k DIPAs on our boards average 9% ABV. Pliny the Younger, sometimes called a Triple IPA but showing as a DIPA, and fourth on our boards, has a 10.8% ABV. 

So don't get too mad at Zombie Dust and Three Floyds. They may get a bit of a boost from calling their beer an American Pale Ale, but they've still made an excellent beer, and when seen against the current market in which the average IPA has an ABV close to seven... you could call Zombie Dust an APA perhaps. 

After all, you don't have to look too far down the list to get to pseudo Sue, an American Pale Ale from Toppling Goliath that we loved on our most recent podcast... and features a 5.8% ABV. 

Maybe we just need to update the BJCP definitions? And here at BeerGraphs, should we figure replacement levels across a few styles, by grouping together all the pale ales?