The Replacement Level West Coast Pale Ale

Eno Sarris, June 21, 2013

When we looked for a national replacement level pale ale, we were stymied. There were a handful of pale ales that might be available to everyone, and even those aren't available in every grocery store cooler. If we are looking for the truly replacement-level beer -- that beer that neither hurts nor helps, but is available upon request, and can therefore represent the ground floor in each style -- we have to go regional. Too many breweries have small footprints, and some of those even limit availability on purpose.

The world of beer has many different regions, and defining them isnt easy. Out here in California, it feels like you can get California beers easily, but can you get Los Angeles beer easily? Ninkasi is available here in Northern California, but Hair of the Dog isn't as easy. Do we define a region by the brewery locations? Then we run into the problem of their variable distribution regions.

Let's instead look at what people in in the Pacific Region (California, Oregon, Alaska, Hawaii and Washington) are drinking. If they're drinking them in bulk, then we can hopefully assume that those beers are readily available. But of course, the minimum number of checkins makes all the difference. If we were to set it at five, that wouldn't mean much about availability.

Here are the number of Pacific Region Pale Ales in our sample at each cutoff level:

Cutoff Level Number of Pales
500 2
200 8
100 16
50 38

Obviously we've got the same problem at the tippy-top. Two pale ales, and one is the replacement level? Doesn't seem right. Eight isn't enough either, not by the smell test. Let's run this expirement with the last two cutoffs.

For the first, we can list the top 16 most popular pale ales in the Pacific Region, because 16 is just enough to see on one list:

Brewery Beer Name Ave Score
Lagunitas Brewing Company Fillmore Fusion 3.733333
Russian River Brewing Company Row 2, Hill 56 3.619647
Deschutes Brewery Red Chair NWPA 3.5
Double Mountain Brewery & Taproom Vaporizer 3.409091
Lagunitas Brewing Company New Dogtown Pale Ale 3.365079
Drake's Brewing Company 1500 Pale Ale 3.303318
Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. Pale Ale 3.257214
Georgetown Brewing Company Manny's Pale Ale 3.214724
Deschutes Brewery Mirror Pond Pale Ale 3.18593
Oskar Blues Brewery Dale's Pale Ale 3.051724
Stone Brewing Co. Stone Pale Ale 3.02381
21st Amendment Brewery Bitter American 2.991667
Firestone Walker Brewing Company Pale 31 2.959391
Societe Brewing Co. 10/19 O'Brien's Anniversary Ale 2.902778
Boston Beer Company (Samuel Adams) New Albion Ale 2.798611
Kona Brewing Company Fire Rock Pale Ale 2.732824

Well that's pretty funny. New Albion Ale was almost our Pacific Region Replacement Level Pale Ale, after coming in as our National Replacement Level Pale Ale. But no, this time it's Kona's Fire Rock Pale Ale, and you know what, that feels about right out here. Amazing how close Stone's Pale Ale is to replacement level, but, hey, the 'average' pale ale out on the west coast is pretty amazing.

If we re-run this exercise at the 50-check-in level, what happens? Here's the bottom of the table:

Brewery Beer Name Ave Score
Boston Beer Company (Samuel Adams) New Albion Ale 2.798611
Karl Strauss Brewing Company Pintail Pale Ale 2.797753
Kona Brewing Company Fire Rock Pale Ale 2.732824
Widmer Brothers Brewing Company Drifter Pale Ale 2.697674
Rubicon Brewing Co. Monkey Knife Fight 2.654545
Automatic Brewing Co. Cape Townie 2.333333

This doesn't add much value. Kona's right there in the middle of the mix, and though Widmer's Drifter is probably fairly available, it only drops the replacement level .04. The other two are not readily available to this author, at the very least.

Can we make this prescriptive to each region somehow? The top 16 beers by check-in count represent the top 2.3%. Could we just ask for the top 2% of beers by count in each region in each style, and then use the bottom-rated beer? It seems likely that the top 2% of beers by check-in are readily available to the consumers in those regions -- you west coasters, can you get each beer in the top list? I do spot two I've never seen before, but that seems an acceptable number.

Then again, the smaller styles won't afford enough different beers to give us a decent sample to use this 2% number. And those 2% of beers represent 44% of the total American Pale Ale check-ins in the Pacifici Region. Perhaps that 44% number is the one we're after.

Yes, some of this is nebulous and done by feel. And that's why we welcome input on this process at any moment, whether in the comments or on twitter.

But right now, it's feeling okay: The replacement level beer is the lowest-rated beer among the beers that make up the most popular 40% in each region and style. The replacement level Pale Ale on the west coast is Kona's Fire Rock Pale Ale.

Do we have a road map now?