Finding a Replacement Level Pale Ale for the Northeast

Eno Sarris, July 03, 2013

After four years at boarding school in Boston, and seven years in New York, the region has a special place in my heart. But not one that is normally occupied by beer. At first, the only math involved in my beer choice was one that had to do with ABV and dollar signs, and it usually ended up with an answer in the malt liquor section of the beer aisle. And in New York, some of my time and attention was directed towards mixologists and the products of their labor.

That doesn't mean the Northeast doesn't have some great beer. So let's see what the worst readily available American Pale Ale is in the region, so we can judge the rest of the region against that beer.

When we declared that Kona's Fire Rock Pale Ale was the Pacific Region Replacement Level Pale Ale, a few pointed out that Kona was widely available and could be used as a National Replacement Level Pale Ale. At the risk of using too may capital letters, that's probably not how Replacement Level will work. By the theory, anyway, the high ratings and ubiquitous nature of American Pale Ales in the Pacific Region could raise the Replacement Level so high as to make Kona's version RL in the Pacific Region but a positive beer in another region.

In other words, if there are great pale ales everywhere on the west coast, does that render Kona worse in comparison? And what does the Replacement Level Pale Ale for the Northeast region look like? And finally, what sort of implications do the idiosyncracies of each region have on this search for a replacement level beer?

First, let's revisit the question. Either the beers that make up 40%, 50%, or 60% of the check-ins are deemed available, with a sniff test helping us determine the best cut-off. The worst-rated beer in that grouping is therefore the replacement level beer.

Here's a possible problem. The following beers represent the top 40% of all check-ins in the Northeast (NY, CT, ME, MA, NH, RI, VT):

Brewery Name Beer Name Ave Score
Boston Beer Company (Samuel Adams) New Albion Ale 2.791777
Maine Beer Company MO 3.56865
Maine Beer Company Peeper Ale 3.215517
Southern Tier Brewing Company Phin & Matt's Extraordinary Ale 2.823688

Yeah that's it, and they're sorted by number of check-ins for a region. New Albion Ale alone accounts for 27% of the total check-ins in the Northeast. And now our cutoff for freely available is over 500 check-ins because of it.

So let's look at 50%. We have the original four beers, plus Switchback Ale from Switchback Brewing Company (3.147), Saranac's Big Moose Ale (2.514), and Captain Lawrence's Freshchester Pale Ale (2.773). That's a decent sample, and it produces Saranac Big Moose Ale as the replacement-level pale ale for the Northeast. That works from a sniff test angle -- Saranac is local, readily available, and meh. At least to this author.

Once again, going to 60% doesn't change the replacement level beer, and does produce question marks in the sample. We add Samuel Adams Boston Ale (2.892), Otter Creek Hop Session (2.709), and then a Pale Ale from the Flying Goose Brew Pub (2.726), which cannot be 'readily available' by definition.

If we dropped the level further, we would include Porkslap Pale Ale from Butternuts (2.529), which has been put forth as a replacement level pale for the region by our readers, Blue Point's Spring Fling (2.650) and Smuttynose's Shoals Pale Ale (2.898) among others, but we wouldn't change the replacement level.

The Northeast is a little different than the Pacific Region, though. Perhaps the Untappd app is just more popular on the west coast, or pale ales, but we had two-and-a-half times as many check-ins in our Pacific sample.

Another way the sample is strange in New England is related to the fact that New Albion Ale makes up 27% of the sample. In the west, Sierra made up 24.8% of the sample, but Red Chair from Deschutes made up 11.7%. In the Northeast, the second-most popular pale ale made up 5% of the sample. So, really you have one ubiquitous pale ale in the region, and then you have some that mostly available.

A final asterisk on this region is the difference in raw breweries that call these states home. The Pacific Region boasts 796 breweries. The Northeast? 391.

Right now, this is our regional breakdown:

Northeast (1): Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York
MidAtlantic/Industrial (2): Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland
Upper South (3): West Virginia, Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina
Deep South (4): Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, Florida
Upper Midwest (5): North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan, Indiana
Lower Midwest (6): Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Texas
Mountains (7): Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico
Pacific (8): Alaska, Washington, Oregon, California, Hawaii
Should the Northeast be expanded to include more of the MidAtlantic? That way, you might be able to match the number of check ins and beer that's available to the Pacific Region drinkers. Or does it not matter? By population, the regions are more comparable (~45 million on the west coast to ~33 million in the Northeast). Is population the best way to separate these regions?
So, let us know what you think. Saranac's Big Moose Ale is the replacement level for American Pale Ales in the Northeast right now, and it's slightly below the RL we set in the Pacific Region. Those two things seem about right, given the love for the APA in the west.
But that doesn't mean that the discussion is not complicated, or that there aren't questions to be asked. So ask them!