Better Know a Beer Region: Pacific

Greg Sasso, July 08, 2013

Sorry for the long delay in between posts. Hectic times in the Sasso household, but things have calmed down, and posts should be coming quicker. Last time, if you recall, I showed how one single beer (Hopslam) was really driving a lot of the ratings and check-ins for the entire Upper Midwest region. 

Today, I’m going to look at the Pacific coast. For our coding system, Pacific refers to not only California, Oregon and Washington, but Hawaii and Alaska as well. No surprise to anyone, Alaska and Hawaii barely affect the numbers, but I’ve kept them in for completeness. Using the Pacific region as an example, I’m going to focus on differences in how people rate different styles and a little bit on some distinct style coming from the West Coast. This post should work well as a companion post to Eno’s pieces about the ubiquity of Pale Ales and their replacement level on the West Coast.

Starting with the most popular breweries, immediately we see that the Pacific does not have one brewery overshadowing all the others as the Upper Midwest did. Instead, there are three breweries that account for twenty five percent of all check-ins: Sierra Nevada, Lagunitas, and Stone. After that, there’s a dropoff to the other relatively large breweries hovering around 20, 25,000 check-ins. Also of note, the top three are all California breweries, and there are only two non-CA breweries (both from Oregon), in the top ten. Of the 700,000 check-ins, 500,000 are from California breweries. California really dominates the Untappd check-ins.

Pacific Breweries Percent Cumulative
Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. 9.06 9.06
Lagunitas Brewing Company 8.59 17.65
Stone Brewing Co. 7.6 25.25
Deschutes Brewery 3.61 28.86
Green Flash Brewing Co. 3.57 32.43
Rogue Ales 3.55 35.98
Firestone Walker Brewing Company 3.54 39.53
Russian River Brewing Company 2.84 42.36
Ballast Point Brewing & Spirits 2.73 45.09
The Bruery 2.51 47.6

Partly, this is just that California is huge and has tons of breweries. It’s not surprising that the most populous state in the country pumps out more beer than the 13th and 27th most populous states. Sierra, Lagunitas, Stone are all easily available nationwide, and all of these besides Russian River easily available in Chicago where I live. It’s actually more surprising that Oregon (the 27th) managed to get two breweries into the top ten while Washington (the 13th) has none.  t’s also a bit odd Rogue is so low; they distribute in 49 states (Wyoming is an outlier there) so one would think they’d be closer to the top three breweries. 

If anything, I think Untappd really understates Sierra.  It’s available everywhere, and while beer selection has gotten better everywhere, the Pale Ale is still the default craft option at many places.  With only 11,500 check-ins, it’s not even the most checked-in Sierra beer (that title goes to Ruthless Rye by a couple hundred). However, I would be shocked if the pale was not the most consumed Sierra beer. Most Untappd users have probably moved past Sierra Pale; it’s simply not exciting anymore. We can see this reflected in its mediocre 3.2 average. 

American Pale Ales in general don’t get super high ratings; anecdotally, it’s thought as more of a standard beer style.  The Pacific coast average is a paltry 3.1, putting the Sierra Pale slightly above average. Compare this with the bolder flavors of a Double IPA, where the average rating of 3.6 is a significantly higher even despite (or perhaps because of) fewer check-ins. If we look at BAR for Pale Ales nationwide, we see Three Floyds Zombie Dust leaving the pack in the dust with a 14. Of course, while Zombie Dust is a great beer, it’s not really a classic American Pale at all. It’s maltier and heavier than the traditional American Pale. Sierra Pale comes in at a respectable 15th place with 4.85 BAR.

Looking at the DIPA leaderboard, the 15th place DIPA is also a California beer, Firestone Walker’s Double Jack. Double Jack’s BAR of 7.56 is quite a bit higher than the Sierra Pale, and reflects the genenral trend of people preferring DIPAs to American Pales. You’d have to get down to 50th-rated DIPA (also a CA beer, Stone Ruination 10th anniversary) to see a BAR of 4.85.  My guess is that the ceiling for an American Pale Ale just isn’t as high as for a Double IPA and DIPAs leave room for more experimentation and thus higher scores.

Comparing Sierra and Lagunitas gives us another way to see how Sierra is probably under represented on Untappd. Check out the most checked-in beers from both breweries. Don't pay much attention the the percentage and cumulative percentage columns. Those numbers are skewed by the splitting out of different years of Bigfood and Ruthless Rye. I'll just focus on the frequency column:

Sierra Nevada Beers Freq. Percent Cum.
Ruthless Rye IPA (2013) 11,780 18.63 18.63
Pale Ale 11,414 18.05 36.68
Torpedo Extra IPA 7,759 12.27 48.96
Celebration Ale (2012) 4,015 6.35 55.31
Ruthless Rye IPA (2012) 2,828 4.47 59.78
Bigfoot (2013) 2,461 3.89 63.67
Narwhal Imperial Stout (2012) 2,331 3.69 67.36
Bigfoot (2012) 1,367 2.16 69.52
Kellerweis 1,325 2.10 71.61
Ovila Quad With Plums 1,057 1.67 73.29


Lagunitas Beers Freq. Percent Cum.
Lagunitas Sucks - Brown Shugga' Substit 22,994 38.36 38.36
IPA 9,474 15.81 54.17
A Little Sumpin' Sumpin' Ale 5,874 9.80 63.97
Hop Stoopid 2,970 4.96 68.93
Maximus 2,894 4.83 73.75
Cappuccino Stout 2,590 4.32 78.08
New Dogtown Pale Ale 1,402 2.34 80.41
Brown Shugga' 1,343 2.24 82.66
Wilco Tango Foxtrot (WTF) 1,339 2.23 84.89
Censored Rich Copper Ale (aka The Kroni 1,254 2.09 86.98

There’s a much more even distribution of check-ins from Sierra, while Lagunitas has a lesser case of Hopslam syndrome. Lagunitas’s check-ins are driven much more by a specialty beer than Sierra’s check-ins. Ruthless is a winter-only beer as well, but it doesn't account for nearly the percentage of check-ins Lagunitas Sucks does. We’re still working almost exclusively winter data, so check-ins are going to be skewed by winter seasonal beers. I’m interested to see how these rankings change once we get data for the full year. My guess is some of the classic year-round beers like a Sierra Pale and the Lagunitas IPA will rise to the top. That’s something to keep an eye on going forward, and I'll certainly revist the topic later in the year.  

Style Freq. Percent Cum.
American IPA 130,589 18.71 18.71
Imperial / Double IPA 102,363 14.67 33.38
American Pale Ale 51,009 7.31 40.68
American Amber / Red Ale 24,805 3.55 44.24
American Imperial / Double Stout 22,855 3.27 47.51
American Strong Ale 21,729 3.11 50.62
Rye Beer 18,273 2.62 53.24
American Barleywine 17,515 2.51 55.75
American Porter 16,817 2.41 58.16
American Brown Ale 16,470 2.36 60.52
Saison / Farmhouse Ale 13,930 2.00 62.52
Russian Imperial Stout 13,892 1.99 64.51
Black IPA / Cascadian Dark Ale 11,915 1.71 66.21
American Wild Ale 11,145 1.60 67.81
Belgian Strong Dark Ale 10,810 1.55 69.36

Russian Imperials make up 2% of all Pacific check-ins. That’s not surprising on its face; North Coast has great distribution of Old Rasputin. However, Old Rasputin only makes up 25% percent of the check-ins (and a little under 10% of check-ins for Russian Stouts nationwide). I’m kind of amazed there are only 3,800 check-ins for a fantastic, widely available beer (only 21st in BAR for Russian Imperials, but a lot of that has to do with special barrel-aged editions). 

Also note, the relatively high prevalence of Black IPAs. A third of all Black IPA check-ins originate from the West Coast; the next closest is the Mid-Atlantic with 12% of all check-ins. Not much more to say about the Black IPAs at the moment, but I have a feeling we’ll see this even out a bit over the full year and next year. I’ve seen more Black IPAs on the shelves, and I would imagine it’ll be a beer more breweries will be offering. I’ll look at it again when we have data over the full year.

I’ll be writing about New England next.  If you’ve got any specific questions you’d like me to look at, let me know in the comments.