Top Beer Lists Getting Lighter in Alcohol

Eno Sarris, February 04, 2016

Over at This is Why I'm Drunk, Bryan Roth does some work looking at the numbers on the RateBeer top 100. It's worth reading and more than a little fun. 

I zeroed in on one table.

Here is the makeup of the top 100 last year and this year on RateBeer. Of course, it ends up being small sample, so we may need a little more research on the larger sample of all beers, which we'll do as soon as we can. But you'll see a trend that starts with the stouts and goes on to the bottom. 

Style 2014 2015
Imperial Stout 36 29
DIPA 14 17
Strong Ale 10 11
IPA 9 3
Barleywine 6 6
Sour/Wild 5 9
Quad 3 3
Imperial Porter 3 3
Pale Ale 3 4
Scotch Ale 2  
Stout 2 3
Lambic 2 5
Saison 2 1
Porter 2 2
Fruit 1 2
Gose   1
Weizenbock   1

Roth confirms that there is actually a trend here by averaging the ABV of the top 100:

The average ABV of all 100 best beers is actually down from last year, from 9.95 to 9.55. I would assume this is influenced by the fewer imperial IPAs and the greater representation of styles like sour/wild, lambic and pale ale.

When our own Michael Donato wrote about coming trends for 2016, he didn't list session beers, or sours, and a few commenters mentioned the omission. His own response seems to be ratified here: those things are already gaining steam, they are already trends, they've already changed the landscape. 

Here, we try to give credit to the lighter styles by comparing first within style. So our 2015 average ABV of the top 100 was 7.06, a little lower than RateBeer's. But that meant that our drop was also more pronounced -- our 2014 average ABV was 8.00. 

With a drop that big, it's worth recreating Roth's work for our leaderboards, to see how it happened. We can't really recreate the same thing here, but we can look at 2014 rookies vs 2015 rookies, top 100s -- with all beers with seasonal numbers in the title (like Pliny the Younger (2015)) dropped from the set. So here are the style numbers for 2014 and 2015's top 100 rookies. 

Style 2014 2015
Imperial / Double IPA 14 8
American Imperial / Double Stout 12 4
American IPA 9 14
Saison / Farmhouse Ale 8 7
Stout 8 3
Berliner Weisse 4 5
American Pale Ale 3 13
American Stout 3 3
Sour Ale 3 6
Russian Imperial Stout 3 2
Pale Lager 3  
Porter 2 1
Other 2  
American Wild Ale 2 6
Imperial / Double Porter 2 3
American Amber / Red Ale 1  
Dark Ale 1  
Scotch Ale / Wee Heavy 1  
Fruit Beer 1  
Black IPA / Cascadian Dark Ale 1 1
American Strong Ale 1  
Belgian Strong Dark Ale 1  
Baltic Porter 1  
English Barleywine 1  
Imperial Pale Ale 1 2
Gose 1 1
Radler 1  
Herbed/Spiced Beer 1  
Malt Liquor 1  
Imperial Oatmeal Stout 1 1
Old Ale 1 2
Gueuze 1  
Wheat Wine 1  
New Zealand Pale Ale 1  
Gluten-Free 1  
Mead 1  
Biere de Champagne 1  
Imperial / Double Stout   2
Cream Ale   2
Belgian Quad   1
Witbier   1
American Brown Ale   1
Blonde Ale   1
Belgian Blonde / Golden   1
English IPA   1
Oatmeal Stout   1
American Blonde Ale   1
Pilsner   1
American Barleywine   1
Lambic   1
Malt Beer   1
Australian Pale Ale   1
Pumpkin / Yam Beer   1

It's even more pronounced here. Pale Ales and Sour Ales (adding in Wild Ales) make up a huge new force in the top 100 in 2015. Our top beers are getting lighter in alcohol. 

So no, it's probably not a trend for 2016. That's 2015's trend, maybe it continues, but it's not new. 

It's nice to see -- on a site founded on the fact that perhaps we overvalue double stouts and perhaps we should evaluate beers against their peers within a style -- that our stats are a little ahead of the curve on this one, and detecting the movement early. 

For now, enjoy your sours and your lighter pale ales. It's keeping with the times to do so, at least.