The Replacement Level Pale Ale for the Upper Midwest

Eno Sarris, July 12, 2013

Other than a convention I once attended (The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, whoohoo, and yes, I did play hookie, shh don't tell anyone), Chicago will mostly be an unknown to me when I travel there next week for the BeerGraphs meetup. Oh sure, I've been to Wrigley and walked through downtown, and even enjoyed a political demonstration there. But I'll be interested in getting to know Chicago. And music, of course.

I already know the beers Chicago likes, it seems. Bell's, Three Floyds and Founders dominate the top of the leaderboards in that city and in my heart. But in order to properly judge them, we should try to find a replacement level pale ale for the region.

Here's a primer on the concept, and pieces for the Northeast and the Pacific Region, but the idea is simply: what's the worst readily available American Pale Ale in Chicago? Being readily available suggests the beer is not horrid, but it does create a baseline. How much better is Zombie Dust than this easily findable and drinkable beer? That should be how Zombie Dust is rated.

The beers that make up 40% of the sample don't give us enough beers to compare in most regions, and Chicago is no different. Three Floyds' Zombie Dust and Alpha King, Half Acre's Daisy Cutter, and Goose Island's Green Line -- those four beers make up 40% of all the check-ins in American Pale Ales in the Upper Midwest (defined here as: North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan, Indiana).

But let's look at the beers that make up over half the sample. 51% of the checkins are represented by these beers:

Brewery Beer State Rating
Three Floyds Brewing Company Zombie Dust IN 4.308293269
Three Floyds Brewing Company Alpha King IN 3.732050453
Half Acre Beer Company Daisy Cutter Pale Ale IL 3.492443869
Goose Island Beer Co. Green Line Pale Ale IL 2.912406015
Bell's Brewery, Inc. Midwestern Pale Ale MI 2.753076923
Three Floyds Brewing Company Pride & Joy Mild Ale IN 3.2529274

Well, we didn't add much, but at least we pushed replacement level down below three. Still, Bell's is a great brewery, and that seems high. Let's run it at 60% and see what happens. Looks like we add Three Floys' Pride & Joy Mild (3.253), Founders' Pale Ale (2.974) and Dry Hoped Pale Ale (3.137), and Indeed Brewing Company's Day Tripper (3.476). No change in the replacement level.

In the past, pushing to 70% has given us some brewpub beers that scuttle the sample. I might need a little help from the readership on this one, because I don't recognize all the beers. This time, we add Sun King's Osiris Pale Ale (3.353), Sidekick (3.466) and The Bitter End (2.813) from Two Brothers, pseudo Sue (3.969) from Toppling Goliath, Cut Throat (2.756) from Finch's Beer Company and Citra Pale (3.549) from Odd Side Ales. I recognize Two Brothers, but that's about it.

And yet our replacement level does not change. And we wouldn't want biast to change our replacement level too much. Even if Bell's makes some of the best beers in the country, it's totally possible that their Midwestern Pale Ale is the Replacement Level Pale Ale for the Upper Midwest.

At the very least, it's appropriately named.

To recap, our Replacement Level Pale Ales, using the 70% cutoff:

Northeast: Saranac's Big Moose Ale (2.514)
Pacific: Kona's Fire Rock Pale Ale (2.738)
Upper Midwest: Bells' Midwest Pale Ale (2.753)