Top-Heavy Breweries

Eno Sarris, July 09, 2015

Which breweries are most defined by their top beers? Answering this is a little more complicated than just looking at how many of their beers are above average. What we are asking is, what breweries are basically just a few flagship beers, and then some flotsam? 

There are 6229 breweries in our database. Only 1211 (19%) have more than ten beers listed. 

Of those 1211, only 893 have enough beers above replacement to register a BAR25 score, which is the summed BAR of the best 25% of their beers. BAR is Beers Above Replacement, a stat that compares a beer's score to its style and then gives it some credit for number of checkins. Anything above four is a very good beer, two is above average.

If we wanted to test which breweries were the most top-heavy, we could divide the brewery's total BAR score by their BAR25 score. This basically asks: how much of the brewery's total quality is made up of their top beers? 

Of course, you have to set a BAR limit. If you don't, the answer is: Hale's Ales Brewery. They have 19 beers and only one beer scores above a one BAR. Only one of their 19 beers is close to an average beer. If you don't get the Seattle brewery's 30th Anniversary Double Pale Ale, well, then untappd users have decided you aren't going to get a very good beer. 

On the flip side, without a BAR limit, you find that the most even brewery is Affligem Brouwerij, mostly because all their beers are pretty blah. Since their BAR total is below zero, when you divide their best beers by their sum, you get a strange, really large negative number. 

So let's take out the bottom of the list. There are 599 breweries that have summed more than 10 BAR so far. Here are the most top-heavy of those breweries. These breweries are most defined by their best beers: 

Name Beers Solid% Avg BAR BAR BAR25 BAR25%
Boston Beer Company (Samuel Adams) 138 29.7% 0.076 10.53 138.25 1313%
Arcadia Brewing Company (Arcadia Ales) 32 31.3% 0.318 10.17 24.57 242%
Long Trail Brewing Company 53 22.6% 0.310 16.43 34.54 210%
Pabst Brewing Company 43 25.6% 0.352 15.13 30.29 200%
HaandBryggeriet 60 40.0% 0.478 28.68 53.22 186%
Widmer Brothers Brewing Company 62 35.5% 0.425 26.33 48.43 184%
Brouwerij Huyghe 37 32.4% 0.497 18.40 33.61 183%
Spring House Brewing Company 27 29.6% 0.400 10.81 19.21 178%
Against the Grain Brewery 47 34.0% 0.484 22.76 39.19 172%
Haymarket Pub and Brewery 28 32.1% 0.390 10.93 18.46 169%

In general, these are breweries that people don't really love even though they make a lot of beers. I mean look at the average BAR on these beers. There are hundreds of beers here, but if you picked your beer based on these names on the bottle, you'd be getting a below average (if not below replacement) beer on average.

Sure, that's easy to believe when you're talking about Pabst Brewing, but there are slightly more respected breweries on this list.

Look at the top 25% for Sam Adams! That's nice. Their best beers are in the top 25 in the world, even if the world through Untappd's eyes is mostly America. But they have 138 beers and only 27 of them are above average. 71 of their 138 beers are below replacement! You are more likely than not to get a terrible beer if you pick up a Sam Adams in a store! 12 of their top 25 beers are either Utopias which are ridiculously expensive, or beers that are no longer available, or beers that are only available in their brewpub. Their top quarter of beers have a combined score that is 13x the breweries entire score.

Against the Grain is the second-most popular brewery with Untappd users that hits this list, at least judged by average beer. They're in the top three by overall quality on this list, too. They have ten above-average beers out of 47, so you know how they got here. You want their top beers or maybe pass. But! At least their top ten are available, mostly! And that Rico Sauvin, it gets around, at least to California, and at least one BeerGraphs writer really enjoyed that beer. But at least this is something worth remembering if you see an Against the Grain and want to grab it instinctually. 

Otherwise, this list isn't too surprising. I doubt many swear by Widmer Brothers. Usually it just elicits a, sure, okay, if there's not much else around, at least in my households. 

Let's flip the script and see which breweries are least defined by their top beers. 

Name Beers Solid% Avg BAR BAR BAR25 BAR25%
Burnt Hickory Brewery 15 100% 4.90 73.5 24.2 33%
Side Project 20 95% 5.35 107.0 35.5 33%
Tree House Brewing Company 24 100% 5.63 135.0 45.5 34%
Block 15 Brewing Company 24 92% 2.88 69.1 24.1 35%
Brouwerij De Dolle Brouwers 16 81% 3.89 62.2 22.0 35%
Brasserie Cantillon 86 97% 6.02 517.5 188.0 36%
Hill Farmstead Brewery 83 100% 5.98 496.1 182.4 37%
Saldens 18 94% 3.08 55.4 20.6 37%
The Rare Barrel 27 85% 3.20 86.3 32.1 37%
Four Winds Brewing 16 100% 3.65 58.5 21.9 38%
Bellwoods Brewery 28 89% 2.32 64.8 24.4 38%
De Garde Brewing 43 95% 4.13 177.7 67.1 38%
The Kernel Brewery 87 87% 2.77 240.8 91.9 38%
Brouwerij 3 Fonteinen 39 90% 4.67 182.0 70.1 39%
Cellarmaker Brewing Company 42 93% 2.51 105.3 41.1 39%

Turns out, we could have used solid% as a proxy, sort of. All of these breweries have excellent average beer scores, and excellent solid% scores. If you see nothing but the label, you might as well pick these guys up. 

And really, since we've talked about one of 3 Fonteinen's rare missteps already here, and we've pointed out how absolutely excellent The Rare Barrel is, and we've done crazy things for Hill Farmstead beers, and Cantillon always gets shout-outs, and Tree House and Side Project got pointed out for being great breweries when we sorted by solid%, well, we've talked about these breweries a lot already. 

But lately I've had beers from two of the bottom four, and it seems worth pointing out how awesome they were. 

I had the Mosaic Hose from De Garde. I paid a decent amount, without knowing much about their beers. The Mosaic Hose was a revelation: salty, fruity, tart, it was a gose, maybe, but it was also a sour, and also fruity hopped. It was refreshing while also demanding that you take another sip to quench your thirst which was created by the beer you were drinking to quench your thirst. A paradox in a bottle.

And Cellarmaker? Actually, it's been a while. Too long. It doesn't matter what Cellarmaker you drink, it'll be awesome. I promise.