Trend Spotting: What Can RateBeer’s Best New Beers of 2015 Tell Us?

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In my previous post about RateBeer’s latest collection of “best” beers, we focused on the overall top 100, as released annually by the beer review site. But new this year, RateBeer has also shared a list of 50 best new beers released in 2015.

This is exciting because it not only gives us a better glimpse into trends and preferences for the subgroup of active reviewers on the website, but it also provides an opportunity to compare with my previous “best of 2015” list compiled from a collection of writers and beer enthusiasts.

Like RateBeer’s overall list analyzed in my last post, this one is a wide collection of rare and hard to find beers. As mentioned in a previous piece about the rising price of beer, expensive and speciality brews cater to “snobconsumers, “for whom the acquisition of scarce goods generate ‘signaling effects’ on consumption, increasing their utility when the good consumed is uncommon and generates status.”

In an age of accumulating badges on Untappd and standing among beer loving peers, a list like this isn’t representative to Average Jane Sixpack, but it’s still useful to look at to get a better grasp on the socio-cultural preferences shown by beer lovers.

So let’s once again get to crunching some numbers.

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Crunching Numbers: An Analysis of RateBeer’s Best in 2015

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Note: You can also find an analysis of RateBeer’s best new beers of 2015 here.

Earlier this month we took a look at 2015’s best beers as selected by writers, bloggers and beer enthusiasts.

Today, we step it up to an annual celebration of “best” by one of the Internet’s main beer reviewing website, RateBeer. Over the weekend, the site released their annual collection of best beers of the year, according the reviews of users from the last year and weighted by performance within and outside of style.

As in years past, the list of 100 beers offers a great opportunity for analysis, trying to seek out changing tastes, preferences and insight into beer drinkers and our culture.

So grab your abacus and put in your pocket protector, because it’s time to crunch some numbers.

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Numbers and Context Behind Beer’s ‘Next Frontier’

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Beer enthusiasts from coast-to-coast spent a lot of time in 2015 talking about the hottest news topic of last year: mergers and acquisitions.

But when we weren’t talking about who was being bought, it seemed like the geekiest conversations about the future of the beer industry centered around the fight for distribution. Whether it was breweries trying to get the right to deliver their own beer (and deliver more of it) or Big Beer trying to take on larger roles within the space, the way beer arrives to our local stores seemed to be almost as contentious as the fight for who owns and ultimately makes what were drinking.

As Michael Kiser pointed out, “smart craft people need to get into the distro game. It’s the next frontier to be redefined.”

With buyouts and investments becoming more commonplace – and by extent becoming more commonly accepted, if only in understanding – turning our attention to this new space seems inevitable. We started toward the end of last year when AB InBev’s incentive program to encourage distributors to sell AB brands became a public talking point.

Now, as we eye what’s to come for 2016, it’s worth crunching the numbers to see what kind of impact distribution can have on the industry.

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Reporter’s Notebook: The Serious Side of Brewery Safety

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Dan Drown has worked in occupational safety and health for about 30 years, but he’s noticing his niche of expertise has been catching on lately.

“Hot liquids, pressurized equipment, fork lifts, CO2, loading docks – when you put all these together, it’s important to talk about safety,” said Drown, owner of Drown Consulting, LLC. “That’s something essential for breweries today.”

From Southern California to Seattle, Drown regularly meets with brewery owners and staff to talk about the risks of working in an industrial space. He’s even hosted quarterly safety workshops open to the industry at locations like yeast company White Labs.

“Injuries are going to cost you money, downtime in production and elevated insurance,” he said. “It’s about safety of people, but it also has a bottom line effect.”

It’s no surprise then that safety is something on the minds of industry professionals these days.

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Hot Job? ‘Share of Stomach’ Comes to Beer Boardrooms

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It is certainly not a wholly American value, but competition sometimes feels more deeply rooted in our everyday lives than it should be.

After all, there’s a reason why “#winning” became a cultural phenomenon after Charlie Sheen made it part of his personal mantra.

The idea of victory is so ingrained in our cultural expectations, we love equating things with battles. We “fight the good fight” for all sorts of reasons – politics, tobacco use and boredom. We’ve even been waging war in beer for years, going back to Jim Koch’s 1994 “declaration of war” after Anheuser-Busch purchased a stake in Redhook.

No matter how trivial the task, we love shifting the thought process to win or lose, love or fear. The spectrum is wide, but we set forth with clear goals.

Which is why, as the beer industry grows and competition becomes intensified, I’m particularly curious about how bigger companies want to fight off those around them in a never ending battle to win over our wallets, pint glasses and throats, in a very literal way.

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A ‘Definitive’ Guide to the Best Beer of 2015: The Beer

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Yesterday, we looked at the “best” breweries of 2015.

Today, we use the same unscientific process on the best beers we might have enjoyed last year.

To do this, I used a collection of 2015’s “best beer” lists from a variety of sources, from blogs to newspapers and prominent magazines. Criteria for selection was simple: a list had to focus on 2015 releases (new beers or new, annual brews) with a preference toward a wide geographic representation. There are more city/state best beer lists than we could shake a pint glass at.

That left me with an eclectic group of lists, ranging from three to 25 beers. In all, there were 193 total beers to analyze with a handful of beers vying for best of 2015.

Nine made the cut.

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A ‘Definitive’ Guide to the Best Beer of 2015: The Breweries

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About a week into the New Year and I can only assume we’re all so over 2015.

It’s time for a fresh start with new goals, attitudes and beers, of course. With beer aisles brimming with choices like never before, it’s easy to get caught up in the latest 2016 release even though there were so many great options we probably missed last year.

Which is why it’s also time to briefly look backward.

For the second year, I’ve worked to determine the “best” beers of a year gone by. For all the subjectivity that goes into creating lists to rank our favorite movies, TV shows and more, I’m trying to find some objective consensus to provide a clearer view of what pleased the palate of drinkers and brewers across the country.

To do this, I found a collection of 16 “best beer” lists from a variety of sources, from blogs to newspapers and prominent magazines. Criteria for selection was simple: a list had to focus on 2015 releases (new beers or new, annual brews) with a preference toward a wide geographic representation. There are more city/state best beer lists than we could shake a pint glass at.

That left me with an eclectic group of lists, ranging from three to 25 beers. In all, there were 193 total beers to analyze with a handful of beers vying for best of 2015.

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Happy New Beer: December 2015 Beertography

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OH NO. BEER PUNS.

I’m so sorry.

That time has returned. As we celebrate the final days of December (and 2015!) I’ve got a final collection of beertography to send us off into the New Year.

While seasonally appropriate efforts are found below, you may also have come across some pics on my Instagram page, Twitter account or even Untappd. If you like these, you can find more beertography on Instagram or in my running archive.

Let’s see how December’s weird weather and the holiday season brought inspiration…

Sierra Nevada Stout – West Coast Celebration of Fall

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21st Amendment Toaster Pastry – Part of a Balanced Breakfast

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New Belgium Salted Caramel Brownie – Have Dessert and Eat It, Too

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Boulevard Snow & Tell – Ugly Sweater Weather

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Wicked Weed Milk & Cookies – What Santa Really Wants

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Stone Double Bastard – Naughty Listed

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Fingers crossed that 2016 continues to offer inspiration. As always, you can go back to see previous beertography posts:

Bryan Roth
“Don’t drink to get drunk. Drink to enjoy life.” — Jack Kerouac

‘Legacy’ Breweries and the Fight for Attention in 2016

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A little yin and yang as we close out the year:

  • In 2015, Blue Moon, which popularized Belgian wheat beers in the U.S., saw its White IPA become a top-3 selling new beer brand.
  • Meanwhile, the fastest growing beer for Dogfish Head, known for its IPAs, was a Belgian white-style beer, Namaste.

It was that kind of year for the industry’s most “off-centered” brewer.

This past year was the slowest in growth for Dogfish in over a decade, although revenue and barrelage still increased. Founder Sam Calagione noted the reasons surrounded a refusal to discount beers and entering no new markets. All the same, changes are afoot for 2016, and it’s not just because of an influx of money from a private equity stake in the company.

Dogfish recently released its updated production calendar for 2016, which includes slight shifts in production for their 21st year that also reflects changes among their peers. When others are winning at Dogfish’s game – whether that’s with IPAs or extreme beers – it’s time to shake things up.

After all, Calagione is the guy, who just over a year ago, said the industry was heading into an incredibly competitive era of craft brewing.

Or rather, he so famously remarked, “There’s a bloodbath coming.”

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Sam Adams and the Power of IPA

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Supermarkets and grocery stores are brimming with beer options these days, making every trip to coolers more time consuming for drinkers trying to sort through all the choices. According to estimates from Nielsen, there are nearly 6,700 craft brands now available in major stores, with about 850 of those just showing up in 2015.

And, of course, plenty of those new bottles and cans are IPAs. A third of 2015’s new brands will be India pale ale, if trends hold from earlier this year.

It seems many breweries – or perhaps just drinkers – tether success to the creation of a hopped-up ale. Beer rating boards are flooded with them and people are always searching for the next Pliny the Elder.

When taking the temperature of the beer industry, it always feels like we start with IPA, then consider where to move from there, but it’s with good reason. There’s no denying the power it has on the marketplace. Which, in the three months since I last asked “Are We Watching the Next Stage of Sam Adams?” the answer appears to be a resounding “yes.”

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