RateBeer Ranked: An Analysis of 2014’s Best Beer

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With the changing of the calendar, January didn’t just bring a new year, but new reasons to dissect the beer industry and what us enthusiasts are going crazy about these days.

While it took extra work to compile the best of the best beers in 2014, RateBeer, one of the two preeminent rating sites, along with Beer Advocate, has just released its own annual lists, which includes the top 100 beers in the world.

The collection of top-rated brews has evolved over the years, most notably taking a dramatic shift last year, when RateBeer stopped ranking the best beers in numerical fashion, but opted to simply provide an alphabetized listing.

But that won’t stop me from navel gazing at another “best beer” list, especially when it provides us with valuable insight into beer lovers and the liquid we love so much.

So even thought this year’s list may have flown under the radar because it doesn’t rank your favorite beers, that’s what I’m here for…

Style Breakdown

As you might expect from a list like this, big beers like imperial stouts and double IPAs perform rather well. Here’s a chart of styles:

ratebeer-best beer-craft beer-2015

.. and for those completists out there, here is the numerical breakdown:

RateBeer Style Number of Beers
Imperial Stout 36
Strong Ale 9
Barleywine 6
Imperial Porter 3
Quad 3
Wild Ale 3
Pale Ale 3
Scotch Ale 2
Stout 2
Lambic 2
Saison 2
Sour Red 2
Porter 2
Fruit 1
Traditional Ale 1

ABV Analysis of Styles

Previous research has strongly pointed to a correlation between ABV and high rankings, and this was also the case for RateBeer’s latest list of best beers.

The average ABV of all 100 top beers was almost 10 percent, coming out at 9.95 percent. According to methodology by Bart Watson, staff economist for the Brewers Association, an average ABV for craft beer is 5.9 percent ABV. That puts RateBeer’s average more than two standard deviations from the average. It’s also well above the national average of 8 percent I derived from Beer Advocate’s ratings.

No surprise, the average ABV of specific styles also falls on the far end of each style’s spectrum.

For example, the 36 imperial stouts on the list had a combined average ABV of 11.55 percent, which is almost at the max (12) of BJCP guidelines. The 14 double IPAs weren’t as high, averaging 9.01 percent with a max of 10, per BJCP guidelines.

Regular old IPAs came off a bit more even, with nine beers averaging 6.8 percent, easily below the BJCP max of 7.5.

I find this interesting because not only does it reinforce the idea that high-ABV beers are valued, but high-ABV beers for individual styles specifically perform well.

Best of 2015’s List

So what beers were exactly the best beers in the world? You’re welcome to see the full alphabetized list, but I’ve ranked them by RateBeer’s weighted rating system. Here are the best of the best.

The top 25:

Beer Style ABV Rating
Toppling Goliath Kentucky Brunch Imperial Stout 12 4.44
Westvleteren 12 (XII) Quad 10.2 4.44
Cigar City Hunahpu’s Imperial Stout – Double Barrel Aged Imperial Stout 11 4.38
Russian River Pliny the Younger DIPA 11 4.35
Toppling Goliath Mornin’ Delight Imperial Stout 12 4.35
Bells Black Note Stout Imperial Stout 10.5 4.32
AleSmith Speedway Stout Imperial Stout 12 4.3
Rochefort Trappistes 10 Quad 11.3 4.3
Cigar City Hunahpu’s Imperial Stout Imperial Stout 11 4.29
Founders Backstage Series # 2: CBS (Canadian Breakfast Stout) Imperial Stout 10.6 4.29
Founders KBS (Kentucky Breakfast Stout) Imperial Stout 11.2 4.29
Three Floyds Dark Lord Russian Imperial Stout Imperial Stout 15 4.29
Bells Expedition Stout Imperial Stout 10.5 4.28
Russian River Pliny the Elder DIPA 8 4.27
Alchemist Heady Topper DIPA 8 4.24
Goose Island Bourbon County Stout Imperial Stout 14.4 4.24
Three Floyds Dreadnaught Imperial IPA DIPA 9.5 4.23
Hill Farmstead / Blaugies Le Sarrasin Saison 4.22
Mikkeller Beer Geek Brunch Weasel Imperial Stout 10.9 4.22
Westvleteren Extra 8 Strong Ale 8 4.22
Bells Hopslam DIPA 10 4.21
Deschutes The Abyss Imperial Stout 11 4.2
Firestone Walker Parabola Imperial Stout 12.5 4.2
Hair of the Dog Matt Strong Ale 12.5 4.2
Perennial Barrel Aged Abraxas Imperial Stout 11 4.2

Congrats to Toppling Goliath for owning some classic “best” beers.

The Difference of 10 Years

For fun, I pulled the top-25 beers from RateBeer’s 2006 list to compare to 2015. While there are holdovers – Westy 12 and AleSmith Speedway Stout are never going away – it’s fun to get this perspective.

Here are the lists, side-by-side:

2006 2015
1 Westvleteren 12 (XII) Toppling Goliath Kentucky Brunch
2 Three Floyds Dark Lord Russian Imperial Stout Westvleteren 12 (XII)
3 Rochefort Trappistes 10 Cigar City Hunahpu’s Imperial Stout – Double Barrel Aged
4 Bells Expedition Stout Russian River Pliny the Younger
5 Kuhnhenn Raspberry Eisbock Toppling Goliath Mornin’ Delight
6 AleSmith Speedway Stout Bells Black Note Stout
7 Stone Imperial Russian Stout AleSmith Speedway Stout
8 Three Floyds Dreadnaught Imperial IPA Rochefort Trappistes 10
9 Goose Island Bourbon County Stout Cigar City Hunahpu’s Imperial Stout
10 Westvleteren Extra 8 Founders Backstage Series # 2: CBS (Canadian Breakfast Stout)
11 AleSmith YuleSmith India Pale Ale Founders KBS (Kentucky Breakfast Stout)
12 Struise Pannepot Three Floyds Dark Lord Russian Imperial Stout
13 Dogfish Head World Wide Stout 2001/2003-Present (18%) Bells Expedition Stout
14 Great Divide Oak Aged Yeti Imperial Stout Russian River Pliny the Elder
15 St. Bernardus Abt 12 Alchemist Heady Topper
16 Thirsty Dog Siberian Night Imperial Stout Goose Island Bourbon County Stout
17 Rochefort Trappistes 8 Three Floyds Dreadnaught Imperial IPA
18 Pizza Port Frank Double IPA Hill Farmstead / Blaugies Le Sarrasin
19 Great Divide Yeti Imperial Stout Mikkeller Beer Geek Brunch Weasel
20 Dogfish Head 90 Minute Imperial IPA Westvleteren Extra 8
21 Founders Breakfast Stout Bells Hopslam
22 Dieu du Ciel Péché Mortel Deschutes The Abyss
23 Great Lakes Barrel-Aged Blackout Stout Firestone Walker Parabola
24 Abbaye des Rocs Brune Hair of the Dog Matt
25 Bells Kalamazoo Stout Perennial Barrel Aged Abraxas

I love seeing “classic” best beers in 2006 like 90 Minute, Breakfast Stout and Yeti, which seem rather ho-hum by today’s standards. They’re amazing beers, but we’ve got lots more like them today.

What’s next?

It wouldn’t be an analysis if I didn’t have more research to share! Next up, a comparison between RateBeer’s 2015 and 2014 lists to see if there’s any differences worth noting.


Editor’s note: RateBeer’s lists are numbered for the year they are released (2015) but cover the prior year (2014). So future references will match. For example, 2014’s list represents 2013, 2013 covers 2012 and so on.

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


5 thoughts on “RateBeer Ranked: An Analysis of 2014’s Best Beer

  1. Cheers for taking the time to distill the rankings from the RateBeer list. I guess I’m not too surprised to see that ABV tends to drive ratings. Perhaps it’s as much a case of people gravitating toward higher ABV (thinking, maybe, that they’re getting “more” for their money?) as it is anything else. I really like the side-by-side comparison you drew up. You mention that some of the old standards are “ho-hum by today’s standards,” but I’m wondering if it’s not also a question of novelty and the “flavour of the week” effect –– something that would, admittedly, require some fairly sophisticated statistics to gauge. Taste a Yeti and any of the other Imperial Stouts that made the 2015 list blind, and the rankings may well be different. At any rate, this was a very informative read!

    1. Thanks, Franz!

      I admit my assumption is loosely based on the qualitative data available to me, but I believe it most certainly has to do with what you point out here. The volume of SKUs makes it easy to push beers aside to the consumer eye, especially if it’s something enjoyed before. I think this is a very interesting topic, especially with the consumer promiscuity of the beer industry.

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