RateBeer Ranked: Comparing “Best Beer” of the Last Two Years

RateBeer-header 2013 vs 2014

In the first post analyzing RateBeer’s 2015 “best beer” list, which covers beers in 2014, a few things stood out:

The Expected

  • Imperial stouts, double IPAs and IPAs reigned supreme, making up 59 percent of the list.
  • The average ABV for the top-100 beers was well above average, clocking in at almost 10 percent.

The Unexpected

  • Decorah, Iowa-based Toppling Goliath produced beers that ranked #1 (Kentucky Brunch) and #5 (Mornin’ Delight) that tied or beat classic “best” beers like Westvleteren 12, Pliny the Elder and Hunahpu’s Imperial Stout.

One of the fun aspects of these lists is the ability to compare and contrast, so today we take a step back one year to see what 2014’s best beers looks like when compared to our tastes in 2013.

Style Breakdown

While stouts and IPAs still stayed on top when comparing the two years, subtle differences did emerge with just one year:

RateBeer Style 2013 2014
Imperial Stout 30 36
DIPA 14 14
IPA 9 9
Strong Ale 10 9
Barleywine 4 6
Imperial Porter 1 3
Quad 3 3
Wild Ale 7 3
Pale Ale 3 3
Scotch Ale 2 2
Stout 0 2
Lambic 1 2
Saison 3 2
Sour Red 1 2
Porter 4 2
Fruit 5 1
Traditional Ale 2 1
Old Ale 1 0

There were 28 different beers/styles represented in 2013 compared to 2014, but there were 37 world-class beers listed last year (full list here) that didn’t show up in this year’s list.

Some highly-regarded beers not included left me scratching my head:

  • Firestone Walker Wookey Jack Black Rye IPA
  • Hair of the Dog Adam
  • Kuhnhenn Raspberry Eisbock
  • Lawson’s Finest Double Sunshine IPA

But others left out seemed to suggest the potential for fatigue with “classic” beers that are either easy to find or have been around for a long time:

  • AleSmith Barrel Aged Old Numbskull
  • AleSmith Barrel Aged Wee Heavy
  • Founders Imperial Stout
  • Founders Porter
  • North Coast Old Rasputin Russian Imperial Stout
  • Russian River Blind Pig IPA

Now, this is not to say these beers won’t appear on next year’s list, but they are worth highlighting when considering what we saw with Zymurgy’s annual “best beer” lists. That research suggested that while drinkers still hold some beers in high regard – like Sierra Nevada’s lineup – they’re slipping in rankings year-to-year. My thought was a case of the beers being too “boring” when enthusiasts are always seeking something new.

It’s probably too early to tell, especially since RateBeer rankings historically have recognized the same core group of beers, but his is an interesting development.

ABV Analysis

Due to these changes, there was only a slight uptick in average ABV among top-100 beers from 2013 (9.65 percent) to 2014 (9.95 percent).

Additionally, the average ABV for most popular styles was also similar, putting 2014’s beers almost at the max alcohol content per style, according to BJCP guidelines:

2013 2014
Imperial Stout 11.68 11.55
DIPA 8.83 9.01
IPA 6.72 6.8

“Best of” Lists

For name comparison’s sake, here are the top-25 beers from both years side-by-side, as ranked per RateBeer’s weighted rating system:

2014 2015
Toppling Goliath Kentucky Brunch Toppling Goliath Kentucky Brunch
Westvleteren 12 (XII) Westvleteren 12 (XII)
Russian River Pliny the Younger Cigar City Hunahpu’s Imperial Stout – Double Barrel Aged
Toppling Goliath Mornin’ Delight Russian River Pliny the Younger
Bells Black Note Stout Toppling Goliath Mornin’ Delight
AleSmith Speedway Stout Bells Black Note Stout
New Glarus R & D Sour Fruit AleSmith Speedway Stout
Rochefort Trappistes 10 Rochefort Trappistes 10
Cigar City Hunahpu’s Imperial Stout Cigar City Hunahpu’s Imperial Stout
Founders KBS (Kentucky Breakfast Stout) Founders Backstage Series # 2: CBS (Canadian Breakfast Stout)
Three Floyds Dark Lord Russian Imperial Stout Founders KBS (Kentucky Breakfast Stout)
Bells Expedition Stout Three Floyds Dark Lord Russian Imperial Stout
Russian River Pliny the Elder Bells Expedition Stout
Alchemist Heady Topper Russian River Pliny the Elder
Goose Island Bourbon County Stout Alchemist Heady Topper
Three Floyds Dreadnaught Imperial IPA Goose Island Bourbon County Stout
Mikkeller Beer Geek Brunch Weasel Three Floyds Dreadnaught Imperial IPA
Westvleteren Extra 8 Hill Farmstead / Blaugies Le Sarrasin
Bells Hopslam Mikkeller Beer Geek Brunch Weasel
Deschutes The Abyss Westvleteren Extra 8
Firestone Walker Parabola Bells Hopslam
Hair of the Dog Matt Deschutes The Abyss
Perennial Barrel Aged Abraxas Firestone Walker Parabola
Struise Pannepot Hair of the Dog Matt
Surly Darkness Perennial Barrel Aged Abraxas

Very similar, for sure, but even with a few small differences, there’s little change:

  • New Glarus’ R&D Sour Fruit is a rotating one-off batch, so it makes sense that it disappears from 2013 to 2014.
  • Struise Pannepot doesn’t drop far, even though it’s out of the top 25 in 2014. From 2014 to 2015, it only fell one spot to 26.
  • Ditto for Surly Darkness, which went from 25 in 2013 to 27 in 2014.

Any Takeaways?

Oddly enough, the minor adjustments in top 25 from 2013 to 2014 gives me greater pause for the “classic” beers that fell off the lists from one year to the next. Again, the static inclusion of many beers year-to-year shows that RateBeer users aren’t going to change much, but the one shared trait among beers like Russian River’s Blind Pig, North Coast’s Old Rasputin and others is that they’ve been around for a while and may not be as exciting as something new showing up on shelves almost daily.

What’s next?

I’ve captured data looking at the best of the best beers from these lists going back 10 years to 2006’s rankings. With the help of some charts, we’ll see if there are any significant differences over that time.


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


6 thoughts on “RateBeer Ranked: Comparing “Best Beer” of the Last Two Years

  1. Nice summary, Bryan. Thanks for this. Like you, I’m wondering about the slide of the “classics” and the stars from yesteryear as they are replaced by new up and comers. I worry that the beer market is being saturated with “new” and that “new” is becoming a fad … and I think it would be a shame to think that some really great beers will disappear from our shelves in time simply because they were great ahead of their time. I hope the consumer here becomes more sensitive to this and ‘loyalty’ reenters the market — not the way it existed with our fathers (who drank only one beer come hell or high water), but at least in the context that there are tried-and-true classics we always have in our fridges.

    1. Thanks, Dale!

      It’s a weird thing, especially when you have a market that’s constantly flooded by products for people who, generally speaking, have little brand loyalty. I think I’ve described it as a wave and some kind of cyclical process in the past, but really it’s all just based on exponential growth. It’s hard to keep up, because even if you love and appreciate classics, it’s hard to ignore opportunities to expand your palate and experiences, which is something we should all do.

      1. I couldn’t agree more. The same thing is happening here in Ontario. When I first started blogging on beers two years ago, I could pretty much review almost every new craft beer that found its way onto the shelves of Ontario and many in Quebec. Now, I can’t possibly keep up unless I take a more sommelier approach and taste/spit which I’m loath to do as a hobbyist/consumer. All to say, you’re bang on that this exponential growth, not a cycle per se. It’s hard to even by loyal to individual beers because many are themselves on cycles or seasonal now as brewers are constantly in a cycle of innovation. The trend on these rating systems may in fact represent the trend that people like us used to follow (of always expanding our palates with new tastes) and so the industry has jumped on the ‘new is what they want’ band wagon … which will continue until many of us say, enough: slow down. A fun ride till now, though, that’s for sure…

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