6 Charts That Show We Love Being Boozehounds, or: An Analysis of ABV and Ranking Bias

booze hound

In recent weeks, I’ve been slowly pulling together research for a special project to compile nearly all the work I’ve performed in regard to ABV, style and beer rating bias into one compendium of sorts.

As I put the finishing touches on the effort, I’ve created several new charts to help tell the story of drinker preferences based on research from Rate Beer and Beer Advocate.

You can click any of these charts to enlarge.

Rate Beer

This work is based off of this month’s look at Rate Beer’s annual best beer lists.

rate beer - all top 25 avg ABV

Firstly, this chart represents the “best of the best” from each year of the website’s “best beers in the world” collection. It’s the average ABV of the top-25 beers from each list over the past 10 years.

Only 2013 saw a dip below 10 percent ABV because of the inclusion of four beers under 8 percent ABV: Cantillon Fou’ Foune (5 percent), 3 Fonteinen Framboos (5 percent), Three Floyds Zombie Dust (6.4 percent) and Hill Farmstead Society & Solitude #5 (7.8 percent). Among the last 10 years of lists, 2013’s collection, along with 2012, were the only rankings to have four beers under 8 percent ABV in their top 25.

rate beer - segmented ABV 10 years

Taken a step further, the averaged ABV of beers among the top 25 shows decreases in ABV as averages are compiled and broken down into smaller segments. This chart shows a slight decrease among averaged ABV of beers from the top 5, 10, 15, 20 and 25.

ratebeer - segmented ABV avg

This chart focuses on the average alcohol content of the same segmented collections, but averaged over the full 10 years. The ABV percentages reflect the average of segments between the 2006 and 2015 lists. Even if it seems minor, a drop of about .5 percent ABV from the top 10 to top 25 displays a unique change when we’re talking about a relatively small collection of beers.

Beer Advocate

This collection is based off research from a series of posts I released in November. The data collection happened in the last week of October 2014 and focuses on comparison of the three most prominent styles: imperial stouts, IPAs and double IPAs.

beer advocate - avg ABV of 3 styles vs full list

The averaged ABV of imperial stouts, DIPAs and IPAs in comparison to the full list of 507 beers from across the country, containing the top-10 beers from every state.

IPAs, with a lower average ABV (6.89 percent), saw a lower weighted rank along with its lower ABV, but the number of IPAs on the list (99) showcases the assumption raters prefer the style.

beer advocate - avg WR of 3 styles vs full list

The average weighted rank of the same four data sets, showcasing strong preference toward imperial stouts and double IPAs. When compared to the full group’s average weighted rank of 4.07, the difference between the imperial stouts (4.28) and DIPAs (4.24), saw average ranks shift from the 43rd percentile (full group average) to the 68th for average of DIPAs and 76th for average of imperial stouts.

The difference between the weighted rank averages of an IPA and DIPA mirrors previous research demonstrating bias toward “imperial” beers. When comparing “regular” IPAs and stouts against “imperial” versions of the same styles, denoted by higher alcohol content, it was found that beer drinkers gave imperial versions a score 5 percent higher than the regular style. In the case of the Beer Advocate ratings, the weighted rank of regular IPAs vs double (imperial) IPAs was 5.2 percent.

beer advcoate - segmented ABV with descending WR

This chart shows the average weighted rank of beers when segmented into categories of ABV. Oddly enough, the weighted rank of 3.74 given to beers at 5 percent ABV and below is roughly equivalent to the 3.75 median rank Beer Advocate provides to their beers. As ABV strength grows in each segment, more styles of expected high alcohol content are added, including imperials, barleywines, strong ales, etc.



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


13 thoughts on “6 Charts That Show We Love Being Boozehounds, or: An Analysis of ABV and Ranking Bias

  1. You make a compelling case that on average higher abv translates to higher rating, but I’m curious what do you think drives this preference? Do you think people place a premium on getting more kick out of their beer? Does higher abv translate in some way to more flavorful and aromatic? Or is there some psychological bias that works in favor of higher abv beers.

    Perhaps it would be interesting to look at the correlation between abv and rating in style categories that are not known for their high abv. Do people prefer Imperial Fruit Beers or Imperial Hefeweizen’s better than the standard versions?

    1. BeerGraphs has actually looked into this exact topic, which you can find here.

      1. Thanks for pointing this out to me. It made for an interesting read. What is suggests to me is that people prefer the styles where flavor can be turned up to 11, which also happen to be the styles that have high abv.

      2. Very true! And, if I’m able to dig myself out of other work this week, I hope to somewhat address this topic next week, too.

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