Adventures in #beerdata

Nov 29, 2018 · 8 min read

Do you rate your beers? Do you feel a brief moment of excitement every time you earn a badge on Untappd? Do you try to write CAMRA-compliant reviews on Ratebeer? Yeah, us too.

People have had opinions about beer for as long as it’s been brewed, but only recently has #beerdata been compiled on a mass scale. Peering into these numbers exposes the patterns of beer drinkers and brewers alike. Here’s some lessons that we’ve gleaned this month from the numbers.

NEIPAs are an unprecedented phenomenon

The beer world has fallen hard for hazy and hoppy NEIPAs. The craft beer movement was built by brewers who revived forgotten or unfashionable styles, like the India Pale Ale, in the face of Big Lager’s crushing dominance. But with NEIPAs we saw something different, a new style (or variant at least) unique to craft beer, our very own baby!

In 2016 and 2017 you couldn’t escape the haze, but have we hit peak #NEIPA? Our analysis of 40,000+ brews shows that those labelled New England IPA, NEIPA, Hazy IPA etc., grew from nothing in 2016 to more than 6% of new beers early 2018. The wave has subsided slightly since then, will it diminish further in the coming years, or are NEIPAs here to stay in a big way?

Selected beer styles as a percentage of total beers released each year. Together these beers represent ~20% of releases (by number) in 2018. The remaining 80% of beers not shown on this chart include IPAs, Pale Ales, Stouts, Bitters, Ales, etc.

In beer, as in life, styles rise and fall in popularity. We looked at selected styles as a percentage of the overall number of releases over the last eight years. On the chart you can see a big rise in the popularity of sour beers, for example, going from 4% to 10% of the market over eight years. But nothing compares to the NEIPA explosion over the last two years which have gone from basically nothing to roughly 6% of the market.

Note, the graph doesn’t show other styles of beer that have maintained or lost share. There are still a lot of IPAs and Stouts in the market, for example, but they have not risen as a share of releases over the time period presented.

The craft beer movement has long known for rehabilitating and evolving traditional styles that were swept away in dark ages following the rise of macro lager. But the NEIPA is perhaps the most prominent example of the movement creating and celebrating its own original style.

Dang! #NEIPAs are super popular, sometimes accounting for upwards of 15% of #craftbeer check-ins. That’s partly due to mega-brews, like @SierraNevada ‘Hazy Little Thing’ that caused a huge spike in mid-2017, and @BrewDog ‘Hazy Jane’ which brought NEIPA to the masses.

#NEIPAs continue to attract higher ratings compared to other beers of similar style, strength, and scale, but their margin is eroding. So the hype is dying down, but we still love the haze.

The #NEIPA explosion was unlike anything the #craftbeer world has seen in years (maybe #brut will catch up in 2019). Some established styles like sours and goses have slowly but steadily grown in popularity & we reckon that refreshing blonde Table beers might have a moment in 2019 too.

Whether NEIPAs prove a fad, or a new cornerstone of brewing, we will see. In the meantime let’s keep our eyes (and mouths) open for new styles, be open to pleasant surprises!

You need to describe more beers as ‘rubbery’

We’re all influenced by the power of suggestion, and writing a great beer description is a surefire way to sell more booze. Would Brewdog have become a billion pound company without those paeans to independence on the side of their bottles? Who can say, but it certainly helped!

Finding good adjectives with which to describe the flavour of your beer is particularly important. CAMRA have a whole range of approved words, but they’re all a bit dull. Looking for a wider range of terms we turned to Mark Dredge’s Beer Flavour Wheel. This provides a little more than 120 choice adjectives with which to describe the aroma, taste, and mouthfeel of your brews. We edited out a few of the more boring words (e.g. light, dry, bitter) and then looked at the top 10 and bottom 10 descriptors.

As you can see, fruity and dark flavours are extremely popular descriptors. So if you’re looking to fit in with the crowd be sure to compare your beers to berries, citrus fruits, and ingredients used to flavour lattes at Starbucks. But if you want your reviews to stand out, why not challenge yourself to describe your beer as “acrid, meaty, rubbery, and cheesy”? We’re sure that the brewery will be extremely appreciative of your unique take on their product.

Top and Bottom 10 flavour words used in beer descriptions

Looking to brew a highly rated beer? Let the #beerdata guide you!
Use the words that are most, and least, associated with excellent ratings.
Here’s a list of the Top 15 words from the Wheel of Flavours associated with high ratings, as well as the 15 words associated with the worst ratings. As you can see, the high scoring words are generally those associated with strong dark beers (unsurprising given the #craftbeer world’s obsession with big stouts). Peanut butter, vanilla, coffee, thick dark chocolate, whisky, roasted and toasted molasses and spirit barrels, these are all phrases that you will find in abundance in the world of big barrel-aged whales. Even grapes tends to be a reference to delicious wine-barrel aged brews, or fermentation with grape skins.

On the other hand, following the herd is dull, if you’re looking for more of a challenge maybe try brewing a beer with some of the less popular flavours.
Why not aim for a Spicy Banana Clove Ale, or a Floral Delicate Tea Witbier? If you can get high ratings for one of those then you are truly an innovator and a trend-setter!

Craft beer groupthink

The two largest beer rating databases, Untappd and Ratebeer, tend to attract slightly different audiences. Untappd is a chilled out place where anything goes, a bit like Instagram for booze (though there’s plenty of booze on Instagram). Ratebeer is for the purists, the beergeeks who really consider what they are drinking, how the beer fits with its style, the unexpected and maybe even off flavours in the mix, how it pours, what the mouthfeel and aroma are like, you get the idea. So how do ratings for brews compare across the two largest beer ratings sites, do these two populations think alike.
Short answer: mostly.

Long answer: ratings are ~65% in agreement (e.g. r² = 0.65), but there are clearly some big outliers and plenty of room for disagreement. Ratebeer ratings are, on average, worse, but for the most part if you know the Untappd rating of a beer you can make a good guess as to the Ratebeer rating, and vice versa. This is particularly true once a beer has attracted a lot of ratings when the wisdom of the beergeek crowd truly kicks in.

Style points

How do the distribution of beer ratings vary by style?
As you can see in the charts below, quite a lot!
The spread of scores varies by style and strength, but so does the skew and shape of the distribution. Some styles, such a stouts and sours, have a wide spread of ratings, with the upper end dominated by strong brews (such as Prairie’s Deconstructed Coffee Bomb that we’re currently enjoying).
Other styles, particularly lagers and pale ales, are all of similar strength, with a much larger peak of beers achieving mid-level ratings (e.g. 3 to 3.5).
These distributions reflect how we connect and relate to these beers. #stoutlife is about being the #beergeek, pursuing the rare whales to cherish and save for special occasions and fancy glassware. #lagerlife is more about enjoying a range of similarly good, similarly refreshing beers, relaxing after the day and enjoying some greasy food and a brewski.

No BS with BCS

The leaves are falling, the padded jackets are coming out of the cupboard, that must mean it’s Bourbon County Stout time once again!
Here in the UK we need to pay around $30 for one of the rare few hundred bottles that ship across the Atlantic. Over the pond boozers are a little bit more lucky.
In honor of this legendary brew we decided to take a look at the #beerdatafor BCS. As the graphics below show, the era of beer rating doesn’t really stretch back to the early days of BCS, but we can see over the last decade that BCS and its associated styles peaked in popularity around 2013 or 2014. Since then it’s declined in popularity a little (the AB InBev takeover probably didn’t help) but remains an astonishingly well-regarded beer (albeit with a well-documented wobble in 2015). The core Bourbon County Stout brand also seems to be getting a little lighter, with the average ABV now closer to 13% than the 15% of a few years ago (though the 2018 edition is robustly over 15% once again, hallelujah!). It also looks like it’s really worth trying to get your hands on the Proprietor’s or Coffee editions if you can, as these are generally better-received than the core brew (but that’s almost impossible here in Britain, outside Goose Island’s new Shoreditch bar!).

#beerdata keeps on coming

We hope you’ve enjoyed this adventure through the wonderful world of beer by the numbers. As you can see, there’s a myriad of fascinating layers to our relationship with beer and what it reveals about our own psychology and preferences. The good news is that the data keeps on rolling in. So keep writing your beer reviews and ratings, and we’ll be exploring your tastes again soon!


Written by


#craftbeer and #data fanatics based in London.

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