Wednesday, March 07, 2012

What Is the Best Beer in the World?

Now there's a question for eternal debate. But thanks to, we might can reach an almost objective answer to this very subjective query.

Anyone who follows me here and/or on Twitter knows that I love Untappd ("social media for drunks," as I call it). I've used it to log and rate almost every beer I've tasted since December 2010. So have a lot of other beer lovers. They've entered a lot of ratings since the app/website launched, a little earlier than when I joined. You can rate a beer on a "bottlecaps" scale, with one bottlecap being swill and five being sublime.

Very, very rare is the beer that can average five bottlecaps among everyone who's ever reviewed it. In fact, out of all the beers in the world, only 19 hold such a distinction among Untappd users (actually, an average of 4.50 rounded up — the beer that everyone rates as perfect simply doesn't exist).

So which beers have the highest average ratings of all? Untappd says this is the top 10 (average rating in parentheses):
  1. Goose Island Rare Bourbon County Brand Stout (4.72)
  2. Russian River Pliny the Younger (4.67)
  3. Brouwerij de Sint-Sixtusabdij van Westvieteren Trappist Westvieteren 12 (4.63)
  4. Founders Canadian Breakfast Stout (4.62)
  5. Founders Kentucky Breakfast Stout (4.59)
  6. Russian River Pliny the Elder (4.59)
  7. Goose Island Bourbon County Brand Coffee Stout (4.58)
  8. Goose Island Bourbon County Brand Vanilla Stout (4.57)
  9. Goose Island Bourbon County Brand Stout (4.56)
  10. Goose Island Bourbon County Brand Coffee Stout, 2011 (4.56)
Now clearly, Goose Island's stouts have some fervent fans. And Russian River and Founders have talented brewers as well, scoring more than one entry on that list.

However, being a bit of a statistics geek, I don't think average ratings tell the whole story. Here's the problem with some of those beers: They haven't received very many ratings. Some of the beers in Untappd's rankings have had 100 or so ratings, while others have had thousands. Now, if you can convince 100 people to near-unanimously rate you as perfect, that's pretty impressive, but it's far more impressive to get 10 times or more to do the same. Logic will tell you that the more a beer has been rated, the greater the exposure to people who might not share a particular brewer's vision of what constitutes a great beer. All it would take is a few "1" ratings to knock you off that pedestal of perfection.

So I arranged a different ranking: I took those 19 five-star-average beers and arranged them according to which have been rated the most. That changes things a bit (number of ratings in parentheses):
  1. Bell’s Hopslam Ale (5,674)
  2. Russian River Pliny the Elder (4,236)
  3. Russian River Pliny the Younger (1,330)
  4. Founders Kentucky Breakfast Stout (1,115)
  5. Founders Canadian Breakfast Stout (1,032)
  6. The Alchemist Pub & Brewery Heady Topper (813)
  7. Goose Island Bourbon County Brand Stout (768)
  8. Brouwerij de Sint-Sixtusabdij van Westvieteren Trappist Westvieteren 12 (559)
  9. Goose Island Bourbon County Brand Coffee Stout (400)
  10. Bell’s Black Note Stout (341)
Dammit, I just had an awful realization: Out of both of those lists, I've only had one of those beers: Pliny the Elder. I have had Founders Breakfast Stout, and it was great, but not the "Kentucky" and "Canadian" versions that appear here. I guess I better start doing a little beer tourism and hunt those down.

What do you think is the best beer in the world? Tell me in the comments section.


assurbanipaul said...

What makes this list any better than RateBeer, BeerAdvocate or dozens of other ratings websites?

The fact that the Top 10 includes only FOUR breweries makes me believe it even less.

Jeff Holt said...

Another list consisting mostly of limited release beers that are impossible to get here.

I am hoping to get some Pliny when I go to NHC in Seattle.

Megan Wadsworth said...

I love using Untappd. It's a great way to find good beer at restaurants/bars in your area (which is convenient when you move around frequently with the Army) by using "The Pub" and going to "nearby". Plus it's always fun to earn stupid badges for drinking delicious beer you would already be drinking anyway!

I rate my weekly beers each Sunday in my blog, and I'm from Fort Worth! Happy to be a new follower!


Anonymous said...

Russian River's Blind Pig is a man's session beer. Pliny the Younger is brilliant, but you get short pours because of the alcohol content and two of those nearly knock me off the stool.

Caitlyn said...

I am a huge fan of untappd. I get way too excited when I get a new badge after untapping a beer. How exactly did you come up with this list?

Also, It's rare that I even give beers 4 caps. I've probably only given like 3 or 4 beers 5 caps.

Lee said...

Caitlyn: I just went to the website and clicked on "Top Rated," and then sorted from there.