The Year in Beer: Breaking Down 2018’s Ratings and Reviews
This website’s first beer review appeared on Wednesday, August 21, 1996. Transcribing his notes from a napkin he brought home from Eastside Grill in Northampton, Mass., BeerAdvocate co-founder Todd Alström described Berkshire Brewing Company’s Steel Rail Extra Pale Ale as “a very light ale, with an extremely refreshing amount of carbonation. Lovely honey, lemon, and nut overtones followed by light sweet malt afters.” In January 1998, Jason Alström added his first review, for the now retired Samuel Adams Cream Ale.
Shortly thereafter, the Alströms opened up the site to other users, and people began sharing their tasting notes for dozens, then hundreds, and eventually thousands of beers. Today, visitors will find nearly 8 million ratings and reviews for more than 375,000 beers in every imaginable style made by breweries from across the United States and Canada and around the globe. A fascinating amount of information about the brewing industry is tied up in all of that data, but until now, it hasn’t been something we’ve explored in depth. As 2018 comes to an end however, we thought we’d take a closer look at some of the statistics and share a few of the numbers that caught our attention.
According to the Brewers Association, 2018 was a banner year for brewery openings. There are now over 7,000 beer companies in operation in the United States, an increase of almost 1,000 from a year ago. Without broadcasting a regular tally, BeerAdvocate has tracked the rapid recent growth of the industry, too. Including a large number of international businesses, our own database currently shows more than 17,500 active breweries. What will the total be in 2019?70,600 ales and lagers
During the 2018 calendar year, users added more than 70,600 unique beers to the site. That averages out to over 193 new beers every day. A year ago, in 2017, users added a grand total of 57,738 beers, of which approximately 25.5 percent were categorized as an IPA. As you’ll see below, we blew by that statistic without much difficulty during the last 12 months. In a number of ways, 2018 was clearly a record-setting year.20,571 India Pale Ales
Users entered beers spanning a wide range of styles to the site this year, but India Pale Ales, whether they were bitter or sweet, hazy or bright, made up the lion’s share of additions. More than 29 percent—some 20,571—of the beers that joined the database in 2018 were categorized as an American IPA, an Imperial IPA, or a New England IPA. As Bart Watson, chief economist for the Brewers Association wrote back in May, hoppy beers “are still the primary growth driver of craft.” In contrast, only two percent of the beers added this year were categorized as either American Porter or Berliner Weisse. And despite the surging popularity of lagers, just 1.2 percent fell into the German Pilsner category.563 ratings
Released by Founders Brewing Company in April, Dankwood, an Imperial Red Ale aged in bourbon barrels, racked up more ratings and reviews than any other beer added this year. The third offering from the brewery’s popular Barrel-aged Series, it has accumulated 563 to date. Meanwhile, with 531 ratings and reviews, Sierra Nevada Brewing Company’s Oktoberfest collaboration with Weihenstephan was a close second. Founder’s earned another spot in the top three with Barrel Runner—434 people logged in to share their opinions about this rum barrel-aged Imperial IPA brewed with Mosaic hops—but Tree House Brewing Company’s Hurricane (431 ratings) and Braupakt (424 ratings), another collaboration between Sierra Nevada and Weihenstephan, didn’t miss the podium by much.4.70 score
The 2018 vintage of Chemtrailmix, a highly sought-after variant of Three Floyds Brewing Company’s Dark Lord Imperial Stout, gained the top spot as this year’s highest rated new beer. Aged in rye barrels with cinnamon and pink peppercorns, and exclusively available at the brewery’s annual Dark Lord Day celebration, Chemtrailmix has an average score of 4.70 out of 5. In fact, 12 people gave this beer a perfect score. Moment of Clarity, a Milk Stout conditioned with maple syrup, coffee, and chocolate made by Tree House Brewing Company, as well as bourbon barrel-aged Rocky Road Imperial Stout by Angry Chair Brewing, trailed close behind, with 4.65 and 4.67 respectively. Two other Tree House beers, Gggreennn! and Miles to Go Before I Sleep, rounded out the top five.234 beers
According to its website, New York’s Other Half Brewing Company has released 468 unique beers since opening its doors in January 2014. It 2018, users added a whopping 234 of the brewery’s kegged, canned, and bottled creations to the site. By comparison, 215 new beers from Tired Hands Brewing Company in Pennsylvania, 212 beers from The Veil Brewing Company in Virginia, and 186 ales and lagers from California’s Modern Times Beer were also added to the site this year. Judging by the sheer numbers of new products released by those breweries as well as peers like WeldWerks (158), Aslin (129), and Bellwoods (117), beer makers seem to be responding to demand from consumers for a steady stream of fresh and original recipes. And we don’t expect the quest for novelty to end anytime soon.10 states
As a percentage of the total, breweries in 10 states collected more than half of the ratings and reviews added to BeerAdvovcate in the last 12 months. California led the way, with 12.5 percent, followed by New York which earned 7.8 percent of all new ratings. Massachusetts (7.2 percent), and Michigan (7.2 percent) tied for third place, Illinois (4.5 percent) took fourth, and Colorado (4.1 percent) finished fifth. As the most populous state and the state with the most breweries in the country (900 and counting), it’s not that surprising to see California in first place, but ratings and reviews for beers made by the 57 breweries in Vermont represented 3 percent of 2018’s total. Both in terms of population and total number of breweries, the Green Mountain State was the smallest in the top ten. ■