I was talking with a friend of mine who is on BA periodically and worked for a brewery at one time. Both of us have some homebrew experience but are not experts. We were sharing some good beer and started talking about what makes our favorite breweries better than others. Although the quality of a brewery like the quality of a beer is subjective, there are clearly some favored and not so favored breweries on this site. Before the site changeover someone calculated BA’s ‘best’ breweries based on review ratings and it seemed pretty consistent with the ones that are mentioned a lot. So I was wondering what folks thought made a well regarded brewery by BA standards brew better beer than a successful but less regarded brewery. I’m talking about standards on this site, not the overall population and I’m just focusing on beers that are not sour, barrel aged or otherwise might have some nuances in production. We decided that several factors are largely the same for any brewery: 1. Ingredients – So far as I know breweries have the same access to quality ingredients. Yes, someone might be able to corner the market on unusual hops, or grow their own, but there is very little differentiation on ingredient access for a profitable decent sized brewery. 2. Quality – Some breweries have had quality problems like documented infections, but it doesn’t seem like there are ‘low quality’ breweries that consistently make impure products and ‘high quality’ ones that don’t. 3. Equipment – This varies a lot but equally good beer can be made on a variety of equipment and certain breweries don't get better equipment than others. 4. Recipes – There are many exceptions but for most beers it’s not that hard to get the recipe or approximate it. There might be a lot of adjustment (see below) but base recipes are pretty easy to find. We decided that there were some factors that did make a difference between breweries 5. Master brewer – We debated this a lot, but generally agreed that although the basics of producing any given beer might be straightforward, there are constant adjustments that have to be made to keep it to the same quality depending on equipment calibration, ingredients, and other factors. Are brewers ‘artisans’ and do the best breweries have the best brewers? 6. Taste and style – Clearly bigger tends to be better on BA. Some breweries specifically position themselves as brewers of bigger, more flavorful beers. Is a lot of it that our favorite breweries specifically target our tastes and not more mainsteam folks? 7. Freshness – Although many beers aren’t impacted much by freshness, it seems like hoppy beers made in smaller quantities that don’t sit on shelves benefit from being more likely to be fresh. 8. Hype / reputation – There definitely is a role for expectations, ‘rareness’ and your impression of the brewery, setting and everything else beyond the taste experience of the beer. You might think this is really small or really big. I know that’s a lot of factors, but what do folks think? What do you think separates one from another?