It’s common knowledge that the top rated beers of the world are subjected to factors outside of quality. This blog published in 2009 outlined just how different the top 50 global beer list varies between Beer Advocate and RateBeer. How could two different communities decide what is the top 50? Do you think that beer lovers would have such different results? Some argue that RateBeer is majorly a European user base while Beer Advocate is USA and more importantly, New England. So, each community would have different results for what is a top 50 when you look at it that way.
There’s more though. It has been assumed that the quality of the beer is the majority of what makes it a top beer but is it coincidence that, of the RateBeer top 10 beers, only 2 of these are available in stores? The #1 beer is legally only sold at the brewery in Belgium and you have to call up and give your license plate. You have to drive to Indiana and hope to win a golden ticket for the privilege of spending $50 on any of the Dark Lord Variants and a great deal of the top 50 beers are $20+ USD beers even at the time of sale and almost all are low bottle counts, lack distribution or were sold for 1 day a year or once every couple of years. Some will never be made again. The sweet spot for wine is under $20…well there are beers being sold for $50 in bottles smaller than 750ML. How can “great” and “world class” beer become more mainstream if bottles continue to be sold 20% or more above the sweet spot for wine..aka..the price most people would spend on an alcoholic drink enjoyed in one sitting.
What I’ve said above is not surprising to most people reading this blog. This is the reality of craft beer.
Those in the community have said on forums and to me, well you don’t have to drink the top 50 beers in the world in order to drink quality beer. Buy what’s on the shelf at your local better-beer store and enjoy it. You don’t have to rate beer or trade it or drive 12 hours and spend your entire paycheck to try great beer.
This is true, so why isn’t the standard Duvel on the top 50 beers. Ask any belgian beer lover what their favorite shelf Belgian beer is and they would tell you Duvel. Duvel lacks the rarity, the hype and the tradability to be more highly rated I guess.
I share a lot of beers from my collection with normal craft beer drinkers. They drink Harpoon and Magic Hat and Founder’s. They order from their local craft beer bar based on the tap handle. While in Portland, most of the people would say, “Hey, a Founder’s handle. I’ll take whatever founders you have on tap.” They trust these breweries and when I share with them a Founder’s KBS, it’s either “this is really good. Where can I get more of it?” or “Whoa, this is too much beer for me. I’ll take a Harpoon IPA”
Craft breweries are doing more special releases. Harpoon’s 100 barrel series is a good example of a brewmaster having fun with a quality small-batch of beer for a low price of $6 so craft drinkers that trust the brewery can try something more unique with more flavor. I think that’s great but even Harpoon’s 100 barrel series will never have a beer make it into the top 50 of any style. It’s just not in the cards. It’s not rare or limited enough.
Of course, no one HAS to drink every best beer in the world. This is true. If you like beer, buy what’s on your shelf and you’ll get a great brew or just brew it yourself and enjoy great IPAs at home that are fresher than anything on tap. This philosophy is said all too often. I’m tired of it because I don’t think small batches equal quality. Rareness doesn’t equal quality. My argument has a hole in it though. Rochefort 10 is a top 10 beer in the world according to Ratebeer and can be had for $6-$10 a bottle in most better beer stores.
What would be great is that the top 50 started to reflect based on the beer’s quality and availability. Okay so that won’t happen. If you spent months trying to trade for a beer and talked to dozens of guys and shipped $100 in beer + UPS to get one bottle of some rare beer, why would you rate it a 3 accounting for the curve that it’s not on the shelf? “This is a great IPA but it’s made once per year and is draft only so 2 out of 5”
No, instead I think we should work with beer rating sites to form a list of best beer with broad distribution. What’s the top 50 beers that you can get in any beer store in New York State? What’s the #1 IPA distributed nationwide or in the Northeast?
I’d like to show my friends who don’t want to trade for rare whales a list of the best reviewed beers that they can buy within a 30 minute drive. They won’t be drinking the best beers in the world but, anyone who lacks a law degree or access to a tasting group or lives off a 250K a year trust fund won’t be able to acquire the rarest and top beers. That sucks but at least they can try great beers on a limited budget.
It shouldn’t be Harpoon Pale Ale OR Dark Lord Vanilla Bean and nothing in between. Dark Lord’s barrel variants will never be on the shelf at your local Total Wine but a lot of great beers are and the top 50 lists make it feel like great beer is simply not possible without an unhealthy beer budget.
Not a single Harpoon Brewery beer scores over a 3.8 on RateBeer. Maybe they should start throwing their beers in Bourbon Barrels and added Brett? Limit batch sizes to 500 bottles and give out scratch off tickets. Maybe that will help their beer score higher?
Soon, I’ll be publishing “One Year in Beer Trading”. A lot of the controversy I dealt with was in getting too deep too fast. I agree with this sentiment and, I’d like to show some data. So that installment will come before the end of the year. Drafting that got me thinking about this argument.