You love the blog, so subscribe to the Beervana Podcast on iTunes or Soundcloud today!

Monday, February 01, 2010

More Bests -or- The Blogger Whinges Yet Again

I'm just getting around to the latest round of "bests"--RateBeer's tally of highest-scoring beer and breweries in a number of different categories. I no longer spend much time on RateBeer--I find the reviews and the overall ratings to be less-informed that BeerAdvocate. These kinds of ratings are plagued by a number of problems: sample bias (raters of NW-distributed beers are more knowledgeable than, say, Ohio-distributed beers), style bias (19 of the top 25 highest-rated beers are imperial stouts), and so on. But the ratings really come down to the quality of the rater.

(In BeerAdvocate's best-beers compilation, stouts are also favored, but not quite as disproportionately. Only 12 of the top 25 are imperial stouts. That list also includes a fair number of abbey ales, two sour ales, and IPAs.)

So, it's not too surprising that I have lots and lots of problems with RateBeer's best beers by style, best breweries, and best beers by nation. For example, Three Floyds occupies three of the top four slots, and Cigar City bourbon barrel stout is cited as the best. Now, not to harsh on Floridians, but the effusive three pages of ratings suggest that beer drinkers in South Florida may not have as large a beer palette as drinkers elsewhere. Maybe this is the best beer in America, but I'd feel a lot better about those ratings if there were a few Midwest and West Coast beer geeks among them.

Or take it out of the realm of homerism. In the best beers of Belgium list, Orval doesn't come in until 26th (twice as low as the inferior Chimay Bleu, which snagged 13th), Saison Dupont is 38th, Rodenbach Grand Cru is 49th, and Duvel doesn't make the top 50. It's just not a useful list.

But let's leave the hating aside and note a few of the locals who managed to find themselves on various lists. Because, while I have no doubt that lots and lots of good stuff got left off the list, the names that got on them by and large are excellent. In one sense, you can tell something by these lists. Oregon did very well in the brewpub and brewery-to-visit lists (a distinction RateBeer botched somewhat), which is exactly right. And special commendation to Heater Allen, whose score in the pils category I can't begin to explain. Here we go.

Best Beers by Style
Pale Lager - Heater Allen Bohemian Pilsener, first place
English Style Pale and Bitter - Rogue Brutal Bitter, second place
Dark Lager - Rogue Chatoe Dirtoir, first place

Best Beer Bar
Brouwer's Cafe (Seattle), 7th out of the top 50
Uber Tavern (Seattle), 8th
Beveridge Place (Seattle), 39th
Naked City (Seattle), 42nd
Concordia Alehouse, 45th

Best Beer Retailer
Bottleworks (Seattle), 11th out of the top 50
Malt and Vine (Redmond, WA) 13th
Belmont Station, 47th

Best Restaurant for Beer
None (!)

Best Brewpubs
Walking Man (Stevenson, WA), 15th out of 50
Pelican, 24th
Raccoon Lodge, 44th
Deschutes (Portland, 48th

Best Breweries to Visit
Hair of the Dog, 2nd out of 50
Hopworks, 25th
Widmer Gasthaus, 28th
BridgePort, 29th (doesn't distinguish between NW and Hawthorne)
Rogue Newport, 34th
Full Sail, 42nd
Maritime Pacific (Seattle), 45th



  1. You can't understand how Heater Allen pils did so well??? I'm assuming you're basing that on it's limited distribution, since it's definitely not lacking in qualite'. Overall, definitely agree however, pretty stupid list, Concordia our best beer bar? Yeah right...

  2. Kind of strange, we have quite a few breweries folks like to visit, but not as many places people want to hang out and drink. Does that mean Oregon is a nice place to visit, but people don't want to hang out here?

  3. It's kind a strange. Folks like to visit our breweries but not hang about and drink in our pubs. Does this mean we're a nice place to visit, but no one wants to hang out here? Wondering how this could be?

  4. Localism is a problem, even here in PDX, egads! But since PDX doesn't have many active local Ratebeer members our beers don't get the pimping and hype that say Florida gets with Cigar City.

    If you want a better look at Ratebeers "Best Beers" use the customizable Top 50

    then set the minimum # of ratings to 300, 400, 500, 1000 and see what happens, audios local bias.

    I think normally they are based upon 10 ratings, so if ten loyal Ninkasi drinkers got together and rated some new limited Ninkasi beer a perfect 5.0 it would probably be on the Ratebeer Top 50... till some out of market people got a hold of it.

  5. I would guess they didn't differentiate between the NW and Hawthorne location of Bridgeport because it is under the "Breweries to visit" category, and the Hawthorne location doesn't actually brew any beer.

    Personally, I find both sites to be a bit humorous. The beer-geek equivalent of guys in the locker room at the gym bragging about how much they bench press.

  6. "The beer-geek equivalent of guys in the locker room at the gym bragging about how much they bench press."

    Isn't that the normal Portland Beer Geek mentality? :-O

  7. Pelicans one of the best brewpubs???

    K beer wise Pelican can hold up, but as a resteraunt they bite. Foods not that great, prices suck, and the whole time your in there it feels so touristy and exclusive.

    Pelican is way over rated as a pub.

  8. Anon, yes. That was in no way to slag Heater Allen--I just can't believe a NW brewery is ranked #1 in a category brewed by so many breweries--in regions so much more lager-friendly. But again, that's possible evidence of the local bias.

    If a hill rises from a cornfield in Kansas, all locals will describe it as the greatest mountain they know. But in Nepal, ask about the greatest mountain, and you have loyalties divided among the world's best. So Cigar City, rated almost exclusively by people living in places with little craft brewing presence, think Cigar City is the best. But is it just the best they know about, or really the best? We can't judge because people from other parts of the country aren't rating it.

    Jared, I strongly disagree. I haven't had a lot of the food there, but the fish and chips are great (though pricey!). Pair fantastic beer with perhaps the prettiest view of any brewery in the world, and I don't see how you can avoid calling it one of the best to visit.

  9. There are quite a few ocean front breweries and brew pubs on the West and East Coast. Does Pelican have the best view? Matter of opinion.

    Pelican's food is slightly upgraded pub food at best. Not worth the cost. Here are some menu items:

    "Baked Potato and House Salad - $9.99."

    Really?! $10 for some greens and a spud?! Are they picked buy naked Swedish Swim team virgins?

    "Northwest Fish & Chips – $15.99
    If the weather and fish are cooperating, we buy fabulous fish from the local Dory fisherman to use in this version of fish and chips. We dip the fish in buttermilk and seasoned Panko bread crumbs before we fry them to perfection. We serve them with beer battered fries and homemade remoulade, and coleslaw."

    Typical pub grub made with fresh local fish. It's locally caught! Why the exorbitant price? Panko and buttermilk are not pricey additions.

  10. Beer and pub ratings are silly, are they not?

  11. To Brewers Union.

    I don't think they are silly at all. First it gets people thinking more about beer aside from how it gets you drunk, these sites promote the idea you should smell your beer and look for flavors beside Rocky Mountain Fresh.

    They also open peoples eyes to a world of beer they might not know of. In your case get people to hunt down fresh cask beer.

    And with that point, I find it a great resource when I travel, I can quickly find the best pubs and beers in a new area.

    But with all that said, I'm also a fan of other reviews, like product reviews on Amazon, car reviews from Car and Driver, appliance reviews from Consumer Reports.. etc. I know it's silly of me not to blindly follow what the advertising execs shove my way.

  12. This comment has been removed by the author.

  13. On Pelican Pub, and this comes up over and over.... do you think it might cost a bit more to do business in a tiny little remote town on the Oregon coast? Do you think that ocean front real estate comes cheap?

    Yes, their costs are a bit higher, but so is their cost of doing business. I personally find it worth it when I have the chance to visit because it's a beatiful place, the beer is terrific and the food is solid. Sure, it's a bit spendier, but if I'm looking for a cheap meal I'm probably going to a happy hour in town.

    As far as ratings are concerned, they will always be flawed. Ratings sites like this MIGHT be interesting if it was a panel of recognized judges representing a wide swath of regions. It's not to say I don't appreciate the egalitarian nature of these user driven ratings sites, I just don't put a lot of stock in what the accumulated data from these site says are "good" and "bad."

  14. 'There is a drought of craft beer in SWFla'. There is a single [one, count it] brewpub [in Sarasota] along the Tamiami Trail; the 265 mile portion of US41 from Tampa to Miami.

    Cigar City Brewing Co. is the most accessible of 3 craft breweries in the metropolitan Tampa area. It is located in nightlife rich Ybor City. Further, there are at most 4 breweries and 6 brewpubs west of Jacksonville. So, forgive the Floridians. The Kansas hill metaphor is apt.

    There are, however, two chains of comprehensive beer emporiums. And Saint Somewhere, Tarpon Springs, brewer of Belgian Style Ales hold promise.

  15. @DA Beers 'I don't think they [beer ratings] are silly at all. First it gets people thinking more about beer.'

    I heartily agree. The beer critiques at have been very useful to me, a neophite, with regard to what aromas and tastes are reported to be present in a particular beer.

    Decades of industrial adjunct beer did not prepare me for the nuance of artisan/craft beer.

  16. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  17. Interesting discussion. There's been a lot of blog chatter about the uselessness of BA and Ratebeer ratings. The question arises: what is the best (albeit probably still flawed) system available for identifying excellent beers, when many beers are distribution-limited? Lists are inherently subjective, but there must be a reasonable source to trust for beer ratings. My guess is GABF medals, but I'm not sure.

  18. Speaking of Cigar City:


  19. In the past year, I have emailed about a dozen breweries asking for ABV, IBU, or etc. I close with 'help us sell your beer'.

    About half bother to reply; to me, non-replies imply an absence of concern.

    Full/prompt responses have been received from Kristen@Bear Republic, Mills@Caldera, Flerchinger@Lucky Lab, Jeff@Seven Brides, and some others, no doubt.